Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mae West: March 1927

Several New Yorkers had seen Mae West's play "Sex" more than once — including Sergeant Patrick Keneally, who had taken an exhaustive number of notes while attending three performances at Daly's 63rd Street Theatre in the line of duty.
• • Police action against "Sex" had been more in opposition to "The Drag" than to Margy LaMont's lascivious adventures, explains Jill Watts in her impeccably researched bio: Mae West: An Icon in Black and White.
• • According to Jill Watts: While efforts to euthanize "The Drag" succeeded, "Sex" played to capacity crowds for several more weeks. However, by the beginning of March [1927], attendance had died off and profits shrank. Desperate to keep the production alive, the Morals Production Corporation ordered a 25% pay cut for everyone. Several players handed in their notices.
• • Finally, on Sunday, March 19, after the evening's performance, Morganstern announced that Mae West was physically exhausted and was closing the play. Yet he also emphasized her determination to fight the case to its end.
• • According to Jill Watts: Only a few days later, the New York State senate passed the Wales Padlock Bill, which required the district attorney to prosecute everyone associated with an indecent production and to lock down for one year any theatre that hosted such shows. It was less severe than mandating a stage censor and allowed the power over Broadway to remain with the district attorney, who in New York was the Tammany Hall loyalist Banton. The bill now sat waiting on Al Smith's desk.
• • In Jefferson Market Police Court (on Sixth Avenue and West Ninth Street) the defendants from the "Sex" raid came to trial on 28 March 1927. The prosecution's case rested on the testimony of Sergeant Keneally and his ability to take rapid, accurate stenography in a darkened playhouse. New York's district attorney, perhaps addicted to the fortissimo eloquence of inner lives magnificently thwarted by the law, was prepared to step into his gladiator mode to do battle with the dauntless leonine jezebel of the Jazz Era — Mae West.
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• • The serious-minded comedy "Courting Mae West" by Greenwich Village playwright LindaAnn Loschiavo, set during 1926 1932, explores Mae West's legal woes. Act I, Scenes 3 — 4 dramatize both the police raid on 9 February 1927 and the tense aftermath at Jefferson Market Police Court.
• • Using fictional elements, the text is anchored by true events and has several characters who are based on real people: actress Mae West; Beverly West; Jim Timony; Texas Guinan; a news seller on Sixth Avenue and West 9th Street; and Sara Starr, based on the Greenwich Village flapper Starr Faithfull, whose death inspired John O'Hara's novel "Butterfield 8" and a dozen other books.
• • "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets" has attracted the attention of a theatre owner and Is now seeking a co-producer.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1927 courthouse • •
Mae West.

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