Friday, October 02, 2009

Mae West: Gay Blades

MAE WEST's gay play "Pleasure Man" had a $200,000 box office advance when it premiered at the Biltmore [West 47th Street] on 1 October 1928. The police raided the show, however, and padlocked the production the same night. Gay plays were an easy target — — since homosexuals were considered degenerates during the Roaring 20s and degeneracy was prohibited on the legitimate stage, according to the New York State Penal Code.
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It was eighty-one years ago — — on 2 October 1928 — — when Mae West appeared in court to answer charges that she had written and produced an "immoral" play. Wire services sent out her photograph, explaining that the entire cast had been arrested after one opening performance. The players were later released on bail. Mae, of course, was becoming a familiar face at Jefferson Market Court [then located on Sixth Avenue and West Ninth Street in Greenwich Village]. This was the same judicial complex in which she had been tried for her play "Sex" — — and had been found guilty.
• • The infamous raid at the Biltmore is dramatized in the play "Courting Mae West." In "Courting Mae West," Texas Guinan visits Mae West backstage at the Royale Theatre to warn her about the raid.
• • Opened in 1925, the Biltmore also launched a number of successes, most notably "Brother Rat" (with Jose Ferrer); "See My Lawyer" (with Milton Berle); and the long-running tribal rock musical of the 1960s "Hair."
• • After years of neglect, the Biltmore was magnificently renovated and became the Tony Award-winning Manhattan Theatre Club's Broadway headquarters. It was decided that the playhouse will be renamed the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in recognition of the pioneering Broadway publicist.

• • Friedman represented Mae West along with a long roster of notable names. An impressive bronze plaque, currently affixed to the front wall, bears a flattering likeness of the man along with a short bio.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • October 1928 • •
• • Feed — —
Mae West.

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