SEX IN THE THEATER: Mae West

According to the Writer’s Almanac, it was on this day — April 19 — in 1927 that actress Mae West was sentenced to 10 days in prison for her starring role in the play Sex, which she also wrote and directed. It was her first Broadway show. Sex got terrible reviews but attracted huge audiences. It had been running for 41 weeks when the police showed up and arrested the cast and crew — although only West was sent to jail. She was charged with “producing an immoral show and maintaining a public nuisance.” She said: “I wrote the story myself. It’s about a girl who lost her reputation and never missed it.”

In jail, West was forced to turn over her silk stockings, but allowed to keep her silk underwear. She got her own private cell, and she charmed the warden and his wife so much that they invited her to eat dinner with them in their home each night. She befriended the other inmates while she made beds and dusted. In her down time, she read business articles comparing various Hollywood studios. She was released two days early for good behavior.

The following year, she wrote and starred in the play Diamond Lil (1928) on Broadway, and it was a big success. She went to Hollywood, got a part in Night After Night (1932), and was allowed to rewrite her scenes. In her first scene, a hatcheck girl says to her “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!” and West says, “Goodness has nothing to do with it, dearie.” It was a hit, and the next year she co-starred with Cary Grant in I’m No Angel (1933). By 1935, she was said to be the second highest paid person in the United States, after William Randolph Hearst.

mae west

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One thought on “SEX IN THE THEATER: Mae West

  1. Oh, how the prudes like to pretend this is all new…

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