Known for her wit and common use of double entendres, Mae West was an iconic figure on stage and in film. She penned many of her own lines; writing for the films I’m No Angel, Go West Young Man, and Belle of the Nineties. Yet, however controversial her films roles were, it was a particular Broadway show that led to an actual criminal offense.
After appearing in several bawdy revues, West started writing her own shows under the name of Jane Mast. In 1926, her most infamous play, Sex debuted, with West in the lead part. The racy show ran for a year, until it was raided by the New York Police Department in February of 1927 and shut down. Despite the fact that more than 325,000 people had seen the show, including members of the police department and their wives, judges of the criminal courts, and seven members of the district attorney’s staff, West was fined $500 and sentenced to 10 days in jail for “corrupting the morals of youth.” She served 8 days of her sentence (she got 2 off for good behavior) and wrote an article about the women she met there; she even donated funds in support of a prison library for them.
A big supporter of gay rights, West’s next show, The Drag was about homosexuality—what she called a “comedy-drama about life.” Sadly it never opened on Broadway; the Society for the Prevention of Vice vowed to ban it if West attempted to stage it.