"When I'm good, I'm good. When I'm bad, I'm better."
Mae West (1893-1980) was one of the most iconic and unlikely sex symbols of the early 20th century. Famous for her hourglass figure, sensual voice and cheeky Double Entendre
she also became one of the most controversial film actors of all time.
Starting off - like most stars in her time- in vaudeville she rapidly became notorious for her sexually risqué singing style. Her Broadway play, Sex
(1927), caused so much scandal that the police arrested her and the entire cast. She barely spent a few days in jail while the press elevated her to national fame. Her next play, The Drag
(1928) was never staged because the Society for the Prevention of Vice took offense of its homosexual themes.
By the time she became a movie star she was already 38 years old, but became an overnight success. Classic films like Night After Night
(1932), She Done Him Wrong
(1933), I'm No Angel
(1933), Klondike Annie
(1936) and My Little Chickadee
(1940) featured West intimidating her co-actors with her witty and sexually risqué wisecracks and double entendres. She played the same part when appearing on radio shows. Salvador Dali
designed a wood and satin sofa after her lips and during World War II Allied aircrew units called their life preserver jackets "Mae West", due to its resemblance to her bosom. She is even featured on the cover of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Later in life Mae West tried her best to keep her status as former sex symbol, despite looking nothing like it anymore. She recorded a few rock 'n' roll albums and even appeared in a few Cult Classics
like Myra Breckinridge
(1970) and starred and wrote the very campy Sextette
Not to be confused with Debi Mae West
- Authors Of Quote: Many of which became synonymous with her personality.
- Answers to the Name of God: Classic variation from Mae West, in the movie Night After Night:
"Goodness, what beautiful diamonds."
"Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie."
- Badass Boast: Most of what she said, including the quote on top of this page.
- Catch Phrase: "Why don't you come up some time and see me?", which is actually a Memetic Mutation.
- Cool Old Lady: Mae was already in her forties when her movie career took off. Even in old age she was still very sexually active and kept totally self-confident and witty about herself.
- Double Entendre: West was a master of giving seemingly innocuous phrases a suggestive spin, which allowed her to beat at least indecency charge. The lines themselves were not salacious, it was all in the delivery.
- Dueling-Stars Movie: W.C. Fields and Mae West were co-stars in My Little Chickadee (1941). We can only sigh at two such notoriously filthy comedians only being able to work together in an era where their material had to be severely curtailed on film.
- Eternal Sexual Freedom
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: She made a career out of this (see her quote on "No Such Thing as Bad Publicity") at a time when people thought the movies were too indecent and the stars were vice-ridden (not much has changed and it might be a shock to no one, but try to look at it through the POV of someone who lived during that time).
- Hidden Depths: Contrary to the public image she liked to present, Mae tended to avoid glitzy nightlife and elaborate premieres (except for her own productions), preferring to stay at home and apply herself diligently to mastering the writer's craft through a long, painstaking process of trial and error, endlessly drafting and redrafting notions and themes for her plays.
- I Was Quite a Looker: Became an example of this later in life, although she tried and failed to deny it.
- Ms. Fanservice
- No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: "I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it."
- Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?: "Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?", supposedly said by Mae West at the railway station in Los Angeles upon her return from Chicago, when a Los Angeles police officer was assigned to escort her home in 1936. She delivered the line on film to George Hamilton in her last movie, Sextette (1978).
- But the best-known form is when she said it to Cary Grant (his first film role) in She Done Him Wrong.
- Pigeonholed Voice Actor: Mae's voice is so iconic that it's been parodied to death, both in her era and in the modern day. Melissa McCarthy can actually do a spot-on vocal impression of her (as seen on an SNL sketch featuring a Mae West knock-off who keeps falling down the stairs in her movies).
- Pimped-Out Dress: She liked wearing elaborate dresses in her films, including with thick fur at the hem.
- Pretty in Mink: She loved wearing furs (see the image above) in her films and real life. She bought a white rabbit cape, and muff with her first paycheck from stage work. She also wore a couple dresses in her films with thick fur hems (which were in styles where heavy hems were not that easy to walk around in).
- The Rival: To Jayne Mansfield in later years.
- Really Gets Around: Her characters were known for this. But she herself was also very much sexually active even at old age.
- That's What She Said: Her jokes were often forms of this.