“When Mae West showed a trusted friend the manuscript of her 1970 autobiography, “Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It,” he complained that the book lacked any mention of her struggles, failures, and disappointments. She scoffed. ‘Her fans don’t want Mae West to have problems and have to struggle,’ she declared in confident third person. ‘Mae West always triumphs.’
And so she does. Embraced by the public the moment she hit the movie screen in 1933 at the amazingly advanced age of 40, she still hasn’t lost her grip on the American consciousness. Two decades after her death, she continues to be a source of fascination and controversy, one of the most powerful sexual and cultural figures of our— as well as our grandparents’—time.
Her impact was immediate. She cropped up in Betty Boop and Walt Disney cartoons and in Cole Porter’s song lyrics. She came in for some ridicule—critics called her ‘the first female leading man,’ ‘the greatest female impersonator’—but major writers championed her. F. Scott Fitzgerald thought her ‘the only Hollywood actress with an ironic edge and comic spark,’ and the immensely popular British novelist Hugh Walpole wrote that only she and Charlie Chaplin ‘dare to directly attack with their mockery the fraying morals and manners of a dreary world.’ Colette praised her independent spirit: "‘She alone, out of an enormous and dull catalog of heroines, does not get married at the end of the film, does not gaze sadly at her declining youth … does not experience the bitterness of the abandoned older woman… She alone has no parents, no children, no husband.’ Nine of her witticisms appear in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, and she herself has been a dictionary entry since World War II, when RAF pilots named their full-chested, inflatable life preservers after her… more.
SOURCE: American Heritage
SEX | OCT 11-26, 2019