Mae West—Hollywood star, transgressive playwright, author, blues singer, sex goddess, and vaudeville brat—remains the twentieth century's greatest comedienne. She made an everlasting mark in trailblazing Broadway plays such as Sex and The Constant Sinner and in films such as She Done Him Wrong, Klondike Annie, and I'm No Angel.
Simon Louvish, biographer of W. C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and Keystone's Mack Sennett, brings Mae to vibrant life in this unparalleled new biography. He charts her amazing seven decades in show business, from early years in teenage summer stock to her last reincarnation as 1960s gay icon and grande dame of Hollywood survivors.
Mae West: It Ain't No Sin is the first biography to make use of Mae's recently uncovered personal papers, offering an unprecedented view into the endless creative drive and daring wit of this legendary star.
"Meticulously researched and finely crafted. Theatrical and cinematic history are skillfully related to the wider social and political background."—The Independent (UK)
"Seasoned show-biz biographer Louvish digs deeper into the saucy bombshell's hidden life. Best known for her titillating movie roles and provocative off-screen persona, Mae West (1893-1980) was also a prolific writer who crafted her own image. With the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' blessing, Louvish got a first look at her recently opened personal archives. There, as he writes in the prologue, he uncovered some little-known aspects of the ageless sex goddess's career. Before delving into those, however, his narrative traces Mary Jane West's life from her relatively obscure beginnings, growing up in Brooklyn during the early 20th century, through starring roles in various vaudeville performances and burlesque shows to the scandal aroused by suggestive plays like 'Sex.' Stage opportunities began to dissipate as West approached 30, so, encouraged (and spoiled) by her mother, she focused on literary aspirations. The author sidesteps a lot of hearsay to delve with aplomb into his subject's successful side career. He reveals that, rather than slinking her way in and out of men's beds as many of her critics would have the general public believe, West spent countless hours alone at home poring over manuscripts. She constantly revised and rewrote her 12 plays and three novels; she also amassed a stockpile of personally penned comedic quips, many still familiar today. Press clippings, lyrics and witty asides enliven Louvish's pages and his research, while generous illustrations and vintage photographs provide visual proof of West's brisk ascent to fame as 'the highest-paid performer in the U.S.' during Hollywood's golden era. The author's knack for injecting new life and a distinctive perspective into well-worn biographical information gives his text a vitality that also characterized this performer, from her first baby steps on stage right up to the time of her death. Enlightening, exhaustively comprehensive look at an entertainer who unapologetically shimmied sexuality into the mainstream."—Kirkus Reviews
"This is the fifth of Louvish's scrupulously researched studies of celebrated comic figures . . . As with its predecessors, the style is jaunty, and as all of its subjects are wreathed in myth, often of their own creation, he takes great pleasure in laying out and sifting the conflicting evidence on the page."—Observer (UK)
"Mae West (1892-1980), whose famous lines included 'Come up and see me sometime' and 'It ain't the men in my life, it's the life in my men that counts,' created a persona that made her a living legend. The buxom blonde started out in burlesque and vaudeville and later segued into movies. By 1934, she was the highest-paid performer in the United States and went on to costar with everyone from Cary Grant to Raquel Welch. Louvish, who has also written biographies of Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers, presents a well-researched account of West's life, complete with a helpful chronology and a list of her stage plays . . . It Ain't No Sin . . . is the first to draw on West's recently uncovered personal papers. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries."—Barbara Kundanis, Addison Public Library, Illinois, Library Journal
"Although at least four full-length biographies have been written about Mae West since her death at 87 in 1980, Louvish is the first biographer to have access to the recently opened archive of West memorabilia including a 2,000-page collection of quips and jokes and the numerous revisions of the 12 plays, eight screenplays and three novels she wrote. West created and perfected her languid sex goddess persona during years in vaudeville and by serving as her own playwright, but Louvish discovers West's secret life was filled not with lovers but long nights of polishing and refining her scripts. She was almost 40 when she made her first film, but two years later, she was the highest paid performer in the U.S. Louvish's bio is appreciative and extensively detailed, focusing on West as writer . . . Louvish's research cements West's reputation as the definitive siren of suggestion, without whom there would never have been any 'Sex & the City'."—Publishers Weekly