Why Sex Symbol Mae West Went to Prison

I'M NO ANGEL, Mae West, 1933
Everett Collection

Mary Jane “Mae” West had that husky voice and wasn’t afraid to use her sex appeal to her advantage. Long considered a sex symbol, she was an actress, comedian, singer, screenwriter and playwright who worked in New York City and Hollywood for over seventy years before her death in 1980. West was considered one of the most controversial movie stars in her time period and was even sentenced to ten days in prison for her work.

It was on April 19, 1927, that West was found guilty of “obscenity and corrupting the morals of youth” for starring in a play called Sex, which she also wrote and produced. It earned her the short stint in prison and she was fined $500 after people found posters advertising the show that read “Sex with Mae West.” The show was subsequently shut down. For many, it would seem the end of her career but it only made her more popular and launched her career as one of the highest-paid people in the United States at the time.

She Done Him Wrong Mae West, 1933

Everett Collection

West wrote and starred in another show called The Pleasure Man that was open about homosexuality. It only ran for one performance before the show was shut down and she was again arrested for obscenity. However, this time the jury was split and she was not found guilty. Again, this still didn’t deter her as she wrote another play called The Constant Sinner which the District Attorney shut down.

She Done Him Wrong Cary Grant, Mae West, 1933

Everett Collection

Despite her controversial past, Paramount saw a spark in her and offered her a big contract ($5,000 a week which would be around $80,000 today) when she was 38 years old. She was also allowed to re-write lines in the films, which was unheard of at the time. She starred in films such as She Done Him Wrong with Cary Grant. The film was said to have saved Paramount from bankruptcy and was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award.

It was West’s bravery and honesty that made history and paved the way for many stars and films to come. Tell us, what is your favorite Mae West film?

Hollywood Glamour
Want More?

Hollywood Glamour

May 2020

Celebrate the most glamorous leading ladies from the Golden Age of Hollywood

Buy This Issue