Julien's Auctions announces Property from the Life and Career of Mae West

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Julien's Auctions announces Property from the Life and Career of Mae West
A custom made silk chestnut maxi dress with ivory dots worn by Mae West in 1940. The dress has a fitted bodice with ivory silk taffeta collar and trim to the sleeves with a full skirt. Some hand-finishing is present. No labels present. Accompanied by an image of West wearing the dress. Estimate: $1,000-2,000.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- Julien’s Auctions has announced its highly anticipated event Property from the Life and Career of Mae West auction, part of the Legendary Women of Hollywood two-day extravaganza taking place on Friday, November 1 and Saturday, November 2, 2019 at The Standard Oil Building in Beverly Hills and live online at juliensauctions.com. This special event celebrates the trailblazing career and style of the 1930s American actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian, and sex symbol. The star who coined legendary one liners such as, "When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better," will showcase a dazzling collection of ornate headdresses, tiaras, jewelry, wigs, film and stage worn bodiced gowns and more.

Born in Brooklyn, NY on August 17, 1893, Mary Jane “Mae” West began her seven decades long entertainment career on amateur nights at the age of six years old. West attracted immediate attention performing various personas, such as a male impersonator, and developed her signature sashaying walk early in her adult career. She was singled out by the New York Times for her performance at the age of 18 in the Broadway 1911 revue of A La Broadway and appeared in various stage productions including Vera Violetta opposite Al Jolson, A Winsome Widow in 1912 playing a vamp and in her big break as Mayme who danced the shimmy in the Schubert Brothers revue, Sometime. From the start of her career, West’s work was met with censorship and controversy when she began writing and starring in her own risqué plays including the 1926 Broadway play, Sex, whose production was panned by religious groups and conservative critics.

West’s arrest and prosecution for corrupting the morals of youth led to a ten-day jail sentence that she served on Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island), which garnered her immense publicity and even more attention by the media who crowned her the darling "bad girl." Other plays which she wrote, directed and starred in included The Wicked Age, Pleasure Man and The Constant Sinner, which all attracted controversy and boffo ticket sales. Her 1928 play, Diamond Lil, about a racy and smart lady of the 1890s, was a Broadway smash which West successfully revived many times throughout her career. Hollywood eventually came calling and in 1932, West was offered a motion picture contract by Paramount Pictures despite being close to 40, an unusually late age for actresses to begin a movie career at the time. West made her film debut opposite George Raft in Night After Night (1932), where her trademark for bawdy, brilliant deliveries in her deep contralto voice of innocuous one-liners with double entendre meanings (which West often wrote herself) first shone.

She brought her famous Broadway Diamond Lil character, now renamed "Lady Lou," to the screen in She Done Him Wrong (1933), starring opposite a young and relatively unknown Cary Grant in one of his first major film roles. The film was a box-office hit and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture which grossed over $2 million (equivalent of $140 million today) and saved Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy. Her next film, I’m No Angel (1933), opposite Grant again was also a box office hit and the most successful film of her career. She became a pop culture phenomenon with references and accolades to West found everywhere from Cole Porter songs to a Betty Boop cartoon and a Works Progress Administration (WPA) mural depiction of her of San Francisco’s newly built Coit Tower.

By 1933, West was one of the largest box-office draws and in 1935, became the highest paid woman and the second-highest paid person in the United States. Throughout the rest of the decade, her on screen work and script writing of her best one liners in films such as, Belle of the Nineties (1934) and Goin’ to Town (1935), continued to be censored by the Production Code while West fought to keep them in her scripts, knowing that the censors would cut them out. Censorship ultimately took its toll on her next films including, Klondike Angel (1936), Go West Young Man opposite Randolph Scott (1936) and Every Day’s a Holiday (1937) as the studios found it challenging to distribute West’s suggestive brand of humor and eroded her best on screen work and dialogue with cuts to her films. Her next role opposite W.C. Fields in My Little Chickadee (Universal Pictures, 1940) was a box-office success while religious leaders condemned West as a negative role model, singling out some of her most memorable lines in the film such as "between two evils, I like to pick the one I haven't tried before." Her next roles continued to be plagued by the censors including the film, The Heat’s On (Columbia Pictures, 1943), her first film where she only agreed to do if she was allowed to write her own dialogue and her last film role for the next quarter-century.

West returned to the stage where her career flourished and performed one of her most popular stage roles as Catherine the Great in Broadway’s Catherine Was Great (1944), a spoof of the Russian empress’ story, which was produced by theater and film producer Mike Todd and ran for nearly 200 performances. In 1949, West followed up her successful run with her revival of her 1928 play, Diamond Lil, which the New York Times raved about and called her an “American institution.” In the 1950s and the following decades, West pursued a successful and record-breaking career touring her famous show in top nightclubs, in theater and on Broadway as well as in Las Vegas, in the United Kingdom and on radio and television. The American Film Institute ranked her number 15 on their list of greatest female stars of classic American cinema.

“Mae West was an indomitable force to be reckoned with who pushed the envelope and broke all the rules,” Darren Julien, President/CEO of Julien’s Auctions said. “Julien’s Auctions is proud to present this fabulous collection and an important archive of her work and singular style that made her one of the first female icons and feminist pioneers of her time.“

One of the top highlights of the auction will be an array of her curvaceous, show stopping costumes, such as a custom made scarlet red satin gown worn by West in the 1950 production of Diamond Lil (estimate: $10,000-$20,000). The gown has a boned bodice with puffed layered tulle sleeves and is embellished with foliate trim with ruby red bugle beads, sequins, and faceted glass in metal casing and a long skirt with layered tulle embellishment and a train. Also included is the custom made rose silk chiffon hostess gown worn by Mae West in the 1952 production of Diamond Lil (estimate: $2,000-$4,000).

Other highlights of the auction include a collection of over 250 fan letters to Mae West dated from 1969 to 1980 housed in four ivory colored scrap books which West would show to press when they would come to her Rossmore home (estimate: $600-$800); a gold tone trophy on a wood and marble base that reads "To the Queen of Mens Hearts Miss Mae West From your Athletes we love you 1955" (estimate: $500-$700); a gold tone tiara with rhinestones and painted faceted glass stage worn by Mae West in her starring role as Catherine II of Russia in the 1944-45 Broadway production of Catherine was Great, which she wrote (estimate: $800-$1,000); a black silk dress worn by West in 1952 while viewing the Navy's latest "Mae West" life-jackets (estimate: $1,000-$2,000); a hand held wood mirror frame painted ivory with gold detail used by West in her 1950s Las Vegas stage show (estimate: $600-$800); a custom made silk chestnut maxi dress with ivory dots worn by Mae West in 1940 (estimate: $1,000-$2,000); a circa 1960s custom made white silk dress printed with artistic black roses (estimate: $600-$800); an inscribed "Mae West" life preserver presented to West by Major George Gaines in 1954 (estimate: $600-$800); a 'Dialogue Continuity' script from arguably the star's most famous film, the 1933 Paramount release co-starring a young Cary Grant annotated with West’s pencilled edits as well as the film’s treatment titled "Don't Call Me Madame," the working title of the film (estimate: $2,000-$3,000); West’s custom made heavily embellished gold lamé headdress worn in photographs taken by G. Maillard Kesslere B.P. circa 1944 for promotional pieces for Catherine was Great (estimate: $1,000-$2,000); a blonde Catherine was Great wig worn by West in the 1944-1945 Broadway production (estimate: $800-$1,000) and more.

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