Most people, when they hear the name Mae West, think of old Hollywood movies and a brassy bottle blonde delivering comic double entendres in a studied drawl. In fact, there was a lot more to Mae than innocently smutty remarks (although she made those into a cinematic art form – most famously replying to the comment “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!” with a knowing “Goodness had nothing to do with it” in the 1932 movie Night After Night).
A woman way ahead of her time, she was a multi-talented performer and a very successful and highly controversial playwright – her first play (entitled, with admirable brevity and decades before Madonna, simply Sex) led to her arrest and brief imprisonment during the highly moralistic 1920s. Beginning her career in vaudeville, she became a smash hit on Broadway for both her acting and her plays before moving to Hollywood in the early 1930s, where she became a huge success, again for her acting and writing.
Her distinctive and naughty style attracted the attention of the censors, and her early Hollywood performances were apparently partly responsible for the creation of the so-called Hays Code, which tied the American film industry into a narrowly defined moral outlook for more than thirty years. It was in order to circumvent this new code that Mae developed her now-famous facility with double entendres, a facility that turned her into an icon and one of Hollywood’s highest paid stars.