“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Mae West
ONE OF THE hardest things to do is to accurately judge the impact of a rebel after society has morphed in their direction. It’s the difference between falling down a set of stairs and remembering it as stubbing your toe.
Mae West – vaudevillian, Broadway sensation, playwright and movie star – was a pioneering sex icon so many decades ago that American women had only just taken off their corsets, much less burnt their bras.
Born in 1893 in Brooklyn, by the time she was seven she was performing in amateur shows and winning local talent contests. By 14, Mae West was performing professionally in vaudeville shows and by her late teens she was on Broadway and singled out for attention by the New York Times, despite the show closing after just a few performances.
When the right material dried up, Mae West started writing her own scripts. Her first starring role on Broadway was in 1927 in Sex, which she wrote, produced, and directed. Audiences loved it, critics hated it, but city officials were aghast, especially the city’s district attorney and zealous crime fighter, Joab H. Banton, the son of a judge and determined to fight indecency in all its forms.
Banton promised to “rid the stage of naked women, if necessary by backing up patrol wagons to the stage doors and taking the performers, just as they are to the night court so the judge can see just what audiences are compelled to look at.” Of course, audiences weren’t complaining and it didn’t appear that any man or woman had been dragged kicking and screaming to see the naked women in question. Nevertheless, Banton made it clear smut would not be tolerated:
“I intend to treat the stage the same way as we treated the night clubs. Clothing must be lowered at the bottom and raised at the top, while indecency in lines, situations and elsewhere must be ended!”
On Monday, 28 March all hell broke loose on Broadway as Continue Reading »