Mae West was born on this day, in Brooklyn, in 1893. This is a great excuse to take yourself out somewhere saucy, throw a fur stole across your shoulder—faux is fine—and raise a glass of champagne.
In her 1980 obituary, the New York Times called West “the epitome of playfully vulgar sex in the United States,” writing:
Dressing in skin-tight gowns, bedecking herself in jewels, maintaining a n impeccable blondness and offering innuendos in a sultry voice, Miss West posed as a small-town Lothario’s dream of sexual abando nment in Sodom and Gomorrah.
Her heyday spanned the 1920s and ‘30s when as Diamond Lil she devised her own legend in films, on stage, in nightclubs and on records, not only performing, but also writing much of her own material. She continued acting on into the ‘70s, and in a career stretching over six decades she became a millionaire.
‘’It isn’t what I do, but how I do it,’’ she said. ‘’It isn’t what I say, but how I say it, and how I look when I do it and say it.’’ Her invariable role borrowed heavily from the popular conception of a strumpet of the Gay Nineties. She swathed her petite, hourglass figure in garish furs and gowns, and she sashayed on five-inch stiletto heels; she purred witticisms that evoked both the atmosphere of the bawdyhouse and the raucous laughter of the honky-tonk.
Her 1926 play Sex ran afoul of the “Society for the Suppression of Vice,” and she was arrested, convicted of a performance that “tended to corrupt the morals of youth and others,” and had to do eight days in the slammer, which only burnished her reputation. Probably because she could just lean in, smile wickedly, and without even saying anything make the guys from the Society for the Suppression of Vice look like a bunch of goddamn dorks.
This is called “presence.”
This is what Mae West wore in December 1933 to testify against a man accused of robbing her. Cheers!