Happy Birthday Sally Field

Today is the 68th birthday of Sally Field.  The world is a better place because she is in it.

NAME: Sally Field
OCCUPATION: Actress
BIRTH DATE: November 6, 1946
PLACE OF BIRTH: Pasadena, California
FULL NAME: Sally Margaret Field

BEST KNOWN FOR: Sally Field is an American actress best known TV and film roles such as Gidget, The Flying Nun, Smokey and the Bandit, Sybil and Places in the Heart.

Actress, director and writer Sally Margaret Field was born on November 6, 1946, in Pasadena, California. Sally Field, the youngest of two children born to actress Margaret Field, grew up in show business. After Sally’s parents divorced, her mother married actor and stuntman Jock Mahoney. Field’s stepfather was a strict disciplinarian who expected faithful obedience from Field, her older brother, and half-sister Princess. Mahoney also fought frequently with Sally’s mother, and the couple’s increasingly rocky relationship weighted heavily on the children. Sally found solace from her difficult home life by focusing on her extracurricular activities at school. “I’d landed in the drama department, and it just kind of saved me,” she later explained to Good Housekeeping magazine.

After finishing up at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, California, Field attended an acting workshop at Columbia Studios, which helped launch her film and television career. She landed the leading role in the television series Gidget, which was based on the popular 1959 Sandra Dee film by the same name. Field was only 18 years old when the series debuted in the fall of 1965. Petite and perky, she played a teenager on a quest to find fun with her best friend Larue (played by Lynette Winter). The show was canceled after one season, but Field became popular with television audiences—so popular, in fact, that the network created another series for her. The Flying Nun starred Field as Sister Bertrille, a nun so light that she could take flight. Field didn’t want to take the part, but her stepfather insisted, telling her, “If you turn down this part, you may never work again.”

The Flying Nun premiered in September 1967, and soon became a huge hit. Viewers seemed to enjoy following the misadventures of quirky, aerodynamic Sister Bertrille. Behind the scenes, however, Field was miserable. She struggled with the feeling that she would never be considered a serious actress, and the show only magnified that fear. In 1968, she married her high school sweetheart, Steven Craig, and soon became pregnant. Her pregnancy was hidden on the series using creative shots and the folds of her billowy nun’s habit. Field wouldn’t have to hide for long, though; the show was canceled in 1970, after three seasons on the air.

After giving birth to a second child in 1972, Field returned to acting in 1973 with the short-lived sitcom The Girl with Something Extra. Field played a young newlywed with ESP on the show, which lasted only one season. Reconnecting to her craft, Field studied acting at the Actors Studio with famed teacher Lee Strasberg. Strasberg became a powerful mentor, encouraging Field to move away from her goody-two-shoes television image. This new part of her transformation also included divorcing her husband in 1975.

After several auditions, Field landed a role in 1976’s bodybuilding film Stay Hungry with Jeff Bridges and Arnold Schwarzenegger. She co-starred as a party girl, a far cry from the innocent characters she played on the small screen. That same year, Field entered a new phase of her career with the television movie Sybil. She showed great emotional range as a woman with multiple-personality disorder, winning her first Emmy Award for her work on the TV film. Returning to the big screen, Field appeared in 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit, playing a runaway bride who catches a ride from a trucker (played by Bert Reynolds). Field and Reynolds became romantically involved on the set of film, and starred together in several light-hearted comedies, including 1978’s Hooper and 1980’s Smokey and the Bandit II.

It was a dramatic role that brought Field her first Academy Award. In 1979, she starred as a gutsy, determined mill worker who tries to unionize her workplace in Norma Rae. Field received raves for her performance and netted the Best Actress Oscar, beating out the likes of Jane Fonda, Marsha Mason, Jill Clayburgh, and Bette Midler. She continued to take on dramatic fare, starring opposite Paul Newman in 1981’s Absence of Malice. In the film, Field played a ruthless journalist.

Re-teaming with Jeff Bridges, Field starred in the 1982 romantic comedy Kiss Me Goodbye as a widow trying to rebuild her life. Her character is haunted by her late husband’s ghost (played by James Caan), who does not approve of her new love interest. For her work on the film, Field was nominated for a Golden Globe Award.

Field then starred the 1984 historical drama Places in the Heart, as a widow struggling to keep her family’s farm during the Great Depression. The film featured a strong supporting cast, including John Malkovich, Lindsay Crouse, Danny Glover and Ed Harris, and received strong reviews. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, the film won two—one for writing, and one for Field as Best Actress. Field was just as thrilled to be winning her second Academy Award as she was for her first, perhaps even more so. During her acceptance speech, she gushed, “You like me. You really like me.” This enthusiastic comment may have been the most memorable quote of the evening, and Field soon found herself the subject of numerous jokes and quips because of it.

Field’s career continued to thrive with leading roles in 1985’s Murphy’s Romance with James Garner and 1988’s Punchline. As part of an all-star cast, she appeared in the 1989 Southern drama Steel Magnolias, which included Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and a young starlet named Julia Roberts. Field later produced the 1991 drama Dying Young, which starred Roberts.

In the 1990s, Field took on more character and supporting roles. She played Robin Williams’ estranged wife in the family comedy Mrs. Doubtfire and Tom Hanks’ mother in the 1994 whimsical hit Forest Gump. She also produced and starred in the 1995 television miniseries A Woman of Independent Means, the story of one woman’s life journey during the early 20th century. Continuing to work behind the scenes, she directed and wrote the 1996 holiday television movie The Christmas Tree, which starred Julie Harris.

Field next directed the 2000 film Beautiful, which starred Minnie Driver as a ruthless beauty queen. Returning to series television, Field won accolades for her recurring role on the hit drama ER, playing the bipolar mother of one of the doctors. Field’s nuanced performance earned her another Emmy Award—this time for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2001.

In 2002, Field fulfilled a personal dream by starring on Broadway in Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?. She then had a supporting role on the 2003 big-screen comedy Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde starring Reese Witherspoon. Before long, Field was contemplating a return to series television. She found great success with the family drama Brothers & Sisters, playing the matriarch of the Walker family. The show resonated with Field’s own values, saying it “is all about a dysfunctional family whose members deeply love each other and are bonded together. My whole life is about family,” Field told the Saturday Evening Post. She won her third Emmy Award for her portrayal of Nora Walker in 2007.

After Brothers & Sisters went off the air in 2011, Field returned to the big screen. She had a supporting role in the summer blockbuster The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) starring Andrew Garfield. In the film, Field played Peter Parker’s beloved Aunt May. That fall, Field tackled the role of one of American history’s least popular first ladies. She co-starred with Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, with Day-Lewis as the beloved president Abraham Lincoln and Field as his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Robert Todd Lincoln in the film.

Outside of her television work, Field has served on the board of the Sundance Institute. She has also worked with young actors during the institute’s summer programs. Diagnosed with osteoporosis, Field has become a spokesperson on the issue for a pharmaceutical company that markets Boniva, a medication to treat the disease.

Field is also devoted to her three adult children and her grandchildren. She has two sons, Peter and Eli, from her first marriage. Her youngest son, Samuel, is from her second marriage to producer Alan Greisman, which lasted from 1984 to 1993.

Happy Birthday Harris Glenn Milstead

Today is the 69th birthday of Harris Glenn Milstead, known the world over as the drag queen/performance artist/actor/personality called “Divine.”  I was first introduced to Divine through the subscription of Interview Magazine I had while I was in high school.  This lead to renting the early John Waters movies and so forth.  I adore anyone who is fearless, who is in on the joke, and who plows forward.  Divine had all of those qualities and many more.

divine5

NAME: Harris Glenn Milstead
BORN: October 19, 1945
BIRTHPLACE: Towson, MD
DIED: March 7, 1988
LOCATION AT DEATH: Los Angeles, CA
CAUSE OF DEATH: Respiratory failure
REMAINS: Buried, Prospect Hill Cemetery, Towson, MD

Divine (October 19, 1945 – March 7, 1988), born Harris Glenn Milstead, was an American actor, singer and drag queen. Described by People magazine as the “Drag Queen of the Century”, Divine often performed female roles in both cinema and theater and also appeared in women’s clothing in musical performances. Even so, he considered himself to be a character actor and performed male roles in a number of his later films. He was often associated with independent filmmaker John Waters and starred in ten of Waters’s films, usually in a leading role. Concurrent with his acting career, he also had a successful career as a disco singer during the 1980s, at one point being described as “the most successful and in-demand disco performer in the world.”

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, into a conservative, upper middle class family, he became involved with John Waters and his acting troupe, the Dreamlanders, in the mid-1960s and starred in a number of Waters’s early films such as Mondo Trasho (1969), Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974). These films became hits on the midnight movie and underground cinema circuit in the U.S., and have since become cult classics, with Divine becoming particularly renowned for playing the role of Babs Johnson in Pink Flamingos, during which he had to perform a series of extreme acts including eating dog excrement. In the 1970s, Milstead made the transition to theater and appeared in a number of productions, including Women Behind Bars and The Neon Woman, while continuing to star in such films as Polyester (1981), Lust in the Dust (1985) and Hairspray (1988). Meanwhile, in 1981 Divine had embarked on a disco career, producing Hi-NRG tracks, most of which had been written by Bobby Orlando, and went on to achieve chart success with hits like “You Think You’re A Man”, “I’m So Beautiful” and “Walk Like a Man.” Having struggled with obesity throughout his life, Divine died from cardiomegaly in 1988.

The New York Times said of Milstead’s ’80s films: “Those who could get past the unremitting weirdness of Divine’s performance discovered that the actor/actress had genuine talent, including a natural sense of comic timing and an uncanny gift for slapstick.” He was also described as “one of the few truly radical and essential artists of the century… [who] was an audacious symbol of man’s quest for liberty and freedom.” Since his death, Divine has remained a cult figure, particularly with those in the LGBT community, of which he was a part, being openly gay.

Due to Divine’s portrayal of Edna Turnblad in the original comedy-film version of Hairspray, later musical adaptations of Hairspray have commonly placed male actors in the role of Edna, including Harvey Fierstein and others in the 2002 Broadway musical and John Travolta in the 2007 musical film.

A 12 foot tall statue in the likeness of Divine by Andrew Logan can be seen on permanent display at The American Visionary Art Museum in Divine’s home town of Baltimore, Maryland.

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Out of the Dark (5-May-1989)
Hairspray (16-Feb-1988)
Trouble in Mind (Dec-1985)
Lust in the Dust (1-Mar-1985)
Polyester (29-May-1981)
Female Trouble (4-Oct-1974)
Pink Flamingos (17-Mar-1972)
Multiple Maniacs (10-Apr-1970)
Mondo Trasho (14-Mar-1969)

Is the subject of books:
My Son Divine, 2001, BY: Frances Milstead, DETAILS: Alyson Publications:with Kevin Heffernan and Steve Yeager
Not Simply Divine, 1994, BY: Bernard Jay, DETAILS: Fireside:by Divine’s personal manager

Happy Birthday Gore Vidal

Today is the 89th birthday of Gore Vidal, the man that quipped:

“Fifty percent of people won’t vote, and fifty percent don’t read newspapers. I hope it’s the same fifty percent.”

NAME: Eugene Luther Gore Vidal
OCCUPATION: Critic, Author, Playwright
BIRTH DATE: October 03, 1925
DEATH DATE: July 31, 2012
EDUCATION: St. Albans School, Los Alamos Ranch School
PLACE OF BIRTH: West Point, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Hollywood Hills, California

Best Known For: Gore Vidal is best known as a prolific American writer, but is also famous for frequent talk-show appearances and witty political criticisms.

Today is the birthday of Gore Vidal, born Eugene Luther Gore Vidal Jr. at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, where his father was an instructor (1925).

“A good deed never goes unpunished.”

He’s well known for his works of historical fiction — such as Julian (1964), Burr (1973), and Lincoln (1984). And his 1968 novel Myra Breckenridge, a satire about a transsexual, was an international best-seller. The New York Times called it “witty”; the reviewer also called it “repulsive” and “a funny novel, but it requires an iron stomach.” Vidal carried a grudge against the Times for the rest of his life.

“A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.”

In the mid-1950s he branched out even further, writing a series of potboiler mysteries under the pen name “Edgar Box.” He also produced 20 dramas and literary adaptations for television. He adapted one of his original teleplays, Visit to a Small Planet (1955), for the stage, and it became a hit on Broadway; he also wrote several original and adapted screenplays in Hollywood. Near the end of his life, he announced that he’d given up the long-form novel, preferring to focus on nonfiction. He wrote two memoirs (Palimpsest in 1995 and Point to Point Navigation in 2006), and several book-length essays on American history and politics.

Vidal died of pneumonia two months ago, at the age of 86. His old sparring partner The New York Times published a long obituary in his honor, but it contained three errors that required correction.

And this is why you should like him:

Happy Birthday Harris Glenn Milstead

Today is the 69th birthday of Harris Glenn Milstead, known the world over as the drag queen/performance artist/actor/personality called “Divine.”  I was first introduced to Divine through the subscription of Interview Magazine I had while I was in high school.  This lead to renting the early John Waters movies and so forth.  I adore anyone who is fearless, who is in on the joke, and who plows forward.  Divine had all of those qualities and many more.

divine5

Born: Harris Glenn Milstead 19 October 1945 Towson, Baltimore County, Maryland
Died: 7 March 1988 (aged 42) Los Angeles, California, United States

Divine (October 19, 1945 – March 7, 1988), born Harris Glenn Milstead, was an American actor, singer and drag queen. Described by People magazine as the “Drag Queen of the Century”, Divine often performed female roles in both cinema and theater and also appeared in women’s clothing in musical performances. Even so, he considered himself to be a character actor and performed male roles in a number of his later films. He was often associated with independent filmmaker John Waters and starred in ten of Waters’s films, usually in a leading role. Concurrent with his acting career, he also had a successful career as a disco singer during the 1980s, at one point being described as “the most successful and in-demand disco performer in the world.”

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, into a conservative, upper middle class family, he became involved with John Waters and his acting troupe, the Dreamlanders, in the mid-1960s and starred in a number of Waters’s early films such as Mondo Trasho (1969), Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974). These films became hits on the midnight movie and underground cinema circuit in the U.S., and have since become cult classics, with Divine becoming particularly renowned for playing the role of Babs Johnson in Pink Flamingos, during which he had to perform a series of extreme acts including eating dog excrement. In the 1970s, Milstead made the transition to theater and appeared in a number of productions, including Women Behind Bars and The Neon Woman, while continuing to star in such films as Polyester (1981), Lust in the Dust (1985) and Hairspray (1988). Meanwhile, in 1981 Divine had embarked on a disco career, producing Hi-NRG tracks, most of which had been written by Bobby Orlando, and went on to achieve chart success with hits like “You Think You’re A Man”, “I’m So Beautiful” and “Walk Like a Man.” Having struggled with obesity throughout his life, Divine died from cardiomegaly in 1988.

The New York Times said of Milstead’s ’80s films: “Those who could get past the unremitting weirdness of Divine’s performance discovered that the actor/actress had genuine talent, including a natural sense of comic timing and an uncanny gift for slapstick.” He was also described as “one of the few truly radical and essential artists of the century… [who] was an audacious symbol of man’s quest for liberty and freedom.” Since his death, Divine has remained a cult figure, particularly with those in the LGBT community, of which he was a part, being openly gay.

Due to Divine’s portrayal of Edna Turnblad in the original comedy-film version of Hairspray, later musical adaptations of Hairspray have commonly placed male actors in the role of Edna, including Harvey Fierstein and others in the 2002 Broadway musical and John Travolta in the 2007 musical film.

A 12 foot tall statue in the likeness of Divine by Andrew Logan can be seen on permanent display at The American Visionary Art Museum in Divine’s home town of Baltimore, Maryland.

Happy Birthday Chrissie Hynde

NAME: Christine Ellen Hynde
OCCUPATION: Animal Rights Activist, Songwriter, Guitarist, Singer
BIRTH DATE: September 07, 1951
EDUCATION: Kent State University
PLACE OF BIRTH: Akron, Ohio

BEST KNOWN FOR: Chrissie Hynde came to fame as the frontwoman for the Pretenders. Hits “Brass in Pocket” and “My City Was Gone” became rock anthems in the 1970s and 80s.

Born on September 7, 1951, in Akron, Ohio. Chrissie Hynde was one of the leading women in rock in the 1980s and 1990s as the lead singer of the Pretenders. After studying art at Kent State University for a time, she took off for London, England, where she discovered the emerging new rock genre??punk.

The Pretenders got together in the late 1970s and released a self-titled album in 1980. Chrissie Hynde and bandmate James Honeyman-Scott penned the group’s first hit, “Brass in Pocket.” Subsequent releases produced the hit songs “Middle of the Road,” “Show Me,” and “Back on the Chain Gang” (from 1984’s Learning to Crawl); and “Don’t Get Me Wrong” (from 1986’s Get Close); as well as 1994’s “I’ll Stand by You.”

Chrissie Hynde divorced Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr in 1990 after six years of marriage. Together they have a daughter, Yasmin. Hynde also has a daughter, Natalie, with her former longtime partner Ray Davies of the Kinks.

Family Affair – Not So Secret Obsession

I remember that my sister and I really enjoyed this show in reruns.  It seemed like we were a bit obsessed with TV shows of that era, we loved My Three Sons, Bewitched, and Brady Bunch too.  I loved the doorknobs in the middle of the door, that must be what rich people have.  All the spinning gems at the opening seemed so extravagant.

family affair

Original channel: CBS
Original run: September 12, 1966 – September 9, 1971

Family Affair is an American sitcom that aired on CBS from September 12, 1966 to September 9, 1971. The series explored the trials of well-to-do civil engineer and bachelor Bill Davis (Brian Keith) as he attempted to raise his brother’s orphaned children in his luxury New York City apartment. Davis’ traditional English gentleman’s gentleman, Mr. Giles French (Sebastian Cabot), also had adjustments to make as he became saddled with the responsibility of caring for 15-year-old Cissy (Kathy Garver) and the 6-year-old twins, Jody (Johnny Whitaker) and Buffy (Anissa Jones).

The show ran for 138 episodes. Family Affair was created and produced by Don Fedderson, also known for My Three Sons and The Millionaire.

William “Bill” Davis, originally of Terre Haute, Indiana, is a successful civil engineer who develops major projects all over the world. A wealthy bachelor often dating socialites, he lives in a large Park Avenue apartment in Manhattan, and has a quintessential gentleman’s gentleman, Giles French. However, his quiet lifestyle is turned upside-down when his two nieces and nephew move in.

Bill’s brother Bob and sister-in-law Mary had died in an automobile accident a year prior to the premiere episode. Their children, teen Cissy and her young twin siblings Buffy and Jody, had been dispersed among relatives in Terre Haute, but none wanted to continue raising the children, so they attempt to give the responsibility to Bill. “Uncle Bill” is not keen on the idea at first, but the children endear themselves to him. First Buffy comes along, followed by Jody, and finally Cissy. Initially mortified by the situation is Mr. French, who effectively becomes the children’s nanny, on top of his valet duties. However as time passes they all become a family, albeit an accidental one.

When Sebastian Cabot became ill, Giles’s brother, Nigel “Niles” French (John Williams) was introduced, working for the Davis family for nine episodes in 1967 while Giles is said to be in England visiting the Queen. In the last season, Bill hires a part-time housekeeper, Emily Turner (Nancy Walker) to assist Mr. French.

Various other characters were also seen regularly, including several acquaintances of Mr. French who are in service (most notably Miss Faversham (Heather Angel), colleagues of Bill, and friends of Cissy.

As discussed by Kathy Garver on the final season’s DVD features, the show’s cast suffered several deaths. Anissa Jones died of a drug overdose in 1976 at age 18. Sebastian Cabot died of a stroke in 1977 at age 59. In 1997, two months after the suicide of his daughter, and having lived with cancer for some time, Brian Keith committed suicide by gunshot. In 2002, Gregg Fedderson died of cancer at age 53. Cancer also claimed the lives of Heather Angel in 1986 and Nancy Walker in 1992. John Williams died in 1983. Both Phil Ober and John Hubbard, who portrayed Bill Davis’ business partner, Ted Gaynor, are also deceased.

Happy Birthday Mae West

Tomorrow is the 121st birthday of Mae West.

NAME: Mae West
OCCUPATION: Film Actress, Theater Actress, Pin-up
BIRTH DATE: August 17, 1893
DEATH DATE: November 22, 1980
PLACE OF BIRTH: Brooklyn, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California

BEST KNOWN FOR: Mae West started in Vaudeville and on the stage in New York, and later moved to Hollywood to star in films known for their blunt sexuality and steamy settings.

Mae West was an American screen legend and erotic icon famous for her voluptuous figure, sexy innuendos, and irrepressible wit. A free thinking and independent woman far ahead of her time, West expressed herself boldly, both sexually and creatively. She famously surrounded herself with handsome muscle men, both onscreen and off, and accrued a long list of famous and powerful lovers. Notably, West was one of the first female American playwrights, and actresses, to demand and receive creative control over her work. West’s creative expression encompassed nearly every facet of the entertainment spectrum including theatre and screenwriting, film, radio, television, and audio recording. And with a career spanning some 80+ years, she holds the further distinction of having performed both vaudeville and rock and roll. As a cultural icon she is immortalized by imitators, biographers, and even an assortment of snacks and devices bearing her name. Her trademark phrases have been translated into numerous languages, including Mandarin, Mongolian, Norwegian, and Lithuanian.

She was born Mary Jane West on August 17, 1893 in Brooklyn, New York. Her father, the bare knuckles prizefighter Battlin’ Jack West, was a native New Yorker from the lower east side. A heavy smoker and drinker, he turned to violence when thwarted. Her mother, “Tillie”, was a former corset and fashion model, and frustrated actress, who had immigrated to America from Germany with her parents. Although Mae West always claimed that Tillie was Jewish, records show that the family listed their religion as Lutheran upon arrival in America. West’s paternal grandmother had also immigrated as a child — an Irish Catholic, she married Mae’s paternal grandfather, John Edwin, while only 12 years old. Edwin’s own ancestry remains enigmatic. But according to West biographer Jill Watts, he may have been a light-skinned African American who passed for white.

Arising from this milieu of adversity, Mae learned early on that her unusual talent and good looks were an advantage that just might leverage her into a better life — if she played it smart. Encouraged by her mother, she used her sexuality to build alliances with, or dominate, nearly every man who crossed her path. And she learned to view marriage as a double edged institution – one that offered legal protection and social acceptance, but which robbed women of their independence and sexual freedom. According to most sources she took refuge in marriage just once, with fellow actor and lover Frank Wallace. When she tired of Wallace, and discovered she was not pregnant as feared, she ended the relationship. She neglected to file for divorce however, and Wallace showed up years later, in 1937, with marriage certificate in hand to receive a share of West’s ample earnings. She may have been simultaneously married to musician Guido Deiro, divorcing him in 1920. West allegedly used the alias Catherine Mae Belle West when marrying Deiro to avoid bigamy charges.

While West’s attitudes toward men were heavily influenced by her mother so was her choice of career. Tillie West had once longed to follow in the footsteps of idol Lillian Russell, even having her portrait painted in such way as to highlight a certain resemblance. She started Mae off in show business as early as age 5, according to some reports, and by age 7 Mae had won the gold medal in a talent show, with Tillie billing her as “Baby Mae.” By age 12 she was appearing on the vaudeville circuit and was soon performing as the sexy “Baby Vamp.” At 18 she introduced vaudeville to the “shimmy”, a sexy full body undulation that she had first observed in the blues bars of Chicago.

In the 1920s she had moved on to playwriting. A shameless self promoter, she is said to have single billed herself on works that were in fact jointly authored. Nonetheless both on the stage and later in film she showed tremendous wit and intelligence for writing dialogue, especially for those parts she played herself. But while West is chiefly remembered for her clever dialogue and powerhouse sensuality, much of her work dealt also with spiritual matters and West was herself a deeply and eclectically spiritual person for most of her life. Not surprisingly, her tendency toward frankness and maverick free thinking, on all subjects, often put her at odds with moralists and hard line religious leaders.

Her first major run in with censorship laws came in 1926 when she was jailed for the play Sex, which she both wrote and starred in. West was sentenced to 10 days in jail on obscenity charges. However she allegedly received star treatment in prison, dining each night with the warden and getting two days off for good behavior. Despite this fact she was sympathetic to those less fortunate, and upon her release she penned an article about the women she had met behind bars. Putting her money where her mouth was, she also made a donation on their behalf to fund a prison library.

In 1927 West was back in trouble again. Her new play Drag, about a homosexual party, was a big hit in New Jersey. But it was banned from Broadway and was soon bogged down in extensive legal battles. She bounced back the following year with her naughty, but more acceptable Diamond Lil. Not only was it a big hit on Broadway, but it more significantly catapulted her toward Hollywood stardom. West debuted on film in 1932 with what was supposed to be a small part in Night After Night, starringGeorge Raft. However West insisted on rewriting all her lines, and the result was pure gold — for West and for the film. Building on this success West was able to translate her Broadway play Diamond Lilto the big screen as She Done Him Wrong in 1933. Audiences went wild, and the film was a huge success, garnering an Academy Award nomination and catapulting male lead Cary Grant, to stardom. The picture saved its studio, Paramount Pictures, from bankruptcy.

West’s next film, I’m No Angel, was also a big hit with moviegoers. But her empowered sexuality and ribald wit, that so entranced movie goers, incensed religious leaders and moralists. The Catholic Church in particular launched a campaign to put an end to the “filth” churned out by West, and to an extent, by the studios in general. By July of 1934 Hollywood was being squeezed toward more exact compliance with the strict Motion Picture Production Code. Since West was not one to give in easily and she managed for a while to pull a clever bait and switch with the censors. She laded scripts with obvious material for them to cut, while slipping in more subtle elements they would overlook. Most famous of these were her sly double entendres, lines she rolled out with such droll understatement that fans were never quite sure what was a straight line and what was intentional innuendo.

But censors could not be duped indefinitely, not with more clever moralists writing them outraged letters. And so West found her work in Hollywood more and more constrained. She churned out several more films, including My Little Chickadee, in which she starred alongside nemesis W. C. Fields (1940). But 1943’s The Heat’s On proved to be her last offering, until her film rebirth in the 1970s.

For the next few decades she returned her attention to writing and performing for the more liberal environment of the stage. One of West’s favorite roles was her 1944 Broadway production ofCatherine Was Great. West’s version of the famed Russian empress was a woman after her own heart — a powerful, lusty, independent woman who surrounded herself with tall muscle men. According to West, an ardent spiritualist, this likeness was appropriate as she herself was the reincarnation ofCatherine the Great.

Like the historic Catherine, West’s identity as a sexual titan who seemed untarnished by age. West still demanded daily sex well into her 60s and held onto a girlish figure through an assortment of eccentric practices. According to West, she avoided sunlight to preserve her skin, massaged her breasts for two hours a day with cold cream to keep them firm, had her men massage warm baby oil into her skin to keep it soft, and began each day with an enema to rid her body of toxins and keep her skin silky smooth.

Determined never to be a “has been” (she hotly turned down Billy Wilder‘s invitation to play Norma Desmond in Sunset Strip) West frequently managed to reinvent and reintroduce herself to the American public. She had her own Las Vegas show in the 1950s. And in the 1960s, she appeared on the album sleeve for The Beatles “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, she popped up on a number of popular television programs (including The Red Skelton Show and Mr. Ed), and she even cut two rock and roll albums. In 1970 she at last returned to the big screen with Gore Vidal‘s Myra Breckinridge.

But although the time seemed ripe for West’s bawdy humor to make a come back, with society and censors more open to sexuality, age was catching up with her. Now in her mid 80s, she was struggling with diabetes and other ailments. During the 1978 filming of Sextette, her last film, she often needed to rest during scenes. And she forgot her lines so often that it was necessary to fit her with an earpiece so she could be prompted with her lines. But the indomitable Mae insisted on playing a woman in her late 20s, and she behaved as if she were still the knockout sex goddess that every man wanted to make love too. Despite such handicaps and eccentricities her co-stars would remember West as a grand lady. And when the film finally premiered her cult of longtime fans still found her adorable and embracedSextette, viewing the flaws of the film as delightful self-parody. But the public in general was not so impressed and despite added talent from the likes of Timothy Dalton, Ringo Starr, George Hamilton,Tony Curtis, Walter Pidgeon and George Raft, the film fell flat at the box office.

Two years later West’s decline culminated in a series of strokes, and she died on November 22, 1980 from stroke related complications. Two days later her former lover and longtime friend, George Raft, who had co-starred with West in both her first film and her last, died as well, of leukemia. Like Raft, West is memorialized by a Motion Pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Like only a handful of other stars her trademark gestures and phrases (such as “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie”, “When I’m bad I’m even better”, and “Come up and see me sometime”) have entered into the pop culture lexicon.

Mae West’s films continue to be released on video and DVD and some of her plays remain in current publication. She continues to be immortalized as well by assorted drag queens and festivals who celebrate her talent and persona. More than 20 years after her death biographies of West continue to abound, including Mae West: An Icon in Black and White by Jill Watts (2003), Becoming Mae Westby Emily Worth Leider (2000), and Mae West: Empress of Sex, by Maurice Leonard (1992). West’s autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It, first appeared in 1959 and has been republished a number of times.