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Mae West started in Vaudeville and on the stage in New York, and later moved to Hollywood to star in films known for their blunt sexuality and steamy settings.
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However, the film did well at the box office and is considered the high-point of West's film career.
As the decade wound down, West's film career seemed to wane somewhat. The few other films she did for Paramount—Go West, Young Man and Everyday's a Holiday—did not do well at the box office, and she found censorship was severely limiting her creativity. On December 12, 1937,
she appeared as herself on ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's radio show The Chase and Sanborn Hour in two comedy sketches. The dialogue between West and the show's hosts, Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy, was her usual brand of wit and risqué humor. But days after the broadcast, NBC received letters calling the show "immoral" and "obscene." Moral groups went after sponsor Chase and Sanborn Coffee Company for allowing such "impurity" on their show. Even the FCC weighed in, calling the broadcast "vulgar and indecent" and far below the minimum standard for broadcast programs. NBC personally blamed West for the debacle, and banned her from appearing on any of their other broadcasts.
In 1939, Universal Pictures approached Mae West to star in a film opposite comedian W.C. Fields. The studio wanted to duplicate the success they had with another film, Destry Rides Again, a Western morality tale starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart. West, looking for a vehicle to make a comeback in films, accepted the part, demanding creative control over the film. Using the same Western genre, My Little Chickedee's screenplay was written by West. Despite tension on the set between West and Fields (she was a teetotaler and he drank), the film was a box-office success, out-grossing Fields' previous two films.
By 1943, Mae West was 50 years old and considering retiring from films to concentrate on her Broadway stage career. Columbia Pictures' director Gregory Ratoff, a friend of hers, needed to have a successful film to avoid bankruptcy, and pleaded with West to help him avoid financial ruin. She agreed. But the film lacked her double-entendre lines and sly delivery, not to mention its weak plot and lack of a top-rated romantic lead for West to play off. The film opened to bad reviews and suffered at the box office. Mae West would not return to films until 1970.
In 1954, West formed a nightclub act which revived some of her earlier stage work, featuring her in song-and-dance numbers and surrounded by musclemen fawning over her for attention. The show ran for three years and was a great success. With this victory, she felt it was a good time to retire. In 1959, West released her bestselling autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It, recounting her life in show business. She made a few guest appearances on the 1960s television comedy/variety shows like The Red Skelton Show and some situation comedies like Mister Ed. She also recorded a few albums in different genres including rock 'n' roll and a Christmas album which, of course, was more parody and innuendo than religious celebration.
In the 1970s she appeared in her two last films, Gore Vidal's Myra Breckenridge, in which she had a small part, and her own Sextette (1978). Though Myra Breckenridge was a box office and critical failure, it did find an audience on the cult film circuit and served to revitalize many of her other movies at film festivals.
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