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Mae West on Stage: How Her Star Power Went Beyond the Big Screen

By    |   Thursday, 14 May 2015 12:24 PM

By the time she made her film debut in 1932's "Night After Night" starring George Raft and Constance Cummings, Mae West was already a 25-year acting veteran, first appearing on the vaudeville stage at age 14.

Here is an overview of West's career away from the big screen:

Vaudeville

West traveled the vaudeville circuit for many years, appearing in such productions as "A La Broadway," Vera Violetta," "A Winsome Widow," and "Sometime," shows that included musicals, farces, and burlesque. West landing her first starring role in 1926 in a play that she wrote herself entitled simply "Sex."

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The Broadway show was popular, but was also highly sexually charged, resulting in the show being raided and shut down by city officials. West was ultimately found guilty of violating New York City's morals in 1927 and received a 10-day jail sentence.

The show ultimately had 375 performances between April 1926 and March 1927 before being shut down. West later revived "Sex" and turned it into a movie, 1978's "Sextette," which starred her alongside Timothy Dalton, Dom Deluise, Ringo Starr, and Tony Curtis.

'Drag's' a Drag

Despite her initial experience, West remained undaunted by her incarceration. Her next outing was "Drag," in which she starred in, plus wrote and directed. Dealing with another taboo subject – homosexuality – West took her show outside of the confines of New York City, performing in both Connecticut and New Jersey.

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According to Biography, West made plans to bring the show to New York, but was faced with a ban imposed by the Society for the Prevention of Vice, which dedicated itself to overseeing the public's morality. West ultimately dropped plans to bring the show to Broadway.

'Diamond Lil'


West continued writing and starring in plays during the next few years, including productions of "The Wicked Age," "Pleasure Man," and "The Constant Sinner." It was also during this time that West created one of her most enduring works, "Diamond Lil."

This production, which West also wrote and played the lead role, made her into a full-fledged Broadway star. She played a fallen woman living during the Gay Nineties who does what she can to get herself away from the unscrupulous characters in her life.

Although too controversial as written for the big screen, the plot and subject matter was toned down and became "She Done Him Wrong," her second film and a monstrous hit for Paramount Pictures. After her film career went on hiatus, West revisited "Diamond Lil" several times, starring in three separate revivals of the plays in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

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By the time she made her film debut in 1932's "Night After Night" starring George Raft and Constance Cummings, Mae West was already a 25-year acting veteran, first appearing on the vaudeville stage at age 14.
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Thursday, 14 May 2015 12:24 PM
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