Mae West

(1892—1980) American actress and dramatist

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US actress, who became a buxom burlesque of a sex symbol with a great sense of comedy.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, West went into show business as a child and progressed to vaudeville. Early stage successes included À la Broadway (1911) and Sometime (1913). Sex (1926), the first play she wrote, was considered so sensational that the authorities closed it down and imprisoned her for ten days for obscenity. Her public following grew, however, with such plays as Diamond Lil (1928) and The Constant Sinner (1931). Night After Night (1932) was her first film, with She Done Him Wrong (1933), Klondike Annie (1936), Go West Young Man (1936), and My Little Chickadee (1940) among the many successes that quickly followed.

During the 1940s West returned to the stage and, later, appeared in cabaret. Her film career, however, was not over; at seventy-eight she made Myra Breckinridge (1970) and at eighty-five Sextette (1978), believing to the end that ‘It's better to be looked over than overlooked’. Her autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It, was published in 1959. Her name has entered the language as a type of lifejacket worn round the chest.

Subjects: Theatre — Music.

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