Before the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, there was Mae West. The entertaining, sometimes mischievous, always provocative and controversial Broadway performer and film star began her career in vaudeville. Born Mary Jane West in Brooklyn, New York on August 17, 1893, West made her professional debut in 1907 at the age of fourteen. In 1911, she landed a role in a Broadway play and by 1918; she was the cover girl for the Ev’rybody Shimmies Now sheet music.
Shortly after her Broadway success, West began to write and direct her own plays. Her sexually charged and sexually themed plays captivated audiences. In 1927, she was arrested for the production of her play entitled, Sex. Community leaders were outraged by her sexual openness and the content of the play. She was charged with corrupting morals and sentenced to 10 days in jail. However, she never allowed the jail sentence to interfere with or silence her views on sexuality.
Mae West’s playful sexual attitude hit the old time radio airwaves in a 1937 Chase and Sanborn Hour broadcast. She participated in a skit with Edgar Bergen and in another that featured Don Ameche. Unfortunately, her use of sexual innuendo led to a national uproar. Religious groups, political organizations and individual listeners accused the Chase and Sanborn Coffee company of promoting obscenity. Mae West was held responsible and banned from radio.
Twelve years passed, before West returned to the air in a 1950 broadcast of The Chesterfield Supper Club. Throughout her life, Mae West continued to write, act and promote sexual openness. West was well known for numerous much younger suitors and her vocal support of gay rights. Mae West died on November 22, 1980 at the age of 87.