In Bed with Mae West: Movie Magazine Revelations of the Boudoir as Creative, Training and Central Scenic Space




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University of Iowa Press


Book chapter

Peer reviewed



Whether suggestively reclining on a Leda-inspired golden swan bed in her self-penned hit film, She Done Him Wrong (1933) or carried aloft on a decadent chaise longue by loin cloth clad muscle men in her Las Vegas shows (1954-59), the bed and the boudoir played a central role in classical Hollywood star, Mae West’s (1893-1980) films, books, plays and articles, and the shaping of her persona within them. In these texts, West’s bedroom is a transgressively active site not just of seduction, but of murder, rescue, canny deals, health-giving properties and jubilantly salacious quips. The depictions of West in fan magazines of the 1930s play an important part in this network of texts. Arguably carefully guided by West, these magazines repeatedly portrayed West as avoiding Hollywood parties to stay in bed all day and night, furiously writing, closing deals and proffering advice. These portrayals convey a puritanical work ethic, apparently divorced from and that could almost serve to neutralise her sensualist onscreen persona, whilst also heavily insinuating at West’s transgressive sexual labours. Fruitfully read through a Performance Studies perspective, these portrayals can be seen to instigate West’s later manifestos on the creative power of sex and the very practical, skilful positioning of the boudoir as a physical training space for both sex and artistic endeavour. This lifelong role of directing proceedings within and from the bedroom can be regarded as a potential-filled, sexually exuberant border bursting resistance to expected gendered behaviours, which West worked to share with readers and audiences in order to ‘fight’ against ‘depression, repression and suppression’ and ‘make people feel the joy of living’ (West 1934: 93).



Mae West, Film performance, Movie magazines, Star performance, Gender and performance


Clarke, A. (2019) In Bed with Mae West: Movie Magazine Revelations of the Boudoir as Creative, Training and Central Scenic Space. In: Jeffers McDonald, Tamar and Lanckman, Lies (eds.), Star Attractions: Twentieth-Century Movie Magazines and Global Fandom, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, pp. 157-168


Research Institute

Institute of Drama, Dance and Performance Studies