As part of the Funny Lady Blogathon, hosted by Movies, Silently, I have selected the incomparable Mae West (1893-1980). In researching for this piece, I soon realized that I could not do her full biography justice, so I refer you to her official website (http://allaboutmae.com), the Turner Classic Movie Database entry for a fully fleshed out retrospective on her life. For my piece, I have decided to pick up a few career highlights as well as dedicate a section to some of my favorite quotes from her.
The former vaudeville star made a seamless transition from the Broadway stage to film, where she entertained audiences and challenged conventions of femininity and sexual mores, most notably through her provocative turns of phrase.
Born Mary Jane West in Brooklyn, New York to a former prizefighter father and fashion model mother, she seemed destined for stardom at an early age. By age of 14, she was a staple of the vaudevillian circuit. She ultimately decided to take a turn on Broadway. West wrote several plays – the first, titled, Sex, (which she also wrote, produced and directed) led to her arrest for “corrupting the morals of youth.” A year after the arrest in 1928, Mae West scored a bona fide hit in the form of the play Diamond Lil, all about a woman living during the Gay Nineties.
A few years later, Hollywood came a calling and she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. Her motion picture debut was at age 38 in Night After Night, costarring George Raft. It was in this film that she quipped (go to the 40 second mark of the clip):
The next year saw her reprise her Diamond Lil character in She Done Him Wrong a movie that featured the then unknown Cary Grant and was the first high profile role in his career. The success of the film brought Paramount back from the brink of bankruptcy and was matched in her next film (and second on-screen pairing with Grant), titled I’m No Angel, the most commercially successful film of West’s career.
Over the next few years, and with the institution of the Production Code, West battled constantly with the powers that be that wanted to curb the more suggestive elements they saw in her projects. One of her last major roles was in the 1940 feature My Little Chickadee, costarring W.C. Fields. It was a film marked by their mutual dislike for one another.
By 1943, her film career stalled and she would not return to the big screen until 1970, with the release of Myra Breckinridge, which starred Raquel Welch. Her final screen appearance came in 1978’s Sextett.
In her relatively brief on-screen career, it would appear that Mae West definitely lived by her own words You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. Below I have chosen some additional funny quips and double entendres (Source: All About Mae):
- When I’m good I’m very good but when I’m bad I’m better.
- It’s not the men in my life that counts – it’s the life in my men.
- I go for two kinds of men, the kind with muscles, and the kind without.
- Too much of a good thing… can be wonderful.
- I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.
- Marriage is a fine institution but I’m not ready for an institution.
- I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.
- It’s better to be looked over, than overlooked.
- I don’t like myself, I’m crazy about myself.
- I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor… believe me, rich is better.
- It’s hard to be funny…when you have to be “clean.”
- She’s the kind of girl who climbed the ladder of success…wrong by wrong.
- When I’m good I’m very good, but when I’m bad I’m better.
Be sure to check out some of the other awesome ladies highlighted in this wonderful blogging event!