Mae West Nude, Getting Naked, Fighting Father Time…and Living

Mae West at age 40, in 1933.

In her later years, Mae West spoke out against nudity in feature films – not on a moral basis but because she felt it didn’t allow the imagination to wander. “Never drop the seventh veil,” she once said about actors appearing naked in film or on stage.

She also felt that – well, as she put it, “The sex parts, they ain’t got no personality.”

Mae West at age 33, in 1926 – showing skin but not dropping the seventh veil.

In a scene from her play Sex.

In the 1920s, when she was in her thirties and starring in her famous “sex comedies” on Broadway, one of which brought the paddy wagon and landed her in jail, she was charged with “corrupting the morals of youth.” She was never charge with personal “indecency” because she never took off her clothes on stage. Nor did she ever appear bare in any of her films during the 1930s or the last two, in the 1970s.

But she had no problem doing so in private. On the white piano in her living room, she even kept a nude white marble statue of her voluptuous self. And when she was especially svelte in her mid-40s, she also had no problem being photographed in her bedroom, working dumb-bells for the camera while dressed in a tight one-piece bathing suit.

Mae West, working out at her Ravenswood apartment.

Mae West, working out at her Ravenswood apartment.

Mae West mid-1930s.

When she returned to again star in a feature film, Myra Breckenridge (1970) at age 77, Mae West began granting numerous interviews to a wide variety of publications. Increasingly, when reporters asked about her age, she became frustrated with the numerical obsession over the date she was born. “You can go look that up,” she’d said with impatience. “I look 26 and I feel 26.”

Chowing at her favorite Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles, 1972, at age 79.

In one sense, of course she was exaggerating – but she was not delusional. She was making a point: until she died, she retained the same ironic sensibility she’d developed at that age. It showed in her humor, her pleasure in making other people laugh, her honest understanding of the complexity and full range of human sexuality and, most of all, her many plans for many future projects.

It also showed in that skin she rarely exposed. Not only to the public, but to the sun.

From her mid-thirties on, she was practically obsessed with keeping out of the sun. Her large picture hats weren’t for styling alone. Early on in life, she realized how excessive sunlight could permanently damage the skin. She rarely went out midday because of it and she kept the shades drawn in her apartment.

Celebrating her 65th birthday with old New York friends in Las Vegas, 1958.

As the calendar years would mark her as being in her 60s, 70s, and 80s, Mae West also fought time by resisted the increasingly popular method of plastic surgery.

With great pride, she would show off her hands which had no age spots and were plump rather than withered and flashed her full set of natural teeth.

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Categories: Americana, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Legendary Americans, Pop Culture

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