Has there ever been a sexier Hollywood star than today’s subject, Brooklyn born Mary Jane West?
Sure Mae West, as she became to be known, had been around the block a few times by 1932 when she arrived in Hollywood. Fortyish, full figured and a fully-formed show biz veteran, she never quite fit the Hollywood prototype of either the slim, winsome ingenue or the seasoned actress/star with glamour to spare.
West made a specialty of confronting sexual matters head on: creating snappy, transgressive, self-mocking dialogue to accomplish her goal. When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better… To much of a good thing can be…wonderful… Give a man a free hand and he’ll run it all over you… It’s better to be looked over than overlooked.
She never played the innocent coquette. Neither was she the sophisticated beauty.
With her distinctive platinum blond hair, flagrant sashaying and randy quips, she conquered vaudeville, Broadway stage (eg. Sex and The Drag), and blazingly emerged as one of 1930s Hollywood’s biggest box office draws.
She reeked of pure sexual attitude. La sulfureuse, as the French put it.
Few attained fame and international popularity as quickly as did Mae West. Her full-figured, voluptuous image even inspired the naming of the inflatable life vest worn by Allied airmen in World War II. She was otherwise described as “the Big Ben of hourglass figures.”
West didn’t make many movies, not much more than a dozen overall. And she stayed active a bit beyond her past-due date, appearing in such clunkers as Sextette and Myra Breckinridge. But her appearances in other platforms — from vaudeville and stage to radio and live touring performances — reinforced and extended her career. A notorious health nut, she died in 1980 at age 87.
Every onece in a while we like to dip into Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It, the book Mae wrote about herself in 1959, and then updated 11 tears later. Herewith we present a small sampling of her words of wisdom:
— After I’m No Angel, her 1933 romantic comedy opposite Cary Grant, Mae West became something of a worlwide sensation. She looks like the statue of libido, opined one critic. Said West: my personal life kept pace with my public one. I played as hard as I worked. I did not neglect my pleasures, but I did wish I had more time for them.
— On villains with facial hair: Only Gable and (Ronald) Colman could play good men with mustaches.
— I’ve never been able to sleep with anyone (!). I require a full size bed so that I can lie in the middle of it and extend my arms spread eagle on both sides without heir obstructed. –
— Sex and I have a lot in common. I don’t want to take any credit for inventing it — but I may say, in my own modest way, and in a manner of speaking — that I have rediscovered it.
— Hollywood treated me well after I fought to establish myself, but I always held it at arms’ length like a would-be lover one didn’t fully trust.