Her career started in 1907 and her last public appearance was in 1978. That’s quite the long run. Gay Icon Mae West worked in vaudeville, radio, on stage, on Broadway, in Las Vegas casinos, and, of course, in films. Her 1927 Broadway play Sex opened to bad reviews, did boffo box office, and was ultimately closed down by the police. West was charged with, and served time for “corrupting the morals of the youth”. While incarcerated, she took her meals with the prison warden and his wife while entertaining them with her shtick. She told the press that she wore her silk panties under her prison uniform.
Early in her Broadway career West was already aware of her sweet spot as a Gay Icon. The Gays had been her most ardent fans from the very start. As the march towards equality moved forward, West’s popularity only continued to soar. Her witty, bodacious, blunt expressions of sexuality were celebrated by LGBTQ people for more than half a century and beyond. In the early part of the 20th century, West cultivated a strong following from the female impersonators of the era. Before drag queens impersonated Joan Crawford, Cher or Barbra Streisand, they were doing Mae West.