Mae West once said, “You only live once – but if you do it right, once is enough.”
I wonder, if she were alive today, would she feel that she did it right? Would she be content?
Looking through history, her life was certainly not mundane.
Mae West was born at home in Bushwick, Brooklyn on August 17, 1893. She was delivered by an aunt who was a midwife. She was a “first” in so many instances. She was clearly ahead of her time.
In her early years, she experimented with various personas, even one as a male impersonator. Her trademark walk inspired several female impersonators that followed her.
In 1926, she wrote, produced, directed, and starred in a Broadway play entitled Sex. Some religious groups filed complaints. As a result, the police raided the theater, and Mae ended up in jail due to moral charges. While serving her time, she dined with the warden and his wife. She served 8 of a 10-day sentence earning credit for 2 days because of good behavior. The media attention enhanced her career and she became known as the darling “bad girl” who climbed the ladder wrong by wrong. Censorship of her dialogue continued to be her critical challenge throughout her career.
Mae West was an early supporter of the women’s liberation movement. She was also an advocate for gay rights as early as the 1920’s. In the next decades, Ms. West wrote and starred in many more plays that led to controversy, as well as packed houses.
In 1932, Mae was offered her first movie role. At 40 years old, she received a small part in a Paramount picture entitled Night After Night. She was granted the authority to rewrite her scenes. In her first scene, a hat-check girl exclaimed, “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds.” Mae West responded with her rewritten line, “Goodness had nothing to do with it dearie.” That line seemed to carve a place for her in film history. The star of the movie, George Raft commented, “She stole everything but the cameras.”
By 1935, Mae West was the highest paid woman and the second-highest paid person in the United States after William Randolph Hearst. Can you believe it? Woman are still fighting for this type of monetary respect today. She continued to make movies for many years and worked with male counterparts such as Cary Grant and W.C. Fields.
In the 1950’s Mae West had her own Las Vegas hit show at the Sahara Hotel. In 1958, West appeared at the Academy Awards and performed the song “Baby its Cold Outside” with Rock Hudson. They received a standing ovation. She released her autobiography Goodness had Nothing to Do with It in 1959. Naturally, it was a best-seller.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, she appeared in multiple television shows, such as The Dean Martin Show, The Red Skelton Show, Mr. Ed, and The Dick Cavett Show. She also had a 40-year recording career. The April 18, 1969 issue of Life Magazine featured West at age 75. The Beatles’ featured her likeness on their Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. At first, she refused because she couldn’t picture herself in a lonely hearts club. However, she was convinced after the band wrote her a letter describing their admiration for her.
In August of 1980, she tripped while getting out of bed. She was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles where it was determined that she had a stroke. It was a sad day on November 22, 1980. Mae West died at the age of 87 years old.
Mae West was absolutely ahead of her time. She would easily fit right into today’s society.
Hearing her quote and her story made me stop and ponder about my life for a moment. Am I doing it right? If today were my last day, would I feel content with my experiences, relationships, and accomplishments? Is there anything that I would change?
I might not have had a life anywhere close to that of Mae West, but I think that she and I would both say, “living once is enough because we did it right by our own standards.”