“Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?” may sound like a witty pick-up line but was in fact written by sex icon Mae West. During her scintillating writing career, West would be arrested and fined for her plays and create a buzz with her films. When it came to the subject of censorship, West commented, “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.”
Mae West began performing in vaudeville and once shared the stage with Al Jolson in a production of “Vera Violetta.” Although West was credited for her roles under her real name, when she started to write her risque plays, Mae West wrote under a pseudonym, Jane Mast.
In 1926, West premiered her first Broadway show that she wrote, produced, directed and starred in – it was titled “Sex.” One night, the police raided the theater to arrest West and everyone involved in the production because of the play’s contents. West was sentenced to ten days in jail. While West served time, she diligently took notes in hopes of using the experience as theatrical material in the future. Ironically, West was released two days early for good behavior. “This is the only time that I ever got anything for good behavior,” West commented. Henceforth, she would write her future plays under her real name, Mae West.
At the age of 39, West made her film debut as Maudie Triplett in “Night After Night” (1932). With that fifteen-minute role, she managed to rewrite many of the lines given her, including the famous, “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.” Mae then began to write screenplays. Her first film to write was “I'm No Angel” (1933) in which she co-starred alongside Cary Grant. That film-writing endeavor earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
Two of her plays which were sprouted from the material she recorded while in jail were “Diamond Lil” and “Pleasure Man.” “Diamond Lil” would be made into a film adaptation titled, “She Done Him Wrong” (1933) with West cast in the starring role as Lady Lou. It is the film which first featured the infamous line, “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me.” This film also went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
The play “Pleasure Man” contained content which caused significant trouble for her with the authorities. During two separate showings, the police raided the theater, arresting everyone involved with the production. West was find $20,000.
In 1955, West wrote an autobiography titled “Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It.” By the end of her career, she had made writing contributions to nine screenplays including her last film, “Sexette” (1979) which was also an adaptation of her play of the same title. Mae West is still considered the only woman in film history to have written most of her own movie lines.