Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Mae West: W. 9th's Mother Superior

MAE WEST enjoyed Greenwich Village night life. It inspired her.
• • During the early 1920s, she spent time at the most popular gay nightspot — — Paul and Joe's on West Ninth Street — — famous for its drag cabaret. In coded language, Paul and Joe's (run by two Italian family men who lived in New Jersey) was careful to drop hints about being a place for pansies. These skillfully worded pansy ads appeared in The New York Times and elsewhere.
• • Floyd Dell's book Love in Greenwich Village (and many other books) described this former speakeasy on West Ninth Street. In 1920, the regulars filed through a dark-panelled portal three steps down from the pavement. Paul and Joe's was a place where people wanted to be delivered to temptation — — or wanted sin to stay in touch.
• • The Pansy Craze was a period during the Prohibition Era when gay clubs and performers (known as pansy performers) experienced a surge in underground popularity in the USA. Socialites, politicians, and even athletes (such as Jack Dempsey) frequented Paul and Joe's where they liked to sit on the mezzanine level and observe the spectacle from a discreet distance.
• • The gay clientele included Greenwich Villagers who were drag community leaders such as the Duchess and Mother Superior. The Duchess was the expert on drag deportment; it was the Duchess who instructed young drag queens on in-group codes of dress, style, speech, and etiquette.
• • The Duchess and Mother Superior (who were very helpful to Mae when she conceived "THE DRAG") were well-known activists who often wrote in the daily papers to protest gay bias.
• • This was the gay cabaret that inspired MAE to write her controversial play "THE DRAG," a work that kicked New York's legal machinery into gear on 9 February 1927. MAE spent that evening in Jefferson Market Police Court and was forced to stay overnight in Jefferson Market Jail.
• • Act I, Scene 1 of "COURTING MAE WEST" opens in Paul and Joe's on West Ninth Street. In the play the speak is called "Cafe Giovanni" and the wait-staff and the cigarette "girl" are in drag.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo:
• • Mae West • • Paul & Joe's on West 9th
• • 1918 • •

Mae West.

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