On August 17, 1892, Mae West was born in Brooklyn. A talented child performer, she became a regular on the Vaudeville circuit and Broadway stage while still a teenager.
In the mid-1920s, she began writing, producing, and starring in her own plays, the most famous being "Diamond Lil" in 1928. Her plays were filled with suggestive dialogue and sexual innuendo, shocking many at the time. West served several brief jail sentences for obscenity, garnering great publicity for her plays.
After moving to California in 1932, she became part of cinema history for starring in (and often writing the scripts for) such classic films as "She Done Him Wrong," "Klondike Annie," "My Little Chickadee," and "I'm No Angel." West was a talented writer, a dazzling stage presence, and the most famous sex symbol of her time. In her career, she wrote and delivered many immortal lines:
"I used to be Snow White . . . but I drifted."
"Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."
"It's better to be looked over than overlooked."
"Why don't you come up sometime and see me?" (often misquoted as "Come up and see me sometime").
"When women go wrong, men go right after them."
"I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it."
"I always say, keep a diary and someday it'll keep you."
"Give a man a free hand and he'll try to put it all over you."
"It's not the men in my life that counts, it's the life in my men."
"Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before."
"When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better."
"Marriage is a great institution--but I'm not ready for an institution."
West also gave great repartee. In a scene in her 1928 play "Diamond Lil," a woman looks at the jewelry worn by West and says admiringly, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds." In her inimitable manner, West replies: "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie."
The line became so popular that West reprised it in her Hollywood film debut, the 1932 movie "Night After Night." As the years went by, the line became a film classic, and so indelibly associated with West that she titled her 1959 autobiography, "Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It."
In the early years of WWII, British pilots named their inflatable life jackets "Mae Wests" in honor of West's voluptuous figure. In 1941, after learning that the term and usage were being formally entered in a British dictionary, West wrote a letter to the Royal Air Force saying: "I've been in 'Who's Who' and I know what's what, but it'll be the first time I ever made the dictionary."