In a bold move, my great-grandmother refused Mae West’s donation until she visited her charity

Ida w Mae West watermark
My great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings with Mae West during her 1940 visit to the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging following her donation of $500.

I’ve shared this photo of Mae West with my great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings before, but I only today came across this newspaper article from September 13th, 1940 revealing that she made a $500 contribution to the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging in her mother’s memory. I had always assumed the photo of Mae and Ida was taken during one of my great-grandmother’s many gala star-studded events.

Newspaper article about Mae West’s visit to the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging following her generous donation of $500 in her mother’s memory. Newspaper unknown, possibly the B’nai B’rith Messnger.

But no, in a pretty bold move, Ida refused to accept Mae West’s donation, a significant amount of money in 1940, unless she came to the Home and understood its mission firsthand. So to her remarkable credit, the actress – certainly a mega star by 1940 – took up that challenge a few weeks later.

I find it hard to imagine Mae West, with her killer curves and that elaborate headpiece with black netting and what looks like massive diamantes, touring the Home and visiting with the old folks. It must have been quite the experience all around.
In a touching twist, she also met with 107-year-old Mrs. Fannie Gleeksman (born in 1833!), who lived at the Home and had just been given the news that her 87-year-old daughter, Mrs. Goldie Taub, could now move into her room, following the death of her husband (see the other news clipping).
The touching newspaper article about a 107-year-old resident of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging being reunited with her newly widowed daughter. September, 1940.

Mae West enclosed her donation in a very special letter, which you can view here. Incredibly, it still resonates today and really provides a whole new, rather amazing, insight into her character. Here’s the accompanying post I wrote about the letter because its date is also rather eerie in terms of the world events occurring on that very day.