Mae West Net Worth At Death
Mae West had an estimated net worth of $20 Million at death. She started in Vaudeville and on the stage in New York, and later moved to Hollywood to star in films known for their blunt sexuality and steamy settings. She earned the majority of her income from movies and TV shows.
Mae West hit her stride in Hollywood in her late 30s, when she was considered to be in her “advanced years” for playing sexy harlots, but her persona and physical beauty overcame any doubts. Several groups were outraged and morally outraged by her films’ overt sexuality, but it is for this that she is remembered today.
To calculate the net worth of Mae West, subtract all her liabilities from her total assets. Investments, savings, cash deposits, and any equity she has in a house, car, or other similar asset are included in the total assets. All debts, such as loans and personal debt, are included in total liabilities.
Here’s the breakdown of her net worth:
|Net Worth:||$20 Million|
|Monthly Salary:||$200 Thousand+|
|Annual Income:||$2 Million+|
|Source of Wealth:||Singer, Screenwriter, Playwright, Actor, Pin-up girl, Comedian|
Matilda and John West gave birth to Mary Jane West on August 17, 1893, in Brooklyn, New York. From a young age, her family members referred to her as Mae (spelled May at the time). Matilda, a German immigrant and aspiring actress, was also known as “Tillie.” However, her parents’ disapproval of her career choices forced her to settle for a more realistic job as a garment worker. However, she secretly abandoned her seamstress job for the less respectable, but slightly more glamorous, job of a fashion model, and she never completely gave up hope of a career in show business.
West’s father was a prizefighter known as “Battlin’ Jack” West in the Brooklyn area, not so much for his ring success as for his reputation for street brawling. When he wasn’t fighting in official boxing matches, he was fighting in underground street fights or showing off his boxing skills in pick-up fights at Coney Island Amusement Park. He later worked as a “special policeman” (most likely as muscle for local business and crime bosses) and then as a private detective after meeting Tillie.
West was the oldest of three children, but she had always been her mother’s favorite. Tillie’s childrearing with West was at odds with more traditional Victorian methods of “children should be seen and not heard.” Rather than harshly disciplining West, she preferred to amuse and coax her. West quickly complied with immature and, at times, obstinate behavior.
West began to demonstrate talent at the age of three, imitating family members and friends, much to the delight of her father and mother. While she was too young to appreciate the art of impersonation, she quickly discovered the power of commanding an audience. Tillie soon took West to see plays and vaudeville acts, where she became enthralled by the make-believe world of characters, dance, and musical acts. Throughout her life, West would reflect on the many legendary performers she saw as a child, but one artist in particular stood out for her: African American entertainer Bert Williams, whom she credits as her first influence. She learned the art of innuendo and double entendre from Williams’ performances, which he used in his act to mask his satire on race relations.
At the age of five, she made her first stage appearance at a church social. While her performances at home made her father proud, he was not keen on her performing in public. Tillie dismissed his concerns and enrolled in dance school at the age of seven. Soon, she was performing as “Baby May” at local burlesque theaters on amature nights. Her father became an ardent supporter after she won First Place and a $10 prize, dragging her costume case to performances and sitting in the audience as her number one fan.
Professional Vaudeville Career
West, then 14, began performing professionally in Vaudeville with the Hal Claredon Stock Company in 1907. Her mother made all of her costumes, drilled her during rehearsals, and handled all of her bookings and contracts. Tillie was finally in the entertainment industry as her daughter’s manager. West’s performance was a subtle parody of Victorian innocence and sentimentality. She dressed as a young girl in a pink and green satin gown, a large white hat, and pink satin ribbons. She did, however, impersonate adult Vaudeville and burlesque performers, as well as dance and sing popular songs with sexual overtones.
West spent the next few years performing in vaudeville with William Hogan, a small-time performer and family friend. In a parody of the Tom Sawyer theme, West played Hogan’s young girlfriend. However, the strong-willed West is likely to have had a hand in revising her soft-spoken Becky Thatcher character into a more assertive and spunky foil for Hogan. When work was slow, as it was for many Vaudeville performers, she would go on the burlesque circuit and perform for a predominantly male working-class audience. Social conventions did not permit such a young girl to be present, let alone perform, but West thrived and honed her performance skills.
Between 1909 and 1910, West met Frank Wallace, a rising vaudeville song-and-dance star. According to the story, Wallace was introduced to West by her mother, Tillie, who saw an opportunity to pair her with a rising performer. They formed an act and went on the burlesque circuit after a few weeks of intense rehearsal. The tour took them deep into the Midwest, away from West’s mother’s protective supervision. Wallace proposed marriage to her several times, according to her biographers, but she declined, instead having affairs with several other male cast members. Etta Wood, an older cast member, counseled her about her “wicked ways,” emphasizing that marriage would protect her from being alone and pregnant.
West appeared to have a change of heart as a result of this, and on April 11, 1911, she and Frank Wallace were married by a justice of the peace in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She lied about her age on her marriage certificate when she was only 17 (18 was the legal age for marriage in Wisconsin at the time), and both newlyweds promised to keep the marriage hidden from the public and her parents. The marriage went unnoticed until 1935, when West was well into her film career and a publicity staffer discovered the marriage certificate in some old papers. She claimed for many years that she and Wallace had never lived together as husband and wife. She ended the act soon after they returned to New York in the summer of 1911.
West auditioned for and was cast in her first Broadway show, A La Broadway, a comedy revue, later that year. The show was canceled after only eight performances, but West was a smash hit. Lee and J.J. Shubert, two successful Broadway producers, were in the audience on opening night, and they cast her in the production of Vera Violetta, which also starred Al Jolson. She was only on the show for a short time due to conflicts with Gaby Deslys, the show’s female star, but the experience paid off. In New York, she continued to perform in vaudeville and off-Broadway. During this time, she met Guido Deiro, another Vaudeville performer. A passionate relationship developed, and the two tried to spend as much time together as possible, frequently arranging for joint bookings. They were known for their outward displays of emotion, as well as raging arguments, and openly expressed their love, lust, and jealousy.
For a short time, the couple considered marriage, and Deiro even asked West’s parents for her hand in marriage (they were still unaware of her previous marriage to Frank Wallace, from which she eventually divorced in 1920). Tillie flatly refused, cautioning her daughter about the pitfalls of married couples in show business. West followed her mother’s wishes, but she continued to see Deiro. Her mother kept undermining their relationship. Finally, Tillie expressed her displeasure with Deiro, telling West that he wasn’t good enough for her. She reluctantly agreed and, after a short period of time, ended her relationship with Deiro.
West got her big break in the Shubert Brothers revue Sometime, opposite Ed Wynn, in 1918. Mayme, her character, performed the shimmy, a daring dance move that involved shaking one’s shoulders back and forth and pushing one’s chest out. West began to shape her characters as more parts came her way, frequently rewriting dialogue or character descriptions to better suit her persona. She eventually started writing her own plays under the pen name Jane Mast.
Playwriting and Controversy
West made her Broadway debut in 1926 with the play Sex, which she wrote, produced, and directed. Though the play was a box office success, “more respectable” Broadway critics panned it because of its explicit sexual content. The production was also not well received by city officials, who raided the set and arrested West and the majority of the cast. She was charged with immorality and sentenced to ten days in jail on Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island) in New York on April 19, 1927. West reportedly dined with the warden and his wife on a few occasions during his confinement. She was sentenced to eight days in prison, with two days suspended for good behavior. The media attention surrounding the affair did nothing but help her career.
Undaunted by any appearance of impropriety, West wrote and directed Drag, a play about homosexuality. The play was a smash hit in Paterson, New Jersey, and did well in Connecticut. When West announced the play’s Broadway debut, the Society for the Prevention of Vice intervened and vowed to outlaw it. The Society was a state-chartered organization founded in 1873 by YMCA supporters. The group was dedicated to overseeing public morality and ensuring compliance with state laws. West decided not to tempt fate by bringing the play to New York.
Over the next few years, West wrote several plays, including The Wicked Age, Pleasure Man, and The Constant Sinner. In some, she was credited as a writer and/or producer but did not appear. With tryst plots and sexual innuendos, the plays dealt with what would be considered “adult subject matter” today. Her productions were difficult to bring to the stage for a variety of reasons, the most important of which was the constant changes required to bring the dialogue and plot lines more in line with the moral codes of the day. On several occasions, the actors learned two scripts: one for the general audience and a “finer” version for when they were informed that vice agents might be present. Of course, all of this only increased awareness of her productions, resulting in sold-out performances.
By 1932, Hollywood was noticing West’s performances and talent. Paramount Pictures offered her a motion picture contract that year. She might have been considered in her “advanced years” for playing sexy harlots at 38 years old, but her persona and physical beauty seemed to overcome any doubt. Night after Night, starring George Raft, was her first film appearance. She protested her small role at first, but was appeased when she was allowed to rewrite her scenes to better suit her performance style.
In her first starring film role, West was able to bring her “Diamond Lil” character to the silver screen in the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong. The “Lil” character was renamed “Lady Lou,” and she said the famous “Why don’t you come up and see me?” The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and starred newcomer Cary Grant in one of his first major roles. The film performed extremely well at the box office and is credited with saving Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy. She was paired with Grant again in her next film, I’m No Angel. This film, too, was a financial success, earning West the title of eighth-largest box office draw in the United States. West was the second-highest paid person in the United States by 1935, trailing only publisher William Randolph Hearst.
However, several groups were outraged and morally outraged by her films’ overt sexuality and steamy settings. The Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code after its creator, Will H. Hays, was one of these. The organization had the authority to change scripts and pre-approve film productions. The organization began seriously and meticulously enforcing the code on West’s screenplays on July 1, 1934, and heavily edited them. West responded in typical fashion by upping the number of innuendos and double entendres, fully expecting to confuse the censors, which she mostly did.
West starred in the 1936 film Klondike Annie, which dealt with religion and hypocrisy. Hearst was so outraged by the film’s context and West’s portrayal of a Salvation Army worker that he personally forbade any stories or advertisements about it from appearing in any of his publications. However, the film performed well at the box office and is regarded as the pinnacle of West’s film career.
West’s film career seemed to wane as the decade progressed. Her other films for Paramount, Go West, Young Man, and Everyday’s a Holiday, did not fare well at the box office, and she discovered that censorship severely limited her creativity. On December 12, 1937, she appeared as herself in two comedy sketches on ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s radio show The Chase and Sanborn Hour. The conversation between West and the show’s hosts, Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy, was full of her trademark wit and risqué humor. However, days after the show aired, NBC received letters labeling it “immoral” and “obscene.” Moral organizations chastised Chase and Sanborn Coffee Company for allowing such “impurity” on their show. Even the FCC weighed in, calling the broadcast “vulgar and indecent” and falling far short of the minimum broadcast standard. NBC blamed West personally for the disaster and barred her from appearing on any of their other broadcasts.
West was approached by Universal Pictures in 1939 to star in a film alongside comedian W.C. Fields. The studio wanted to build on the success of Destry Rides Again, a Western morality tale starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart. West accepted the part, looking for a vehicle to make a comeback in films, and demanded creative control over the film. West wrote the screenplay for My Little Chickedee, which also uses the Western genre. Despite set tensions between West and Fields (she was a teetotaler and he drank), the film was a box-office success, grossing more than Fields’ previous two films.
By 1943, West was 50 years old and contemplating retirement from film in order to focus on her Broadway stage career. Gregory Ratoff, the director of Columbia Pictures and a friend of hers, needed a successful film to avoid bankruptcy and pleaded with West to assist him. She concurred. However, the film lacked her double-entendre lines and sly delivery, as well as a weak plot and a top-rated romantic lead for West to play off. The film received poor reviews and performed poorly at the box office. West would not return to the screen again until 1970.
West formed a nightclub act in 1954 that resurrected some of her earlier stage work, with her performing song-and-dance numbers and surrounded by musclemen fawning over her for attention. The show lasted three years and was a huge success. With this victory, she decided it was time to retire. West’s bestselling autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It, was published in 1959, recounting her life in show business. She made a few appearances on television comedy/variety shows like The Red Skelton Show and situation comedies like Mister Ed in the 1960s. She also released several albums in various genres, including rock ‘n’ roll and a Christmas album that was more parody and innuendo than religious celebration.
In the 1970s, she appeared in two of her final films, Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge, in which she played a minor role, and her own Sextette (1978). Myra Breckenridge was a box office and critical failure, but it found an audience on the cult film circuit and helped to revitalize many of her other films at film festivals. West began work on her final film, Sextette, in 1976. The film was adapted from a stage script she wrote, but the production was plagued by issues such as daily script revisions, creative disagreements, and West’s difficulty remembering her lines and following set direction. Nonetheless, as a professional, she persisted, and the film was completed. The critics were harsh, but the film, like Myra Breckenridge, has endured as a cult-film classic.
West had a severe fall while getting out of bed in August 1980. She was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, where tests revealed she had suffered a stroke. With a diabetic reaction to the formula in her feeding tube, her rehabilitation was complicated. On September 18, 1980, she had a second stroke that paralyzed much of her right side. She then became ill with pneumonia. Her condition appeared to be stabilizing, but her overall prognosis was favorable, and she was discharged to her home for recuperation. West died on November 22, 1980, at the age of 88. She was laid to rest in Brooklyn, New York.
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