Seasoned show-biz biographer Louvish (Man on the Flying Trapeze, 1997, etc.) digs deeper into the saucy bombshell’s hidden life.
Best known for her titillating movie roles and provocative off-screen persona, Mae West (1893–1980) was also a prolific writer who crafted her own image. With the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ blessing, Louvish got a first look at her recently opened personal archives. There, as he writes in the prologue, he uncovered some little-known aspects of the ageless sex goddess’s career. Before delving into those, however, his narrative traces Mary Jane West’s life from her relatively obscure beginnings, growing up in Brooklyn during the early 20th century, through starring roles in various vaudeville performances and burlesque shows to the scandal aroused by suggestive plays like Sex. Stage opportunities began to dissipate as West approached 30, so, encouraged (and spoiled) by her mother, she focused on literary aspirations. The author sidesteps a lot of hearsay to delve with aplomb into his subject’s successful side career. He reveals that, rather than slinking her way in and out of men’s beds as many of her critics would have the general public believe, West spent countless hours alone at home poring over manuscripts. She constantly revised and rewrote her 12 plays and three novels; she also amassed a stockpile of personally penned comedic quips, many still familiar today. Press clippings, lyrics and witty asides enliven Louvish’s pages and his research, while generous illustrations and vintage photographs provide visual proof of West’s brisk ascent to fame as “the highest-paid performer in the U.S.” during Hollywood’s golden era. The author’s knack for injecting new life and a distinctive perspective into well-worn biographical information gives his text a vitality that also characterized this performer, from her first baby steps on stage right up to the time of her death.
Enlightening, exhaustively comprehensive look at an entertainer who unapologetically shimmied sexuality into the mainstream.