Introduction: Mae West: Dirty Blonde (02:16)
The actress spent time in jail, was censored, and created the first sexually empowered female. (Credits)
Film Premiere (02:52)
West first appeared onscreen at the age of 40; she debuted in "Night After Night." Hollywood believed it was depression-proof. Paramount Pictures teetered on bankruptcy before allowing the actress to write her own scripts and have creative control.
"She Done Him Wrong" (05:37)
The film was shot in 18 days and released quickly to avoid Hollywood censorship. West had creative control over every facet of the production, including hiring Cary Grant as the leading male ingenue.
West's Background (05:13)
West's father was a prize fighter and her mother was a corset model. West was exposed to Burlesque, jazz clubs, Vaudeville, and street performances. During the turn of the century, "tough girls" were women who used their sexuality to get what they wanted.
Prohibition Era (05:28)
Burlesque was considered Vaudeville's dirty cousin. West wrote her own material and premiered "Sex" on Broadway. Critics thought it was pornography.
"The Drag" (04:48)
West decided to write a play about homosexuals that culminated in a drag ball. "Fairy impersonators" performed on the Lower East Side. West spent time in prison for "Sex."
"Diamond Lil" (05:42)
West understood her male fans and publicity; she wrote a play to appeal to female audience members. She adopted the persona of a woman who would not be controlled by men and learned how to make people laugh.
West's Relationships (07:15)
West immediately regretted marrying Frank Wallace and sent him to a different Vaudeville circuit. Other beaus included Jim Timony, Owney Madden, George Raft, Gorilla Jones, and Guido Roberto Deiro. A doctor botches an abortion procedure, leaving West barren.
"I'm No Angel" (05:06)
Released in 1933 after Franklin D. Roosevelt's election, "She Done Him Wrong" proved a huge success and allowed Paramount Pictures to climb out of bankruptcy. West wrote a script about Tira, a lion tamer. A theater owner in Omaha, Nebraska held women-only screenings.
Common Class (03:59)
West never concealed her Brooklyn accent and incorporated African American female friends in her films. Housekeepers were credited. Hollywood black vernacular was a constructed dialect meant to sound naive and ignorant.
"Belle of the Nineties" (05:10)
West insisted the studio hire Duke Ellington and his orchestra. Paramount Pictures referred to her as a one-woman production unit. West did not have many female friends.
Moralist Intervention (08:35)
Critics worried that girls would begin to emulate West. The Production Code Administration began regulating content in films and censored sexuality in women. West wrote embarrassing lines and scenes to get approval for what she really wanted.
Shirley Temple's Popularity (04:09)
In "Klondike Annie," West portrayed a woman who found religion. After appearances on "The Chase and Sanborn Hour" and "Garden of Eden," West was banned from NBC and her Paramount Pictures contract was not renewed.
"My Little Chickadee" (07:02)
Universal Pictures asked West to star in a film opposite W.C. Fields. West moved to Las Vegas to perform a nightclub act with nude men. An episode of "Person to Person" was never aired; drag queens began mimicking West.
"Myra Breckinridge" (05:40)
West stars with Raquel Welch in the film. Tony Curtis, George Hamilton, Ringo Star, and Timothy Dalton appear in "Sextette." West always possessed self-confidence, no matter her age.
West's Death and Legacy (03:01)
Paul Novak and West met while working on West's nightclub act. West died and was interned in Brooklyn, New York.
Credits; Mae West: Dirty Blonde (02:23)
Credits; Mae West: Dirty Blonde
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