Mae started working vaudeville when she was 5 years old and later performed in revues on Broadway. Eventually she began writing her own plays under the pen names Jane Mast. Her first play, "Sex", landed her in jail for ten days on obscenity charges in 1926. All of the media attention about the case enhanced her career. Her next play, The Drag, dealt with homosexuality. But the Society for the Prevention of Vice made sure it never made it to Broadway. Controversy ensured that West stayed in the news and most of the time this resulted in packed performances. In 1928 her play "Diamond Lil" became a huge Broadway success.
At age 38, Mae was offered a contract with Paramount Pictures. She made her film debut in a small role in “Night After Night” where she was allowed to rewrite her own scenes. Geroge Raft, the star of the movie, said of Mae "She stole everything but the cameras.” From there on Mae wrote & starred in a string of movies. “She Done Him Wrong” was based on Mae’s Broadway hit “Diamond Lil” and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. By 1933, West was the eighth-largest U.S. box office draw in the United States and, by 1935, the second-highest paid person in the United States (after William Randolph Hearst). Among a phalanx of other films, Mae also wrote & co-starred in “My Little Chickadee”. Mae’s sexuality & double entendres created controversy and contributed heavily to the creation of the Motion Picture Production Code and heavy censorship. Mae’s writing was eviscerated by censors and as a result her films & success suffered.
She returned to Broadway and created a Las Vegas show.
My favorite Mae West story is that when she was dating boxing champion William Jones, the management at her apartment building discriminated against the African-American boxer and barred his entry. West solved the problem by buying the building.
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