Mae West (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: A memorable screen presence and wit, Mae West was also a breakthrough playwright in the handling of taboo subjects and a role model as a woman in control of her own sexuality.
Because her father was a prize fighter and her mother was a model, Mae West had an early familiarity with show business. Indeed, since she began her stage career as a child, she can hardly be said to have had an early life. By the time she left school at thirteen, she was an established vaudeville performer. While on tour but still under age (giving false information that has led to confusion about her age), she married a dancer named Frank Wallace—by implication gay—apparently as a way of protecting herself from scandal in the event of pregnancy. She never lived with Wallace—who entered into a bigamous marriage with someone else—and denied for many years that she was married.
When West made her Broadway debut in À la Broadway in 1911, she was already a seasoned trouper. Alert to her unique style, she retailored her songs for her earthy personality and was an immediate critical and popular success. Dividing her time between vaudeville and Broadway, she had trouble with the police on more than one occasion because of the suggestiveness of her dancing. In 1921, in Sometime, she introduced the shimmy dance to white audiences, creating a particular sensation.
(The entire section is 2223 words.)
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