Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mae West: Born in Bushwick

Most Mae-mavens know that MAE WEST was born on Bushwick Avenue and that she was proud of introducing her Brooklyn accent to the movie industry. Born in 1893, the Broadway hopeful honed her skills as a child in amateur vaudeville and stock companies in Brooklyn. At that time, Bushwick and Greenpoint were full of vaudeville houses and repertory theatre groups.
• • In contrast, the borough of Queens had neither opportunity to offer an aspiring performer.
• • This information is well-known and has been published in several Mae West biographies by Emily Wortis Leider, Jill Watts, Simon Louvish, et al.
• • Apparently, no one at The Greater Astoria Historical Society reads books. That is why their hysterical society wrote this pathetic and baseless nonsense recently. To wit:
• • Sex symbol Mae West spent her childhood in Woodhaven [sic] • •
• • Written by The Greater Astoria Historical Society • •
• • The Greater Astoria Historical Society wrote: Star of stage and screen, one of the first Hollywood sex symbols, writer and singer, Mae West’s outsize curves and personality earned her recognition as one of the greatest female film stars of all time.  . . .
• • The Greater Astoria Historical Society wrote:  Mary Jane West was born Aug. 17, 1893. Although sources debate where exactly she was born, she spent her early years in various neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Woodhaven [sic].
• • TRUTH: There is no "debate." Mae West was born right on Bushwick Avenue.
• • TRUTH: Mae West did not spend "her early years" in Woodhaven. By the time her family moved there, Mae was an adult and had been featured in Broadway shows.
• • The Greater Astoria Historical Society wrote: Her father John was a prizefighter known as “Battlin’ Jack West” and mother Matilda was a fashion model. She began singing and dancing at local churches and amateur venues at 5 and later at Neir’s Tavern, which still stands on 78th Street in Woodhaven [sic].
• • The Greater Astoria Historical Society wrote:  The girl from Queens [sic] wowed crowds, and in her teens moved on to vaudeville.  ...
• • For more information, call 718-278-0700.
• • Source for this foolish misinformation: The Queens Ledger ( ); published on Saturday, 23 August 2014.
• • TRUTH: Mae West did not sing nor did she entertain in Neir's barroom. No other female of Mae's era did either.
• • The Queens Ledger occasionally prints some Mae-malarkey, some fond falsehood about Mae "hanging out" at Louis Neir's place, originally a grocery store that gradually expanded into an all-male saloon for laborers and sweaty factory workers during the brief time the West family resided in the area.
• • No, Mae West did not set foot inside Neir's — — nor did any other respectable women during the Prohibition Era. Why would they? During the 1920s and 1930s, there was no "ladies' entrance" at Neir's and their rarely-cleaned urinals were another reason this Woodhaven dive was a regular gathering spot only for those gritty spit-on-the-floor blue-collar fellows versus couples (until modern times).
• • Factories based in Woodhaven when Mae resided there • • 
• • Woodhaven's growth and building boom were directly linked to the employment opportunities at its local factories, such as Lalance and Grosjean Manufacturing Company (whose sprawling plant resembled a country village); Merit Hosiery Company at 104th Street; Custen Brothers, who produced buttons; Regal Spear Company, who made straw and cloth hats; D. Nussbaum Knitting Mills; Uneeda Garment Company (95th Street); Anheuser-Busch Company (who built a steel plant to make ice cream on 94th Street during Prohibition); et cetera.
• • Because it developed as a blue-collar factory district, Woodhaven had no local theatres for live performances of plays, ballets, operas, nor concerts. During the 1920s, however, movie houses began to be constructed.
• • The West family relocated often. By the mid-1920s, for instance, they were no longer in Woodhaven and were living in Floral Park, Queens.
• • On Sunday, 30 August 1931 • •
• • When Mae West brought her play "The Constant Sinner" to Atlantic City for a try-out in August 1931, the crowds lined up for tickets.
• • Noted The New York Times: "With two rows of standees and chairs in the aisles for extra celebrants, last Monday night saw Mae West run through her latest daisy chain, 'The Constant Sinner,' at the Apollo Theatre in Atlantic City. . ."  Their man on the aisle described this play as "underworld material," leading us to assume that this sheltered individual rarely ventured above the wilds of West 59th Street.
• • Source: The N.Y. Times on Sunday, 30 August 1931.
• • On Sunday, 30 August 1970 in The L.A. Times • •
• • Joyce Haber referred to Mae West as "the Last of the Living Legends" in The Los Angeles Times Calendar on Sunday, 30 August 1970.
• • Overheard in Hollywood • •
• • Mae West never forgets a friend nor a kindness, and seems to have an inexhaustible memory for the faces of those who have crossed her pathway in her long journey from Brooklyn to Broadway.
• • In Her Own Words • •
• • Mae West said:  "I'm Mae West, I can't wear the same clothes twice."
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • An item in The Pittsburgh Press mentioned Mae West.
• • "Mae West Rings Up Profits in Her Tour" • •
• • The Pittsburgh Press said:  Mae West got half of the $327,000 grossed by her personal appearance tour and will make another soon. ...
• • Source: "Other Bits of Filmland News" in The Pittsburgh Press; published on Sunday, 12 June 1938
• • The Mae West Blog celebrates its 10th anniversary • •    
• • Thank you for reading, sending questions, and posting comments during this past decade. 
• • By the Numbers • • 
• • The Mae West Blog was started ten years ago in July 2004. You are reading the 2993rd blog post. Unlike many blogs, which draw upon reprinted content from a newspaper or a magazine and/ or summaries, links, or photos, the mainstay of this blog is its fresh material focused on the life and career of Mae West, herself an American original.

• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

Source: to Google

• • Photo:
• • Mae West in 1932 and as a child in Brooklyn stock

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  1. What is your source for Mae West's parents living in Floral Park in the late 1920s? I have the family at 8905 88th St. in the 1925 NY census. (A house they owned up to 1937, but heavily mortgaged, per the Brooklyn Eagle.) Tilly died at 97 Euclid Ave. in 1930, and the 1930 census has Jack as a widowed boarder at 111-16 178th St. in St. Albans.

  2. What is your source for Mae West's parents living in Floral Park in the mid-1920s? The 1925 NY census has them at 8905 88th St., Woodhaven, a house the family owned (though heavily mortgaged, per the Brooklyn Eagle) through at least 1937. (They were in that house as early as the 1915 NY census, when it was known as 705 Boyd Ave. Queens streets were "renamed" with numbers between 1920-25.) Tilly died in 1930 at 97 Euclid Ave. in Brooklyn, and Jack was a widowed boarder in St. Albans later that year. Do you have an address in Floral Park as well as the source of your info?

  3. • • My source was Beverly's divorce papers from her Russian husband Sergei (after her drunken arrest at the Arcade Hotel, Connecticut, 1927). Her address was given as her family's residence in Floral Park, Queens, NY.

  4. Are the street and house number listed? I grew up in Floral Park and would like to see if the house still exists. Thanks!

  5. • • You have certainly been doing a lot of research on Mae's whereabouts. What is the goal? Are you writing a book?

  6. Hunting down the houses where famous comedians lived. Thinking of putting together an article, but I don't have anything lined up. I have a personal link to Floral Park, and never saw the town mentioned in any of Mae's biographies.

  7. • • Interesting. Since you are in Floral park, NY, have you attended the Mae West events in NYC in the past?
    • • The next Mae West birthday tribute is, of course, on August 17th, 2016.
    ---- LINK ----
    Mae West Event Page: