"It's in the FAQ so it must be true!"
A. According to the most reliable evidence, she was born on August 17, 1893, in Brooklyn, New York. The confusion comes because she regularly "adjusted" her age to suit her purposes, but then again, what woman doesn't? Also, no records seem to exist of her actual birth to pinpoint the year (the day seems to never have been in question). However, the United States census of 1900, lists her as being 7 yrs old at the time. If this is true, she lied on her marriage certificate, and was not of legal age to get married without her parents consent (or knowledge).
1.2 Q. Wasn't she actually a female impersonator?
A. This is one of those rumors that has been going on since the early years of her career. In my opinion, NO. The photos of her as a young woman seem to sway me more than anything else. Although some have suggested that the photos are not actually of her (or him). But, considering the sheer number of men who she apparently slept with, you'd think that someone would have blabbed if she was a man. After all, someone would have had a massive homophobic reaction. But on a secondary line of evidence, everyone seems to agree that she had the most clear, soft, cream-like skin. Even with electrolysis (which I doubt they had in the '30s) and hormone therapy (which didn't get going until the 50's), it's unlikely that a man could have achieved the same effect, although not impossible.
1.3 Q. Was she actually in prison?
A. Well, yes and no. I doubt that we would call it a prison compared to today's institutions. She was sentenced to 10 days on Welfare Island, in New York. She only served 6 days, getting out early on good behavior. From all accounts, she spent very little time doing the normal prisoner activities. Some say the warden had a crush on her, but all seem to say that she normally took her meals with the warden and his family, rather than with the inmates. She essentially used it for her own purposes, which was typical of Mae West.
The whole reason she was there was the play "Sex." (1926). They charged her with Obscenity and Corrupting the Morals of the Youth. But Marybeth Hamilton makes a good case that the raid was really made to pressure Miss West to keep one of her other plays off Broadway (and out of NYC at all).
1.4 Q. What were her measurements?
A. I doubt there's really an answer to that one. I find it unlikely that anyone could have ever known the REAL answer. I'm sure Edith Head even used her measurements while in a corset. Her Merry Widow was probably her most loyal ally. By most, she was considered overweight, although that's not hard to achieve when you're only 5'4" (she wore huge platform shoes underneath those classically long dresses). To use a cheap analogy, she is to today's models as Ben & Jerry's ice cream is to a piece of celery. Personally, I'd take the ice cream ;)
1.5 Q. Was Mae West ever married and if so to whom?
A. Yes, although she would hardly ever admit it. She married Frank (Szatkus) Wallace, in Milwaukee on April 11, 1911. Although they never lived together as man and wife, they were not divorced until 1942.
1.6 Q. When & how did she die?
A. She died on November 22, 1980, in her Ravenswood apartment, after suffering two strokes, one on August 10, 1980, and one on September 18, 1980, according to "Mae West" by George Eels and Stanley Musgrove.
A. She appeared in twelve movies. Her first film, Night after Night, was made in 1932. Her last, Sextette, was in 1978.
2.2 Q. Where was the quote x from?
A. There are really more comprehensive and accurate places to find any assorted quote of hers. She was the queen of quotables. I can tell you that a few of her most famous sayings are not exactly as they really were. For instance, "Come up and see me sometime" was actually "Come up sometime and see me" in the movie "She Done Him Wrong." Also, the line often attributed to her, "Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" was actually never said in a Mae West movie until her last, "Sextette." And that was actually a self-reference, having had the line credited to her so long ago. It is rumored that she first muttered a version of the line to an interviewer.
2.3 Q. Where can I get her movies on videocassette (or laserdisc)?
A. Except for "Myra Breckenridge," all are currently available on VHS. "Myra" was released previously, but is now out of print. "Sextette" is difficult to find. All others are available through a company on the Net, called the Entertainment Connection. They are also usually found through any good video store, including Tower Video, across the US. Don't count on finding them through Blockbuster.
On laser, "She Done Him Wrong" has been released, although I doubt it is still available. There is a collection called "The Ultimate Mae West Collection," that includes four of her better films: "Night After Night," "I'm No Angel," "Belle of the Nineties," and "Klondike Annie."
On DVD, five are available, including a remastered "Myra Breckinridge" with commentary. Others available as of 6/30/2004: "I'm No Angle," "Sextette," "Belle of the Nineties" and "Klondike Annie."
A. There are two ways. They are available through the Library of Congress, assuming you can get permission from the copyright holder and/or have certain documentation for educational/research use.
Or you can get the book. It includes "Sex," "The Drag," and "Pleasure Man." Here's the pertinent info:
"Three Plays by Mae West" ISBN# 0415909333 -- $16.95 ISBN# 0415909325 -- $65.00 Author: Lillian Schlissel Publisher: Routledge
A. After a bit of Net searching, I found this address: Mae West International Society, 7001 Seaview Suite 133 NW, Seattle, Wa 98117. I don't know if it's still active, since a couple of people have tried it, but have not received responses.
4.2 Q. What books are available on her?
A. Actually, there are quite a few, with more coming out every year. They can be divided into two categories: Biographies, and Criticism. In my opinion, one of the best biographies is "Empress of Sex," by Maurice Leonard (ISBN# 1-55972-151-0). It is very well researched, being truthful, yet respectful. On the criticism side, I would recommend "When I'm Bad, I'm Better; Mae West, Sex, and American Entertainment," by Marybeth Hamilton (ISBN# 0-06-019031-0). Although it can be a bit harsh, and somewhat scholarly, it does provide a remarkable insight into possible motivations and effects.4.3 Q. Where can I get WAVs of her?
A. I don't really know. I don't know of any location on the Internet to get them, although with the proper setup, you should be able to make your own (or any other kind of sound file).
Last updated: June 30, 2004