Celebrating Mae West at the Jefferson Market Library

By Michele Gouveia

Ephemeral Images at Jefferson Market“When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.”

—Mae West

With her double entendres, voluptuous figure, and distinct Brooklyn accent, Mae West became one of the most famous and imitated women of the 20th century.

This year marks the 125th anniversary of her birth, and to celebrate the occasion a festival, West Fest, will take place in New York August 17-29, including two days of events at the Jefferson Market Library.

West spent the night at the Jefferson Market Prison (now the site of the Jefferson Market Garden) in 1927 after being convicted of obscenity charges for her play “Sex.” West’s connection to Jefferson Market is remembered today with the Mae West Community Room in the library.

On Saturday, August 18th, a series of talks begins at noon with Trav S.D., performer and author of “No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,” and the blog “Travalanche,” speaking on West’s early life, career, and vaudeville. He will be followed at 1:00 pm by John Calhoun, librarian at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, who will discuss Broadway history and share some items from the library’s theatre collection. At 2:00 p.m. the subject turns to West and race with a talk by Chicava Honeychild, proprietress of Brown Girls Burlesque and artist-in-residence at Joe’s Pub, followed at 3:00 p.m. with a look at West and spiritualism by Kathy Biehl, actress and certified psychic and astrologer. At 4:00 p.m. the day concludes with “Rebel Mae West,” a panel discussion moderated by Grady Turner, curator of “Bare! True Stories of Sex Desire and Romance,” and featuring Dirty Martini, the international burlesque sensation; Elyse Singer, CUNY teaching fellow and director of the1999 revival of the play “Sex;” and the day’s previous speakers.

Sunday, August 18th is double-feature day at the library with screenings of two of West’s films starting with “She Done Him Wrong” (1933), in which she stars opposite a very young Cary Grant, followed by “Belle of the Nineties” (1934), which has West sporting some of her most over-the-top costumes. The films will be introduced by West Fest chair Michele Gouveia. The screenings begin at 2:00 p.m.

All library events take place in the Willa Cather Community Room and are free to the public.

Other West Fest events include a walking tour in Brooklyn to visit West’s mausoleum and former home, and screenings of “My Little Chickadee” (1940) at Metrograph and “I’m No Angel” (1933) at the Cinema Arts Centre on Long Island.

For information and updates on all of the festival’s events, visit the West Fest page on Facebook at or follow West Fest on Twitter at @maewestfest.

Michele Gouveia is a writer, producer, and photographer whose areas of expertise include the 1920s and Classic Hollywood cinema. She is the chair of West Fest, a festival celebrating Mae West’s 125th birthday.

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