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Mae West (1893-1980)
Norma Shearer (1902-1983)
Shirley Temple (b.1928)
Vivien Leigh (1913-1967)
Judy Garland (1922-1969)
Greta Garbo (1905-1990)
Olivia de Havilland (b. 1916)
Bette Davis (1908-1989)
Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992)
Joan Fontaine (b. 1917)
Maureen O' Hara (b.1920)
Lucille Ball (1911-1989)
Claudette Colbert (1903-1996)
Mae West (1893-1980)
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Leading Ladies of the 30's


Mae West

Born on August 17, 1893, Mae West (Mary Jane West ) would become the first :sex clown" on film. Her salacous eye-rolling and thinly veiled inuendo spawned a string of risque comedies in the 1930s. When Mae was only five years old when she began on the vaudevillian stage and by the age of 14 she was being billed as "The Baby Vamp."

In 1926, Mae wrote, produced and directed the Broadway show, "Sex," which led her to be arrested for obscenity. The following year, her next play, "Drag," was banned on Broadway because its subject matter was homosexuality.

With Diamond Lil (1928), West became the toast of Broadway and in 1932 she signed with Paramount. Her first film role was supporting George Raft in NIGHT AFTER NIGHT (1932), in which Raft said "She stole everything but the cameras." The first film to star West, SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1933), the film version of Diamond Lil, broke box-office records and saved Paramount from selling out to MGM. The Hays office brought in a new censorship code in 1934, largely to combat the code of the West, but she led them a merry chase through several more blockbusters: I'M NO ANGEL (1933), BELLE OF THE NINETIES (1934), GOIN' TO TOWN (1935) and KLONDIKE ANNIE (1936). Her popularity declined in the late 30s and, after the failure of THE HEAT'S ON (1943), (the first West film she didn't script herself) she returned to the stage and, later, the nightclub circuit. She turned down numerous film offers, including SUNSET BLVD. (1950), but finally made a comeback of sorts in MYRA BRECKINRIDGE (1970).

West skirted the delicate sensibilities of Hollywood censors with sexual innuendo and double entendre and her witty observations were as widely quoted as Ben Franklin bromides: "It's better to be looked over than overlooked"; "I used to be Snow White but it drifted," etc. Although she cultivated the image of the "tough broad," West always conveyed a curious Victorian innocence coupled with a winking, self effacing amusement at her own preposterous creation. Her popularity reached such peaks that sailors were inspired to name their inflatable life jackets after her overemphasized 43 inch "assets," ensuring West a place, like no other actress to date, in Webster's Dictionary.

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