Becoming Mae West

As a sex symbol in the 1920s and early ’30s, Mae West had notoriety and popularity beyond Madonna’s wildest dreams. Cole Porter mentioned her in 1934’s ”Anything Goes.” In 1926, she was arrested for indecency for appearing in her own play, Sex, in New York City. Her naughty one-liners (”A hard man is good to find”) became proverbial. Her movies were banned in places like Sweden and Italy and scissored everywhere. Biographer Leider wisely cuts off West’s story in Becoming Mae West in the late ’30s, when the Hays Office censors drove her out of the movies, making this not only a sketch of a very determined, shrewd, free-spirited woman but a compact history of the sea change in American culture that in a few decades took us from Victorian propriety to, well, anything goes. B+

Becoming Mae West
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