Mae West

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Mae West, 1973

Mae West , actually Mary Jane West (born August 17, 1893 in Brooklyn , New York , † November 22, 1980 in Hollywood ), was an American film actress , singer and author who was one of the highest paid, especially in Hollywood in the 1930s Movie stars counted. As the epitome of femme fatale , she broke a number of sexual taboos that were valid at the time by proclaiming the freedom of love and equality of the sexes both professionally and privately. In a 1999 AFI poll, she was ranked 15th among the greatest female movie stars .


Beginnings and breakthrough

Mae West was born in what is now the New York borough of Brooklyn , the daughter of a boxer and an actress . She was enthusiastic about the theater at an early age and quickly became a star with her self-confident appearance on the Big Apple's variety stages . As Jane West, she wrote numerous mostly controversial Broadway plays in the 1920s , including Sex (1926), for which she was sentenced to several days in prison for “profanity on the stage”. She also campaigned for homosexual rights early on, including in her second play Drag , which was banned from Broadway because of its explicit content and had to be performed in New Jersey .

Mae West developed a public image that was primarily characterized by her distinctive, hoarse voice and loose mouth, in which almost every sentence could be a sexual allusion. Numerous quotes are ascribed to her, which in the 1930s had an almost proverbial character: “Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?” (Translated as follows: Is that a gun in your pants or are you happy just to see me? )

Movie star in Hollywood

Mae West, around 1933

These scandals didn't hurt her career, however, and Mae West made her screen debut in Hollywood in 1932 at the age of 39. Her first film, Night After Night , was a hit in American cinemas. She did him wrong , an adaptation of her successful play Diamond Lil from 1928, and I am not an angel followed in 1933 . In both films, which became a real triumph for the West, Cary Grant , whom the charismatic blonde had personally chosen, played at her side. The success of these films saved their production company Paramount from financial ruin and takeover by competitor MGM . Another hit movie for Mae West was The Beauty of the Nineties (1934).

Mae West's films were hugely popular in the 1930s, and in 1935 she was even the highest-paid actress in the United States. At the same time, the sexual openness of her films as well as radio and theater programs brought her into the focus of conservative and ecclesiastical morals. For this reason, a censor was regularly present during the filming of The Beautiful Nineties . Scenes were cut because Mae West was seen as a moral hazard. In order not to become a victim of the Hays Code , which was enforced in 1934 and its censorship, Mae West shot somewhat more harmless strips from 1936 onwards. At the same time, she was only able to make films at irregular intervals, as many studios and producers did not want to come into conflict with the censorship. Nevertheless, it remained successful, so the western comedy Mein Kleines Gockel (1940), in which a somewhat seedy bar singer played alongside WC Fields , became a box-office hit.

After the film The Heat's On , she turned her back on Hollywood in 1943 and appeared again on Broadway and on the radio.

Career after World War II

Mae West 1978 with Paul Novak , Alice Cooper and Harry E. Weiss

In Las Vegas , Mae West got her own stage show in the 1950s. This was followed by appearances on American television programs and the publication of her memoir with the ambiguous title Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It (1958). West tried - with modest success - to make her music repertoire more contemporary: The LP Way out West was released in 1966 with songs by such diverse performers as John Lee Hooker ( Boom Boom ), the Beatles ( Day Tripper ), Percy Sledge ( When a Man Loves a Woman ), Roy Head ( Treat her right ), Johnny Kidd & the Pirates ( Shakin 'all over ) or the Isley Brothers ( Twist and Shout ). In the same year the Christmas LP Wild Christmas was released with Christmas carols that had been recorded by Elvis Presley and the blues singer and pianist Charles Brown in the 1950s. A second attempt to get into conversation again as a singer at the age of 80 (1973) was the LP Great Balls of Fire with the title song of the same name by Jerry Lee Lewis . Other well-known songs on this LP were e.g. B. Light my Fire from the Doors , Whole lotta shakin 'going on by Jerry Lee Lewis or Rock around the clock by Bill Haley .

After almost 30 years of absence from the film industry, Mae West returned to the screen twice in self-deprecating roles in the 1970s, after the end of the Hays Code: In Myra Breckinridge - man or woman? (1970) based on the book by Gore Vidal she played a Hollywood agent and in 1978 she was seen at the side of Tony Curtis , Ringo Starr and Keith Moon in Sextets , in which her character of a movie star was married to Timothy, 53 years her junior Dalton enters. However, both films were not very successful and are more known today for their involuntary comedy.

Private life

From 1911 to 1942 she was married to the jazz singer Frank Wallace (alias Frank Szatkus ). Although the two only lived together for a few years, the marriage was only dissolved 30 years later. Her last life partner since the 1960s was Paul Novak (1923-1999), a former Mr. California . The 87-year-old died of a stroke on November 22, 1980.



The sculpture Mae West on Effnerplatz

The painter and sculptor Salvador Dalí created the picture El rostro de Mae West que puede ser usado como un apartamento (face of Mae West that can be used as an apartment) in 1934–1935 , as well as other paintings as a homage to Mae West. In 1938, Dalí designed a Mae West sofa , the shape of which was to represent the lips of Mae West. Furthermore, there has been a Mae West hall in the Dalí Theater-Museum in Figueres since 1974 , in which Dalí, inspired by Òscar Tusquets , recreated his painting in three dimensions.

The newly designed Effnerplatz in Munich is the location of a 52 m high carbon structure called Mae West . The Coca-Cola contour bottle was inspired by the feminine curves of Mae-West and also bore the name of the actress.


  • Emily Wortis Unfortunately: Mae West - "I'm No Angel". A biography (original title: Becoming Mae West , translated by Henning Thies). Kindler, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-463-40225-4 .
  • Peter W. Jansen , Christa Maerker, Mae West, et al .: Mae West in: Peter W. Jansen, Wolfram Schütte (eds.): Mae West - Greta Garbo . [Series Film Volume 16]. Hanser, Munich / Vienna 1978, ISBN 3-446-12498-5 .
  • Jon Tuska: The Films of Mae West . Citadel Press (Lyle Stuart Inc.), Secaucus 1973, ISBN 0-8065-0377-7 .
  • Michael Bavar: Mae West, her films - her life . Heyne, Munich 1975, ISBN 3-453-86029-2 .
  • Mae West: Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It. Autobiography , Prentice-Hall Inc., New Jersey 1959, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 59-12962.

Web links

Commons : Mae West  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Bavar: Mae West, her films - her life . Heyne, Munich 1975, ISBN 3-453-86029-2 , p. 64
  2. Michael Bavar: Mae West, her films - her life . Heyne, Munich 1975, ISBN 3-453-86029-2 , p. 157
  3. see the official website of the Coca-Cola Co. (Accessed May 31, 2016)