On Mae West

She was clearly ahead of her time. Mae West was a liberated woman who loved sex and didn’t give a damn who knew it. Unshackled by the bonds of matrimony (although officially married twice), she had as many boyfriends as she cared to have and was completely unapologetic about any of it. Feared by many, despised by some, men wanted to be with her (and so did a few women) and women secretly wanted to be like her. Her blond hair and hourglass figure were her luxurious trademarks, and she made no bones about being an actress or that her acting was any good. She was just herself and that was enough. What gave her freedom from the repressive American society out of which she grew was her debonaire attitude of sophisticated charm, her sexy double entendres, and that shape. She was an original and that is what made her special. She was unashamedly and unabashedly herself regardless to whom she was talking. Hounded by groups who would censor her act, she never feigned decency or politically correct behavior because she didn’t care what the world thought of her. She knew that men desired her open and blatant sexuality, and she also knew that women feared her independence and liberation from the shackles of a repressive society that normally did not allow her kind of lifestyle. She rejected the hypocrisy of puritanical America, shunned monogamy as anachronistic and limiting, had sex with whom she wanted. What is so remarkable about her as a person and an entertainer is her charismatic ability to charm, entice, seduce just about everyone in the room. She was dead sure of herself as a woman, and she wasn’t going to let anyone around her forget who was in charge. The Hayes Bureau tried, often, to censor both her language and actions, and they often succeeded, but having watched her movies, I realize that it was her personae as the independent, liberated, sexual being that they could not contain, hold or censor. Her famous tag line, “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime” is loaded with sexual innuendo and bravado: she is the sexually active predator looking for some new action. This is her pick-up line. She says, “Honey, when I’m good, I’m good, but when I’m bad, I’m very good.” Implicit in her double entendre is a flawless reference to her own raw sexuality. When a young lady sees Mae for the first time, she exclaims, “Goodness,” to which Mae responds, “Darling, goodness had nothing to do with it.” The liberated sexuality of Mae West lies in stark contrast to the repressed Victorianism of the early Thirties that was just recovering from flappers and the wide-open partying of the Roaring Twenties. No one could contain Mae West, and she could steal a scene from heavyweights such as W. C. Fields or Cary Grant simply because she was so outrageously open about who she was. Contemporary performers such as Madonna or Cher could only wish they had the energy of this all-star diva.