Funny Quotes Wordsmith: Mae West

Profiling actress Mae West who specialized in funny quotes!  She understood human nature and enjoyed poking fun at the hypocrites, arrogant and prideful.  Mae West: sex symbol, screenwriter, playwright, comedy writer, early women's libber.

Controversial Hollywood Actress Kept Censors Busy

"The Risque One" and tiny powerhouse of a woman was a sex symbol, American actress in early Hollywood, screenwriter and playwright. She marketed herself with bawdy double entendres in the Vaudeville era and on Broadway. Uh, can I tell you that she was one of the most controversial actors of her day?

Why so controversial? Consider the time period she was born: 1893. By the time she hit it big in the 1930’s she was almost 40 years old. She had a long run in the movies considering her age. By the time she retired from Hollywood she continued to perform in Las Vegas, the United Kingdom and on the newer mediums of radio and television until her death in 1980. She even recorded rock and roll albums! The woman was not intimidated by any new technology.

Family of Mae West

West’s father was a prizefighter known as “Battlin’” Jack West. He moved on to creating his own detective agency, working as what in those days was known as “a special policeman.” Mae’s mother was a corset maker and fashion model. So, now you know where Mae West developed her tenacity and mental toughness and also her good looks and knowledge of how to market her body as well as her jokes.

Apparently, her family heritage was quite colorful in more ways than the obvious. Mae was raised as a Protestant. Her mother was possibly a German Jewish immigrant from Bavaria. Mae was adored by her mother in spite of her career choice as she was quoted as saying that everything Mae did "was fabulous."

Her father’s family was Roman Catholic and strongly disapproving of Mae’s career. In spite of that moral prejudice they seemed to be an openly integrated family as the paternal grandfather, John Edwin, was reputed to be an African-American who passed for white in those days of racial segregation in America.

Early Career of Mae West

Mae first started out entertaining people at church socials at the age of five and then went on to amateur shows by the age of seven. She enjoyed the success of winning prizes at

local talent shows on a regular basis in New York City, the place of her birth. By the age of fourteen is when she began performing professionally in Vaudeville. It seems her penchant for controversial started early as one of the personas she tried on for size was as a male impersonator. By 1911 she was beginning to appear on Broadway in small parts and by 1918 was earning success in several high-profile reviews. That was when she began writing risque plays under the pen name Jane Mast.

As you can image, Mae decided to jerk a few prudish chains with her first play: written, directed, produced and entitled, appropriately for her, “Sex.” It was a big hit with the public, and, of course, the critics were horrified and panned it. The city officials were equally chagrinned and raided the theater, arresting West and the cast in one swoop.

Even as late as 1927, West was arrested on “moral charges.” Pretty tame stuff in today’s news but back then was quite scandalous. She continued to write plays with naughty names like Wicked Age, Pleasure Man and The Constant Sinner. Plagued by the censors and city officials she and her plays were always in the news. Who could have envisioned better free marketing? Her plays always enjoyed packed performances!

Depression Era’s Favorite Actress

Mae West grew up in comedy, notable the Vaudeville and entertained America during the dreary Depression years of the 1930's. Her image was that of an independent woman, OK, she was strongly identified with being risqué which was considered downright pornographic for the prudish time period. In her movies she was draped in jewels and looked to be enjoying the high life, something ordinary Americans could only dream about at that time.

The woman's movies were constantly censored; she kept them busy anyway, knowing the risk. By today's standards she is actually quite tame. She is still risqué, full of either the obvious or the innuendo, but definitely ranks high in the cheeky quotes category to land a starring place in the hearts of many for generations!

There are pages and pages of quotes attributed to actress Mae West. She often wrote her own material for the movies since she had studied comedic techniques from the time she was a child in the Vaudeville arena.

By 1933, Mae West had earned the eighth largest box office draw in America. By 1935, the highest paid person in America was William Randolph Hearst of the newspaper chain. Who was the second highest paid person? Mae West!

Mae West Movies

Movie: Night After Nights

  • Night After Night with George Raft, 1932 film debut for West. She was allowed to rewrite her small part of the hat check girl: Hat check girl exclaims, "Goodness, what lovely diamonds." West replies, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie."

  • She Done Him Wrong with Cary Grant, 1933, Grant’s film debut. This was West’s character known as Diamond Lil, renamed Lady Lou. It was West who saw Grant over at the Paramount movie lot and decided to cast him for the male lead. Good choice as this film was a box office hit that saved Paramount from bankruptcy. The movie also earned an Academy nomination for Best Picture.

 I’m No Angel with Cary Grant in the male lead again.  This movie turned out to be a huge financial blockbuster. 

I'm No Angel, 1933, comedy classic

Belle of the Nineties, the original title was It Ain’t No Sin but the censors forced the title change.

Mae West with Duke Ellington Orchestra in the 1934 Belle of the Nineties

  • Goin’ To Town, 1935, received mixed reviews.

He's a Bad Man (But He's Good for Me)

  • Klondike Annie, 1936, was called her screen masterpiece by many critics of the time. It was about religion and hypocrisy, therefore quite controversial.

I'm an Occidental Woman in an Oriental Mood

  • Go West, Young Man, 1936, she played opposite Randolph Scott, and the film ended up a pale imitation of a good film.

Every Day’s a Holiday, 1937, West’s last film with Paramount.

  • My Little Chickadee, 1940, where West signed up with Universal Pictures and starred opposite W.C. Fields for her comeback film. There was a lot of tension on the set as Mae was not a drinker at all and W.C., well, the man drank all the time. They also fought over the script. The good news was the film turned out to be a box office success.

  • The Heat’s On, 1943, Mae worked for Columbia Pictures. She really was no longer interested in making any more movies as she had hedged on her age for years. But the director, Gregory Ratoff, was desperate, afraid of bankruptcy, so Mae helped him out. The film died at the box office, receiving bad reviews. Mae did not return to movie-making until the 1970’s.

  • Sextette, 1978, with George Hamilton, where she repeated her famous line from her 1930’s movie, She Done Him Wrong, for which she is known: "Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?"
  • The quip originally came from her return home from Chicago and occurred at a Los Angeles train station in February 1936 when she spoke it to a Los Angeles police officer who was assigned to escort her home.  In those days, the moralists across the country and city officials kept tabs on her whereabouts on a regular basis.  This quip was her way of jerking a few chains and saying today's equivalent of, "Oh, screw you!"
  • Sextette did not do well to reviews or the box office. However, years later it is now a cult classic and has done well through cable and DVD releases.


Here she is in a scene with who we now know as the 007 James Bond guy, Timothy Dalton

Arriving at the 1978 Sextette showing, two years before her death at age 87

Her Personal Life

Because Mae West’s movies were often considered steamy scenes and TMI of the time, frank sexuality, the moralists chased her clear across the country on a regular basis. By 1934 the Production Code was put to the test by the country’s moralists and they insisted upon meticulously enforcing everything they could against her screenplays. As a result, Mae West was routinely and heavily edited.

The Men in Her Life

What about her personal life? By the age of seventeen she was married in 1911 to a fellow vaudevillian, Frank Wallace, with whom she only cohabited for a few weeks. Yet they were still married until an official divorce in 1943. What it sounds like is that it was one of those show biz hasty marriages that didn’t work out and one partner took off, unable to find until years later when they officially wanted to end it.

By 1913, Mae fell in love with another fellow actor, Guido Deiro, who was Italian and they were engaged. A bit messy when you don’t know where husband number one is and you kept that marriage a big secret until forced to admit it in open court during the Sex movie trial in 1927. By 1916, she split with husband number two, though some biographers state the two had never officially married. Even West only admitted to the initial “D” in her autobiography since bigamy is illegal.

Mae West in 1953

Her Life was a Wild Ride

Considering her wild child life style it was amazing that having a child out of wedlock would be a deal breaker. Mae was romantically involved with her lawyer, James Timony, for a good 15 years after her split with Deiro. By the 1930’s the two were no longer a couple but remained close until his death in 1954.

Mae moved on to a much younger man 30 years her senior a year after her lawyer’s death. He was a former Mr. California and a wrestler in her Las Vegas stage show by the name of Chester Rybinski, a former merchant marine. He changed his name to Paul Novak. Their romance continued for another 20 years until her death at age 87. Novak was convinced he was placed on this earth to take care of her.

Obviously, this saucy woman liked her strong men. One of her previous boyfriends was William Jones, aka Gorilla Jones who was an African-American boxer. The management of her apartment building was horrified at a black man coming through the front door during segregation days and barred his entry. Not much slowed down or stopped Mae West. She solved the problem her way; she bought the building! That must have started the society tongues wagging.

Mae West - a eulogy from documentary: Living Famously

Mae West Funny Quotes

  • A dame that knows the ropes isn't likely to get tied up.
  • A hard man is good to find.
  • A man can be short and dumpy and getting bald but if he has fire, women will like him.
  • A man has one hundred dollars and you leave him with two dollars, that's subtraction.
  • A man in the house is worth two in the street.
  • A man's kiss is his signature.


  • A woman in love can't be reasonable - or she probably wouldn't be in love.
  • All discarded lovers should be given a second chance, but with somebody else.
  • An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.
  • Any time you got nothing to do - and lots of time to do it - come on up.
  • Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.
  • Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.


  • Cultivate your curves - they may be dangerous but they won't be avoided.
  • Don't keep a man guessing too long - he's sure to find the answer somewhere else.
  • Don't marry a man to reform him - that's what reform schools are for.
  • Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can't figure out what from.
  • Give a man a free hand and he'll run it all over you.
  • He who hesitates is a damned fool.


  • He's the kind of man a woman would have to marry to get rid of.
  • His mother should have thrown him out and kept the stork.
  • I always say, keep a diary and someday it'll keep you.
  • I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.
  • I believe that it's better to be looked over than it is to be overlooked.
  • I didn't discover curves; I only uncovered them.


  • I enjoyed the courtroom as just another stage but not so amusing as Broadway.
  • I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it.
  • I like a man who's good, but not too good - for the good die young, and I hate a dead one.
  • I like restraint, if it doesn't go too far.
  • I never loved another person the way I loved myself.
  • I never worry about diets. The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond.


  • I only have 'yes' men around me.  Who needs 'no' men?
  • I only like two kinds of men, domestic and imported.
  • I see you're a man with ideals. I better be going before you've still got them.
  • I speak two languages, Body and English.
  • I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.
  • I'd like to see Paris before I die. Philadelphia will do.
  • I'll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure.
  • I'm a woman of very few words, but lots of action.


  • I'm no model lady. A model's just an imitation of the real thing.
  • I've been in more laps than a napkin.
  • If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning.
  • If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning.
  • Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?
  • It ain't no sin if you crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don't break any.
  • 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.


  • It takes two to get one in trouble.
  • It's hard to be funny when you have to be clean.
  • It's not the men in my life that count, it's the life in my men.
  • It's not what I do, but the way I do it. It's not what I say, but the way I say it.
  • Look your best - who said love is blind?
  • Love conquers all things except poverty and toothache.
  • Love isn't an emotion or an instinct - it's an art.


  • Love thy neighbor - and if he happens to be tall, debonair and devastating, it will be that much easier.
  • Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution.
  • Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution.
  • One and one is two, and two and two is four, and five will get you ten if you know how to work it.
  • Opportunity knocks for every man, but you have to give a woman a ring.


  • Personality is the glitter that sends your little gleam across the footlights and the orchestra pit into that big black space where the audience is.
  • Personality is the most important thing to an actress's success.
  • Save a boyfriend for a rainy day - and another, in case it doesn't rain.
  • Say what you want about long dresses, but they cover a multitude of shins.
  • Sex is emotion in motion.


  • She's the kind of girl who climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong.
  • Ten men waiting for me at the door? Send one of them home, I'm tired.
  • The best way to hold a man is in your arms.
  • The score never interested me, only the game.
  • Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.
  • To err is human, but it feels divine.


  • Too much of a good thing can be taxing.
  • Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.
  • Virtue has its own reward, but no sale at the box office.
  • When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before.
  • When I'm good I'm very, very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better.
  • When women go wrong, men go right after them.
  • You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.


For more funny quotes, visit:

The Social Poets for Cheeky Quote Day! on Wednesdays

Dennys Funny Quotes - lists of all kinds of funny quotes

Ouch Outrageous Obnoxious And Odd - not quite scrubbed clean humor blog



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Comments are always welcome! 24 comments

readabook profile image

readabook 7 years ago from Texas

What a fun hub. It was a lovely break in the day to read about Mae West. I think I need to put a little Mae in my life just to keep it interesting.

Anthony James Barnett - author 7 years ago

Some great stuff in there, Denny. Very well researched, I enjoyed it.

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, readabook, Mae was something and quite the anomaly for her time period. Amazing that she was as successful as she was to lead her life her way without more interference! She really did understand human nature and enjoyed poking fun at the hypocrites, arrogant and prideful. Thanks for visiting!

Hi, Anthony, Mae West was a performer for over 80 years. This info is just the tip of the iceberg! I had to stop writing - and finally put up the hub. :) Thanks for visiting!

sara 7 years ago

Hey! It finally works again! Good job writing about a woman I've always admired.

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Sara, my friend, thanks for stopping by on your busy day!

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Really enjoyed this, Denny. What an interesting and talented woman, a little before her time, but she really knew how to shake everybody up!

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, alekhouse, thanks for the visit! Ol' Mae was quite the character; it must have never been a dull moment around her! :)

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

Denny, thanks for reminding us of one the big screens greatest - I've always loved My Little Chickadee. I thought Mae and WC Fields were brilliant.

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Dolores, thanks for visiting! We often forget the original Hollywood stars with so much happening in our time period. Those folks paved the way for today's stars and movie makers!

Carson Creek profile image

Carson Creek 7 years ago

Just found your hubs Denny. I've always liked people who pushed the envelop. From what you have here I think I'd have loved Mae. I'll check out your other hubs.

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Carson Creek, thanks for visiting with Mae! :)

sabrebIade profile image

sabrebIade 7 years ago from Pennsylvania


You put a ton of research into this!


Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, sabreblade, thanks for the compliment and your visit! If you like funny quotes, check out Wednesdays at The Social Poets for Cheeky Quote Day and Dennys Funny Quotes blogs: the addresses are in my bio area.

Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 6 years ago from Canada

love the information about her family, a prizefighter for a father, now that must have been interesting!

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 6 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, Rebecca E., thanks for stopping by for a visit! Yeah, I can only imagine what it did to toughen up her mental attitude having a father as a prizefighter. The American female culture back then was excessively submissive and long-suffering - Mae West was anything but that! :)

agaglia profile image

agaglia 6 years ago

nice hub! I love Mae West and her great quotes.

Denny Lyon profile image

Denny Lyon 6 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA Author

Hi, agaglia, thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Shane Belceto profile image

Shane Belceto 5 years ago from WA USA

wow you did your homework huh .. I enjoyed listening to this didn't know much about May and now can say I know a tad lol. Thank YOU for creating this.

~Expect Miracles

Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Awesome awesome detailed hub on Ms West, I loved how you listed all her great quotes....great hub

andycool profile image

andycool 5 years ago from the U.S.

Excellent hub... I've really liked it and bookmarked it for future! The quotes are just awesome! Thanks for sharing! - Andy

meow48 profile image

meow48 5 years ago from usa

loved this hub and have always loved mae west, she was truly her own woman, thankyou for this tribute, take care.

Cheeky Girl profile image

Cheeky Girl 5 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

I love anyone who is cheeky. and has that saucy sense of fun. A woman after my own heart. Great hub and I really enjoyed the quotes! She lived life on her own terms and I admire her for that. She didn't play by the rules of others. Sometimes Life can turn out more interesting when we do that. :)

privic4rule 5 years ago

You only live once but if you do it right, 0nce is enough. Am in love with the line that says, this.

meow48 profile image

meow48 4 years ago from usa

great hub and a tribute to a one of kind lady. wish hollywood would do some kind of tribute to her... say a movie about mae west??? now wouldn't that be a hoot, just don't know of any actress that could play her... and give the part the depth needed...

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