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Mae West- Female Chauvinist Pig

Updated on September 25, 2013

Beautiful Mae West

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May West Or Mae West

Or "May" West as she was christened by her German mother, was born in 1888. (the year is in dispute) and was a love'em and leav'em girl, too tough, too sexy, too free to ever get married. So it seemed. In 1935 relief workers re-indexing public records came across a marriage license which proved that Mae West had married a Hal Wallace in Milwaukee in 1911. Once the embarrassing secret was out, it took eight messy years before a divorce rid Mae of this encumbrance to her legend.

Her legend. Maybe nobody ever worked as hard building a legend as the woman inside the persona Mae West.

She didn't bother with school. She didn't need it. Shrewd intelligence coupled with the early discovery that America had a nervous flirtation with sex was enough to see her though. The rest she invented as she needed it. When she was just starting out she said her father was a Catholic prize fighter named Battlin' Jack who owned a livery stable. Later on, to hear her tell it, he was a Protestant doctor . The legendary Mae West was always a winner. She may have told conflicting stories to deliberately skew the facts, or perhaps she told different versions of her life depending on her mood, as she was much like Donald Trump in that she wanted to create a persona that she would strive to live up to and continually add the her mystique. Her persona was her bread and butter and she never wanted to harm that image by wearing down to earth clothes and doing or saying anything that her public would look at and say, "that is not Mae West." Mae knew and understood the branding of her image and lived up to it until the day she died.

Claiming she had her first sexual encounter before puberty Mae spread the word that her private life mirrored her public life. She picked up the sex siren routine either in vaudeville or burlesque and spent a lifetime honing the same basic image.

Mae was not just an entertainer, in fact she was foremost a writer who acted in the plays and shows that she had written. She was the creator of her own image just as Charlie Chaplin had invented his little tramp character in which he wrote, directed and and acted out the performances himself. Mae's mother had been instrumental in encouraging her daughter to pursue her dreams. She herself had wanted to become an actress and had worked as a model, but her parents had discouraged this desire and led her to become a seamstress instead. This led her to be extremely supportive of her daughter's ambitions and ever since Mae was a precocious child, her mother would laugh at her jokes and tell her daughter to go for the gold and Mae did just that, talking to her mom about her ambitions and the successes that she was making on the stage and eventually Broadway, was Mae's favorite pastime.

When Mae wrote the play titled, "Sex" she used another stage name because she did not like the name "Mae West" being billed as the writer, star, ect ect. The show was so notorious that West knew that Hollywood would come knocking, and so did her mother. The saddest day in Mae's life is when her mother died in 1930. Mae was so devastated that it took her three years to get used to it. She had lost the only person who truly knew her, and the only person who she felt comfortable being her true self around. Mae always regretted that her mother never lived to see her in movies.

By the time she made movies in the early 1930s, slenderness was very much in fashion, but not for Mae. When she was a kid, chubby blonds were the rage, and Mae never modernized in effort to appear up to day, she always felt comfortable in her own unique style. She took her Lillian Russel looks right into the flapper age of the 20s, and well past the ultra slinky 1930s wearing diamonds and furs and a lot of shimmering white. She stayed decked out like a tinseled Christmas tree no matter what color was popular or whatever elegant low key style was in. Mae was wise to know that her figure was not great by any stretch, but the corsets of the 1900s could make her look a lot better, and her short, unshapely legs simply would not impress audiences who had the legs of Lana Turner and Betty Grable to look at, so she hid her legs under well cut Victorian dresses and fitted her apple shape with a corset to make the most of what she had.

Mae's hair was gorgeous and she wore it in waves and pompadours to enhance its beauty. Her face was attractive, with a masculine quality. Mae West made the most of her looks but she was not a sex symbol or a beauty queen. Something modern audiences don't understand about her due to the fact that women these days are all expected to either look picture perfect with plastic surgery to fix the things that are wrong, or resign themselves to being asexyal, nothing in between. Mae was sexual, and sexy, but not beautiful, something unheard of today.

She set out to become what women had never been before, a woman who had sex without guilt, didn't need love, turned men into sex objects, never have kids and wouldn't regret it, and whom no man ever said no to. She never varied her act, never expanded it or tried to play another role. She lived the part.

Mae Was Not Beautiful by Hollywood Standards, But She Had Sex Appeal

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Sexy Mae West: From Stage to Hollywood

In 1918 at the Winter Garden Theater she brought the shimmy to Broadway. Though she was good at belting out songs and her dancing wasn't half bad, the real allure of the shimmy was sex. As Mae became more popular she decided to write a play about her favorite subject. It was called simply SEX.

It wasn't until she started writing her own material and indulging her sexual fantasies dialog, that she took off.

It opened in New London, Connecticut to a small audience, but the second night the sailors from the local naval base were lining up in droves. It had a naval lieutenant hero and was about extortion among Trinidadian prostitutes. In reality, Mae's experience of prostitutes was confined to having had one pointed out to her on a street corner. The show opened in New York in 1926, where to Mae's delight she and the entire cast were eventually arrested. From that time on her notoriety assured success. Mae was fined and went to jail. She knew how to get publicity and grew rich punching hypocrisy in the nose.

She had another provocative play The Pleasure Man that featured a line of transvestites. She seemed to have arrived to show business from another planet. As another play Diamond Lil 1928, featured prostitutes, dope pushers, and shop lifters. In 1933 Diamond Lil was turned into a movie under the name She done him Wrong. Mae strutted her way through the film, raising the temperature of every male in the cast, including Cary Grant who was just starting out.

Mae West Style

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Mae Wests - Comedy with Sex

When it came to her movies, Mae had full control of her costumes and scripts. She knew her persona better than anyone else and made sure it was not spoiled by well meaning writers and designers. Her one-liners were now for the world. Her movie appearances, only 12 in all, were always scripted by herself and maintained the throwaway double entendre and the shimmy-walk that were her trade-marks.

People who know very little about Mae are very shocked and impressed when viewing her movies today. In an age where women see themselves as independent equals, they quickly realize how far from the fact that is when they see the only female chauvinist pig ever to grace the screen using men in the exact same fashion that men have always used women.

Mae exudes independence, confidence and style as no modern actresses do. She only wore dresses that flattered her not very well conditioned figure without caring about how badly out of fashion they were. She made most of her movies in the 1930s, when dresses were clingy and made from silks and satins, but wore dresses from the early 1900s that were corseted, with large hats with plumes. Her image was one who is in full control, and did not need a man, but rather, used them as conveniences.

At 86 (or perhaps 90, depending on which birth date you believe), she shimmied out again, somewhat embarrassingly, with her usual entourage of muscle men in the movie Sextette.

West was a self-cultivated myth, encouraging preposterous tales of her sexual appetite and endurance. All around her, notions multiplied: she was really a man, a virgin, and even older than any of the reports were showing. By her own account, she was pathological about "health", obsessive about ESP, totally absorbed in her own fantasy.

She created a myth that she seemed content to live with throughout her life.


Mae West Interview

Mae West One Liners

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    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 5 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      It's good to know about Mae West, and indeed this is an addition to my knowledge, thanks

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Perhaps it is only a myth in my mind, but I saw this gal perform at the Sedona Art Barn around 1966. I was knee high to a grasshopper but there she was big as two lifes. She came out on balcony from a high side entrance and began talking like no one I had ever heard. Kind of a nasal twange that resonated throughout the theatre without amplification. She pointed at my mom and dad and told him to just shimmy slide away from the old broad and come up and see her. Wow she must of been 80. But she carried my imagination with her. The main act was a gal named Katie Lee, singing about early Colorado River Running. Thanks for reviving the memories.

    • Skarlet profile image
      Author

      Skarlet 5 years ago from California

      @ girishpuri- thank you very much for the comment. She really was something. I love her movies.

      @Ericdierker- Thank you so much for the comment. Wow! You got to see Mae West! I think she looked great for her age, but I can distinctly remember seeing her on TV in a 1930's movie and being shocked at how bad she looked. I was just a kid and was confused because most women of her era were beautiful. I appreciate her persona so much more now.

    • glmclendon profile image

      glmclendon 5 years ago

      Good writing, and good to know this was a human being not someone on paper only. Where did you find all that info?

      Stay Well

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 5 years ago from Central Texas

      This woman was a hoot before women were allowed to be. She must have had an extraordinary amount of "street sense" to push such an image and make it work -- enjoyed this read tremendously. Best/Sis

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      Good account of Hollywoods unforgettable sex symbol. She gave 'em a run for their money.

    • Skarlet profile image
      Author

      Skarlet 5 years ago from California

      @glmclendon-thank you. I have very old fan magazines and some historical books, combined with some research papers from college.

      @Angela Blair- She was hilarious. When you haven't seen her for some years and then watch one of her movies, its shocking all over again. I have shocked many of my thoroughly modern girlfriends who have never seen anything like her.

      Thank you for the kind comment Sis.

      @vocalcoach- She sure did. I actually looked up to her as a kid because she seemed so powerful.

      P.S. I like your name:)

    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 5 years ago from Ireland

      I have never seen a Mae West movie although I have often come across her name. She sounds like a woman before her time and I will definitely have a look at a Mae West film now.

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