Mary Jane 'Mae' West (August 17, 1893 — November 22, 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 Dalí designed a wood and satin sofa after her lips and during World War II Allied aircrew units called their inflatable life preserver jackets "Mae West", due to its resemblance to her bosom. Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaperelli formed the bottle for her perfume, "Shocking", after Mae's curvaceous dress form; a reference to her own reaction at seeing the form after it was delivered for custom dressmaking. She is even featured on the cover of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
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 (1978).
She was a talented writer, who wrote her own Broadway plays as well as the screenplays to most of her movies.
Not to be confused with Debi Mae West.
- Author Appeal: Although she was only six years old when the decade ended, she seemed to have a thing for The Gay '90s. Four of her films take place then.
- 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.
- Catchphrase: "Why don't you come up some time and see me?",note which is actually a Memetic Mutation. The line's fame grew to eclipse who it was being delivered to (West's arguably more-famous costar Cary Grant) as well as its stinging second half: "Come on Wednesday; that's amateur night."
- 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.
- Dumb Blonde: Averted. She was quite witty and engaging.
- Go-Karting with Bowser: She was once arrested on obscenity charges and spent 10 days in jail. She proved so charming she ended up having dinner with the warden.
- 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 Can Change My Beloved: Mae was not fond of this trope. As she put it, "Don't marry a man to reform him. That's what reform schools are for."
- Ms. Fanservice: One of the most famous examples in the 20th century. In fact, she starred in the controversial Broadway play Sex which is about her character doing very sexual stuff as the title implies.
- Nice Girl: according to Polly Stenham (a reporter who knew her) she was "compassionate as well as funny"
- 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.