Mae West (Mary Jane West)

Mae West

Mae West

Legendary Entertainer, Actress. She made her theatrical debut at age 7 for an Elks-sponsored amateur talent contest on the stage of a local vaudeville theater; the award she received for her effort, a gold medal, set the tone for a lifetime of winning appearances. Soon she would achieve professional status performing roles as Little Nell and Huck Finn’s girl Becky Thatcher with stock companies. While playing a vaudeville date, she met song & dance man Frank Wallace. The two formed an act, and on April 11, 1911, were married briefly. It would be the only “marriage” for the Lady with an insatiable libido. In November of 1911 Mae West entered a Shubert show, “Vera Violetta”, with Al Jolson and Gaby Deslys, followed by other Broadway signings. Encouraged by her Mother to create her own plays, she authored “Sex” in 1926, “The Drag” in 1927, followed the same year by “The Wicked Age”, in 1928 “Diamond Lil” (the character ‘Diamond Lil’ virtually became Mae West‘s alter-ego), then “Pleasure Man” in 1928, and “The Constant Sinner” in 1931, after which she journeyed to Hollywood to appear in “Night After Night” starring George Raft and Constance Cummings for Paramount (1932). “Night” was to be Mae West’s first in an even dozen Classic films that spanned 46 years, among them “She Done Him Wrong” with Cary Grant (1933), “I’m No Angel” also with Cary Grant (1933), “My Little Chickadee” with W.C. Fields (1940), “Myra Breckenridge” with John Huston (1970), and her final motion picture, “Sextette” with Timothy Dalton (1978). Additionally, she performed her stage play “Diamond Lil” for SRO audiences across the country for nearly 5 years (including an 8 month tour of England in 1947). Record-breaking night club appearances ensued in Las Vegas and Reno, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Mae West was heard on radio shows (most notably Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy) and made select television appearances, including The Academy Awards Show with Rock Hudson (1958), Red Skelton (1961), Mr. Ed with Alan Young (1964), and Dick Cavett’s “Back-Lot” (1976). She also recorded a number of albums, including “The Fabulous Mae West (Decca) and “Way Out West“ (Tower). During World War II the British Royal Air Force immortalized her name in the dictionary by naming an inflatable life jacket after her, and in 1968 she was honored by University of Southern California’s cinema fraternity, Delta Kappa Alpha. Mae West starred in every facet of show business in a career which spanned over 75 years, praised by the critics, slammed by the censors, and loved by audiences the world over. She was celebrated as the epitome of witty sexuality, employing clever double-entendres throughout the course of her career and maneuvering them past the eyes and ears of the censors, causing her public to adore her even more. She was often quoted as saying, “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.” In her 1959 autobiography, “Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It”, Miss West advised: “Let go of the things that can’t possibly matter to you, and you’ll always have room for the better things that come along. I learned early that two and two are four, and five will get you ten if you know how to work it.” Describing herself she explained “It isn’t what I do, but how I do it. It isn’t what I say, but how I say it and how I look when I do it and say it.“ The bawdy invitation she often extended, “Come up and see me sometime”, became synonymous with the buxom star. Mae West passed away November 22, 1980 in her Hollywood apartment (Ravenswood) after a brief illness associated with old age. Private services conducted by Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie and attended by about 100 close friends and family, were held in the Old North Church at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills. Her eulogy, written by Kevin Thomas and delivered by producer Ross Hunter, concluded “Mae West always said that no one was ever to feel sorry for her, and she would not want anyone to start now….Mae West figured that in one way or another she would live forever. And she probably will.” Entombment in the family mausoleum at Cypress Hills Abbey in Brooklyn, New York.

Born

  • August, 17, 1893
  • Brooklyn, New York

Died

  • November, 22, 1980
  • Los Angeles, California

Cause of Death

  • brief illness associated with old age

Cemetery

  • Cypress Hills Cemetery
  • Brooklyn, New York

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