This month, Sex is back in the Big Apple: An infamous play written by, and starring, budding starlet Mae West (right) in the 1920s. Although conservative critics panned the show, ticket sales were hot. The sultry production did not go over well with city officials, who had received complaints from some religious groups, and the theater was raided, with West arrested, along with the cast. After a 10-month run on Broadway in 1927, the play was deemed by a grand jury to be such obscene, indecent, immoral, and impure drama that it might corrupt the morals of youth. West was sentenced to 10 days in jail for obscenity. She traveled to the pokey in style; garlanded in roses, wearing silk underwear, and riding in a limousine. She was released after 8 days.
The notoriety helped the actor. Several years after the Sex scandal, Paramount Pictures offered West – then aged 38 – a studio contract. She went on to become one of the best-known and best paid stars of the era: legend has it, by 1935, she was the second-highest paid person in the United States behind publisher William Randolph Hearst. Even more impressive than West’s salary, or her age when she commandeered Hollywood, was the control she held over her career. The breezy, bawdy characters she played were partly of her own design, thanks to a deal she negotiated with Paramount allowing her to write her own lines.
Now, the play that propelled West into the spotlight is coming back to New York, where it will be performed as a staged reading (through October 2nd). It’s being produced by the feminist theatre group, the Dirty Blondes. A key feature will be the special events taking place after each performance. Guests are invited to take part in talk-backs, such as artist Juniper Fleming – who has previously directed, produced and performed in a revival of Sex. Other guests include historian Linda Ann Loschiavo, an expert in West; feminist poet Maya Osborne; and burlesque dancer Veronica Varlow.
The play is a somewhat unusual choice for the Dirty Blondes, which typically focuses on work with and by living artists. Since being founded in Brooklyn in 2012, it has produced 15 pieces of new theater, and worked with more than 340 artists. And now, they are using Mae West’s career as inspiration to create their own legacy.
Goodness, what a scandalous career. But, as Mae West once surmised:
Goodness had nothing to do with it!
Until next time> “never forget”