Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Defending Mae West

In February 1927, the first police raid of MAE WEST's play "Sex" led to an expensive trial, box office losses, and jail time for her and others. After the second police raid in October 1928, Mae West knew she was really in trouble. A top-notch dragon-slayer was required.

• • Attorney Nathan Burkan was hired for the "
Pleasure Man" court case.
• • Politically well-connected, Nathan Burkan was born in New York City on 6 November 1878 and educated at the City University of New York and New York University's Law School. He became known as a specialist in theatrical matters. Many of his clients were composers and lyricists, members of ASCAP — — like the light opera composer Victor Herbert — — who relied on his expertise regarding copyright disputes.
• • Nathan Burkan was a savvy cross-examiner. Celebrities who counted on his legal muscle included Charlie Chaplin, Al Jolson, Mrs. Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, etc. He represented the United Artists (then a new motion picture outfit), The New York Morning Telegraph, and other companies.
• • A frequent presence in
Jefferson Market Court House on Sixth Avenue, where he did his best for the Mayor of New York Jimmy Walker as well as the embattled estate of gangster Arnold Rothstein, Nathan Burkan was 51 years old when the "Pleasure Man" case was brought to trial. He won acquittal for his client Mae West.
• • Alas, his legal fees bankrupted Mae West, already devastated after a $200,000 loss of advance ticket sales for her play after a raid at the Biltmore Theatre.
• • He died quite suddenly, after a brief illness, on 7 June 1936. Burkan was 57.
• • Nathan Burkan is being remembered during the week of his birthday: November 8th.

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• • Photo: Mae West with her lawyer • • Nathan Burkan • • 1930 • •

Mae West.

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