Actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian and sex symbol Mae West was born Mary Jane West 123 years ago today in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Here are 10 MW Did-You-Knows:
West was delivered in her family’s home by her midwife aunt. Her father was a prize fighter and, later, a private investigator.
Her first public performance is said to occurred at the age of five, when, ironically enough, she entertained at a church social at a still-extant Queens establishment called Neir’s Social Hall (now Neir’s Tavern). After that, she performed in local talent shows.
West’s first Broadway appearance came in a 1911 revue called A La Broadway, which was mounted by her former dancing teacher and long-time impresario of juvenile theatrical acts, Ned Wayburn. The revue folded after just eight performances.
Her first review in The New York Times, when she was 18 years old, stated, “A girl named Mae West, hitherto unknown, pleased by her grotesquerie and snappy way of singing and dancing.”
West began writing risqué plays under the name Jane Mast, and her first starring role on Broadway came in a 1926 play she wrote called Sex. Conservative critics and church groups objected to the play, but the production was a hit. Eventually, the pressure put on by the groups led to West being arrested and placed in jail at Jefferson Market Courthouse (it’s now a public library).
West could have paid a fine and remained free, but she opted for a sentence of ten days in jail, figuring it would be good publicity (it was).
Of the twelve pictures West appeared in, she wrote or co-wrote nine of them.
From the 1920s forward, West was an outspoken supporter of gay rights.
West’s 1928 play, Diamond Lil, earned her a ticket to Hollywood (the play was eventually adapted for the screen as She Done Him Wrong and costarred Cary Grant). She was nearly 40 when she signed her first movie contract.
After strict enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code began in 1934, putting a damper on her popularity (a toned-down Mae West wasn’t as appealing to the public), West performed in nightclubs, mounted a Las Vegas revue, made records (something she’d been doing since the 1930s) and wrote books. Her final film, Sextette (1978), closed out a career that had spanned more than seventy years.
Master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock was born 117 years ago today in Leytonstone, East London. Few directors in the history of cinema have carved out so distinctive a niche as did Hitch. Here are 10 AH Did-You-Knows:
Hitchcock’s parents were both of half-Irish and half-English ancestry. His father was a greengrocer.
Hitchcock was the youngest of three children, born seven years after his sister, Eileen.
Hitchcock always wore a suit and tie while directing his pictures.
He found eggs revolting and claimed never to have eaten one.
When he was a child, his father asked the local constabulary to lock up young Alfred, telling him, “This is what happens to people who do bad things.” Though his stint in jail lasted just ten minutes, Hitchcock had an aversion to the police for the rest of his life and used the phobia to explain why he never learned to drive (no driving, no dealing with traffic cops).
Though he was nominated five times, Hitchcock never won the Best Director Oscar. He was, however, presented with the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award at the 1967 Academy Awards ceremony.
The speech he gave in accepting the award was the shortest in Academy Award history: “Thank you.”
In 1980, Hitchock was named an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (honorary because he had become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1956).
Big news! We’re holding a giveaway! One lucky winner will receive this one-of-a-kind hardbound book that collects the wit and wisdom of 20 actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and it’s available only through Cladrite Radio! If you’ve enjoyed the Hollywood quotes we’ve shared with you in the past, you’ll want to own this volume! Ann Sheridan, Fay Wray, Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck—they’re all here, and many more of your favorite actresses are represented, too!
To enter for your chance to win, just follow us on Twitter and retweet one of the giveaway announcements we’ll be posting through April 11. That’s all there is to it! But hurry—you only have until 6pm ET on Monday, April 11, to follow us and retweet one of our announcements!
The great Claude Rains was born 125 years ago today in London. Few actors in cinematic history were more reliable in consistently delivering memorable performances. We’re not sure we can name a bad one from Mr. Rains.
If you wish to watch one of his pictures today to celebrate his birthday, there are dozens of worthy options, but you can certainly not go wrong by choosing either Casablanca, The Invisible Man, or Notorious.