The actress was born Mary Jane West in Brooklyn, NY, in 1893, although some sources say she was born a year earlier. By the age of five she was working the boards in vaudeville. By her early teens her performances had earned her the moniker of "Baby Vamp." She eventually landed on Broadway in Diamond Lil, but not before offending the moral code of the 1920s and earning a short stop in jail for one of the plays she had written, which she titled Sex.
Her fortunes turned around when she went to Hollywood. Outrageous remarks packed with sexual innuendo brought fame and adulation to the five-foot blonde actress with an exaggerated hourglass figure, as well as an Oscar nomination in 1933 for She Done Him Wrong, her second movie. Evidently another of West's oft-quoted remarks was accurate. She said, "When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad I'm better." A look at her salary during the early Hollywood years backs up this claim. In 1932, in the midst of the Depression, she was paid $50,000 to make one film. In 1959 the actress published Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It, her autobiography. She remained active almost until the end, making her final film, Sextette, just two years prior to her passing. She died in Los Angeles, CA, in 1980, after experiencing a number of strokes. During her life she claimed that she had never taken a husband, and she is given credit for saying, "Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution." However, records indicate that she married a man named Frank Wallace.
Recordings are available of West's radio and television appearances. Mark 56 Records offers recordings of the actress on a 1937 radio broadcast with Edgar Bergen and his puppet, Charlie McCarthy. Other broadcasts include a take from her guest appearance in the '30s on The Rudy Vallee Show and two of her Christmas broadcasts from the early '70s for The American Forces Radio Service. Recordings of her television work span the 1940s to the 1960s and include guest appearances on shows hosted by Perry Como
, Red Skelton, and Dean Martin
. ~ Linda Seida, Rovi