On August 17, 1893, Mae West was born in Bushwick, Brooklyn, the daughter of a prizefighter and a fashion model. From an early age she was an entertainer, performing at her church and then making a name for herself in vaudeville, both as a performer and a playwright. Under the pen name “Jane Mast,” she wrote and starred in a Broadway play called Sex in 1927. Though it was popular with theatergoers, it wasn’t so much with city officials, who raided the theater and arrested her and the cast. She was convicted on an obscenity charge, and was sentenced to ten days in the Women’s Workhouse on Ward’s Island (now known as Roosevelt Island). She apparently found the other inmates “very interesting.”
Her bombshell reputation got her a contract with Paramount Pictures in 1932, despite her being almost 40. This slide is one of a set of twelve glass lantern slides in the New-York Historical Society’s museum collections showing advertisements for early films, some with the color and quality of movie posters. I’m No Angel was Mae West’s third film, featuring the tagline “A story about a gal who lost her reputation – and never missed it!”
Mae West died in Los Angeles in 1980, and was buried in her family’s plot in the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, along with other notable New Yorkers like Elizabeth Jennings Graham and James McCune Smith.