William Randolph Hearst, the man who was not yet immortalised as Citizen Kane, sent a memo to his managing editors in 1936 ordering them to ‘roast’ Mae West’s latest film, Klondike Annie: ‘a filthy picture ... an affront to the decency of the public and to the interests of the motion picture profession’. In this film, loosely based on Mae West’s play Frisco Kate, she first appears as a slinky singer in a San Francisco gambling house, singing ‘I’m an Occidental woman in an Oriental mood for love’. Then, having done her bit for decency by impersonating a missionary in the cold north, she opts for a happy life with a burly sea captain.
Like so many hypocrites, Hearst and the censors of the day were horrified by Mae West’s open enjoyment of sex, and her celebration of a woman’s right to choose her partners wherever she pleased. During her six-year reign as one of the top Hollywood stars, from Night After Night in