This Day in History: Mae West is Sentenced to 10 Days in Prison for Writing, Directing, and Performing in the Broadway Play “Sex”

This Day In History: April 19, 1927

On this day in history, 1927, Mae West was sentenced to 10 days in prison and given a $500 fine, charged with “obscenity and corrupting the morals of youth” for writing, under the pen name Jane Mast, directing, and performing in the play Sex. The play was the first written by the 34 year old rising starlet who would soon become one of the highest paid people in America, largely thanks to the notoriety she gained from protests of Sex and her three subsequent plays Drag (later renamed The Pleasure Man for Broadway), a play dealing with homosexuality; Diamond Lil, which established her signature character throughout her later career; and The Constant Sinner, which was shut down after just two performances by the district attorney.   The Pleasure Man ran for only one showing before also being shut down after the cast, including West, were arrested for obscenity, but this time getting off thanks to a hung jury.

In Sex, West played a prostitute named Margie La Monte who was looking to better her situation by finding a well-to-do man to marry.  Before the show was raided in February of 1927 around 325,000 people had come through the turnstiles to see it since its debut in 1926 (37 performances).

While in prison at Welfare Island, West reportedly dined with the Warden and his wife and was released early due to good behavior, something she remarked to reporters afterwards as “…the first time I ever got anything for good behavior.”

Despite most of her plays receiving poor reviews by critics, they continued to bill well, thanks in part to the controversy surrounding the subject matter. This soon drew the attention of Hollywood executives.  Despite being 38 years old at the time, around the time most actresses start to wind down their careers, West found herself starting a movie career when Paramount Pictures offered her a contract at $5000 a week ($80,000 now). They also let her re-write her lines in the films, such as in her first film, Night After Night, that set the tone for her persona from her first line where a hat check girl says to her “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds.” To which West replied, “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.”  Within three years she was the second highest paid person in the United States behind only William Randolph Hearst.

More Things That Happened on This Day In History:

  • 1770: Marie Antoinette gets married to Louis XVI.  Read more about this and the incredibly sad life of Marie Antoinette here:  Marie Antoinette Never Said “Let Them Eat Cake”
  • 1943: Dr. Albert Hofmann, inventor of LSD, tries it intentionally for the first time.  Read more about the invention of LSD and how it was used by the CIA on unsuspecting people: November 16, LSD is First Synthesized
  • 1956: The 26 year old actress Grace Kelly marries Prince Rainier of Monaco, ending her career as an actress and starting her life as the Princess Consort of Monaco.  Prince Rainier had been actively seeking a wife because, if he didn’t produce an heir, Monaco would have reverted back to France upon his death.  Kelly and her family had to pay $2 million dollars ($16 million today) as a dowry.  After they got married, Kelly’s films were banned in Monaco.  Further, when Hitchcock offered her a lead role in one of his films in 1962, where she would have played a kleptomaniac, she was forced to turn down the role due to negative public reaction to the idea of her playing such a role, even though she initially wanted to take it.
  • 1987: The Simpsons debuts on the Tracey Ullman Show as an animated short.  Click here for some interesting Simpsons Facts.
  • 1995: The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City is bombed by Timothy McVeigh, killing 168 people.
  • 2011:  After 45 years of ruling Cuba, Fidel Castro resigns from the central committee of the Communist Party of Cuba due to his failing health.

Bonus Facts:

  • Grace Kelly’s father, John Brendan Kelly, was appointed by President Roosevelt as the National Director of Physical Fitness.  He also won three gold medals in the Olympics as a sculler (rowing), and achieved 126 straight victories in single scull.  He is the only rower currently in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame
  • Kelly’s mother, Margaret Majer was the first woman to head the Physical Education Department at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Grace Kelly’s uncle, George Kelly, who was ostracized from the family for being gay, was a famous dramatist and screenwriter, winning a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1926 for his play “Craig’s Wife”.  At his funeral, the Kelly family did not invite George Kelly’s life-partner, William Weagley, with whom he had maintained a 55 year relationship.  Weagley, however, appeared at the funeral after it had already started, slipping in and sitting in one of the seats in the back row.
  • During WWII, the yellow inflatable vest-life jackets used by Allied troops were called “Mae Wests”, in homage to her ample bosoms and how the vests appeared on them inflated.
  • Another thing named after West is a malfunction of a round parachute where the canopy shape is partially inverted, making it look something like a giant bra.  Fittingly, this is called a “Mae West”.
  • West began her career in vaudeville at the age of 14 under the name Baby Mae.  Her first appearance on Broadway was four years later at the age of 18, in 1911, in A La Broadway.
  • In case you’re curious after the previous article covering Marilyn Monroe’s dimensions (35-22-25), during her peak fame, Mae West was reportedly a 38-24-38.  At the age of 63, she still maintained a good figure, at a 39-27-39.
  • Mae West famously would have enemas done every morning to keep herself “smelling sweet at both ends”.  She believed this helped keep her skin silky and helped her overall health, which is debatable.  Tony Curtis once said on days she was filming, she liked to have this done as the last thing she did before going in front of the camera.
  • West died in 1980 at the age of 87 after suffering from two strokes.  She still was performing up to a few years from her death, with her last major production being the 1978 Sextette musical.
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  • Do you get some basic information for your This Day in History posts from Wikipedia? Their articles on every single day of the year sure are… comprehensive.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Mushyrulez: All over the place actually. When I look for ideas for what to write about for a particular day there are about 12 websites I’ll scan from until I see something I think will be interesting. If that fails me, I have a couple “this day in history” style books I scan for ideas. Once I find something, I research it like I would any article from random sources.

  • 38? That was the age Julirt Anderson entered the porn business…

  • ”but this time getting off thanks to a hung jury.”

    Sorry, I just had to do that