Known as a sex symbol and screen icon, Mae West began her career as a vaudeville performer when she was still a teenager. Born in Brooklyn, West first appeared on Broadway in 1911, and while the show was a flop, The New York Times wrote positively about West's performance. She continued to perform on Broadway and made the transition to film in 1932 when she was offered a contract by Paramount.
However, Mae West's stage career was impactful. In addition to performing in plays, she was recognized early on as an ally of the gay community--many of her performance styles (such as her walk and style of speech) were inspired by female impersonators. As a playwright, she used the name "Jane Mast." Her first play (in which she also starred) was a racy 1926 drama entitled Sex. It was popular, but shut down (and West jailed for 10 days) for lewdness and moral corruption. Undeterred, West wrote The Drag (1927), a drama about homosexuality and conversion therapy. Again, the play was a success despite the outcry of "moral corruption." The play is often cited as a motivating factor behind the Wales Padlock Bill, passed in 1927, which banned "perverse" subjects (such as sexuality and homosexuality) on Broadway.
Throughout her stage and film career, Mae West challenged censorship laws through her sex symbol status. She was financially savvy and regularly produced shows and films. West was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Although she died in 1980, her legacy has continued on through stage, art, music, and film.
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