In 1933, Hollywood’s leading sex symbol was a feisty 40-year-old woman who was as smart as she was curvaceous. Mae West was more than just another sexy blonde though; one of the most influential people, of not only the 1930s but of the twentieth century, West was an accomplished playwright, screenwriter, actress, singer and comedienne. A pioneer of the sexual revolution, Mae said “I let people know that women like sex too, and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing, as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” In 1927, Mae’s smash hit play Sex was raided by police and after the subsequent trial, she was found guilty of “corrupting the morals of youth”. The judge sentenced her to either pay a fine of five hundred dollars or spend ten days in a women’s prison. Mae chose the jail sentence because she thought it “more interesting” and figured it would provide fodder for her writing: “I wasn’t going to be deprived of that experience,” she would say years later. “I saw those as ten very valuable days, a kind of working vacation.” In 1933, West’s movie She Done Him Wrong (1933) did Paramount Studios very, very right: the film – and Mae – saved the studio from bankruptcy during the bleakest days of the Great Depression. In the excellent 2009 biography She Always Knew How: Mae West, A Personal Biography, author Charlotte Chandler wrote: “There were even some people who were willing to miss a second meal in order to see She Done Him Wrong and Mae West a second time.”
She may have only had a third-grade education, but Mae West is inarguably the most quoted person of the twentieth century. Popular double entendres such as “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” originated with West. Because of the sheer wealth of her smart and snappy one-liners, it would be next to impossible to limit a list of Mae’s top quotes to just ten. So instead I am sharing a top ten of my personal favourite Mae West quotes. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.
- “It takes two to get one in trouble.”
- “When women go wrong, men go right after them.”
- “It isn’t what I do, but how I do it. It isn’t what I say, but how I say it.”
- “I never worry about diets. The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond.”
- “Education and intelligence aren’t the same thing.”
- “Someday there’ll be a woman president. I’m sure of that. Women have been leadin’ men around for centuries.”
- “I’m single because I was born that way.”
- (In response to hypocrites): “The only difference between you and me is we break different commandments.”
- “Everyone owes a lot to being lucky and the most luck you ever get is being born at all.”
- And the line she famously purrs to Cary Grant in She Done Him Wrong (1933); the line that saved Paramount from going under:
“Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?”
Eighty-five years later, we still want to “come up and see” Mae West.
– Heather Babcock
Note: For more about Mae West, check out She Always Knew How: Mae West, A Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler (2009).