Courting Mae West

The play "COURTING MAE WEST: Sex, Censorship & Secrets" is based on true events during the 1920s when actress MAE WEST was arrested and jailed in New York City for trying to stage two gay plays on Broadway. Maybe she broke the law - - but the LAW couldn't break HER!

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Mae West: True to Life

How many performers could say they were arrested with MAE WEST?
• • "Police Raid Three Shows: Sex, Captive, and Virgin Man — Hold Actors and Managers" announced The N.Y. Times in boldfaced print on 10 February 1927.
• • On Wednesday, 9 February 1927 Mae West — — along with the cast of "Sex," and the cast of "The Captive," and the cast of "The Virgin Man" — — was cuffed and brought to Night Court. At the Empire Theatre, where "The Captive" was staged, James P. Sinnott, Secretary of the Police Department, personally supervised the arrest of the leading lady, Helen Menken, wrapped in elegant gray furs. Five principals from the cast were ushered into a waiting Police Department limousine. Since "Sex" had a huge cast of several dozen, it took ten policemen, accompanied by Deputy Chief Inspector James S. Bolan to arrest Mae West and twenty others at Daly's West 63rd Street Theatre and herd them into vehicles.
• • Three lawyers represented this tarnished trinity of Broadway producers and their casts.. James A. Timony was on hand for Mae West and her "Sex" mates (soon to be inmates). Nathan Burkan represented Menken, Basil Rathbone, producer Gilbert Miller, and the rest of the troupe from "The Captive." Attorney Fred M. Wolf looked after the group from "The Virgin Man."
• • After 10:00 PM, Helen Menken [1901 — 1966], Dorothy Hall [1906 — 1953], and Mae West were charged with "contributing to a common nuisance" and "obscene exhibition" and found that their actions were answerable to Magistrate John Flood Wells, who set bail at $1,000 each.
• • On 10 February 1927, some of the local newspapers focused more on Miss Hall and Miss Menken than on Mae West. All three producers sought restraining orders permitting them to reopen. Under fire, Dorothy Hall immediately quit the play and Lucille Lortel replaced her. Benefiting from the arrest and press attention, the comedy "The Virgin Man" remained on stage until March for a total of 63 performances.
• • On Tuesday, 1 March 1927 in Olean Evening Times • •
• • Born in Bradford, PA in 1906, 21-year-old ingenue Dorothy Hall was the youngest actress to be charged with a misdemeanor. And unlike the 10-month-long box-office bonanza "Sex" had become, "The Virgin Man" had only debuted three weeks before on 18 January 1927 at the Princess Theatre (at 104 West 39th Street) and was struggling to find an audience before the purity police targeted it, creating fresh interest.
• • When The Olean Evening Times did their article, they actually quoted Mae West more than Miss Hall. The daughter of a staid Methodist family in Bradford, PA, the young woman had only been allowed to come to NYC on the pretext of studying interior decorating. But a talent agent spotted her and she was cast as a movie extra. Embarrassed after notifying everyone to see the film, only to learn her scenes had been cut, she decided that the theatre was more reliable than the cinema.
• • "The Drag" — an exposition of psychopathic conduct . . . • •
• • The Olean Evening Times took Mae to task for "Sex" as well as "The Drag," which the reporter Virginia Swan described as "an exposition of psychopathic conduct." Was Mae West chastened after the arrest? "Sure, I know what audiences like," Mae assured the news reporters. "And when it comes in sex portrayals, I know my onions. My play is true to life. And how can anyone suppress truth?"
• • In contrast, Dorothy Hall told Virginia Swan: "The truth is no excuse. Many things are true which are not entertainment. Even when a play is sincere and restrained it may be dangerous." She added: "It's reached the place when lovers of the theatre must look even to the theatre's most dreaded foe, censorship, to rescue it from destruction. If censorship will rescue the drama, I'm for it."
• • Dorothy Hall continued her Broadway career, starring in a number of plays until 1941. Hall died in New York City on 3 February 1953. She was 47. Her obituary did not mention her cause of death nor if there were any close relatives left behind to mourn. Few pictures remain so it was fortunate to have this March 1st, 1927 newspaper clipping.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • The legal battles fought by Mae West and Jim Timony are dramatized in the play "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets," set during the Prohibition Era. Watch a scene on YouTube.

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• • Photo: Mae West
• • Dorothy Hall, 1927 • •

Mae West.

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