Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1893, Mary Jane West entered a world of bustling pushcarts and gas–lit streets. Her bloodline was a melange and she boasted of Bavarian, Irish and Jewish ancestry. Her father was a boxer, (Battlin’ Joe West) and her mother, who bore a striking resemblance to Lillian Russell in her youth, was a corset and fashion model with a perfect figure.
Mae was the favorite of three children and started her career in vaudeville as Baby Mae, performer of Song And Dance, at the tender age of six. From vaudeville she went on to Broadway, her big break coming in 1928 with the smash hit, “Diamond Lil”. The name came from her father’s nickname for her mother, Champagne Til. (Her name was Matilda and she barely drank more than a few sips of champagne on special occasions.)
Mae West was also a writer and she chose the name Jane Mast, as a pen name. She wrote on taboo subjects of the day, like lesbianism and free love and her play, “Sex” got her into trouble when in 1927 she and the entire cast were arrested and prosecuted on morals charges.
But she was outspoken, daring and no hypocrite. She believed in sexual and racial equality, and was one of the first stars of her day to insist on integrated casts for her productions. She starred in many films with many costars, but only one with whom her name is almost always associated; W.C. Fields. They made “My Little Chickadee” together and that was it. Mae didn’t care for him at all, and when confronted with his son many years later who wanted to meet her, she simply replied, “I have met one Fields in my lifetime and that is enough.”
For the woman who used to be “Snow White but drifted,” there will always be many adoring fans.
What are some of YOUR favorite Mae West celluloid moments?