Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mae West: "Too Much of a Good Thing is Wonderful"

Mae West (born 17 August 1893)


For many, Mae West is memorable only for her screen roles, particularly Lady Lou in She Done Him Wrong and Tira in I'm No Angel, both from 1933 and both co-starring Cary Grant. In the first of these films, West asks Grant, "Why don't you come up some time and see me?" In the second, she changes the line: "Come up and see me some time."

But West not only starred in these films (and a few others before the enforcement of the Hays Code made her blatantly sexual persona disappear from the screen), she created them. Long before Hollywood, she not only performed her greatest role--Mae West--she wrote and produced her own plays, and most of her films were based on her own scripts.

There is so much to say about West--but instead of me writing about her, I think it's best to let West speak for herself. These are just a few of her memorable, and memorably quotable, lines:
  • I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.
  • I wrote the story myself. It's all about a girl who lost her reputation but never missed it.
  • When I'm good, I'm very good. When I'm bad, I'm better.
  • Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.
  • I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it.
  • It isn't what I do, but how I do it. It isn't what I say, but how I say it, and how I look when I do it and say it.
  • I'll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure.
  • When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before.
  • Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution yet.
  • I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.
  • She's the kind of girl who climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong.
  • When women go wrong, men go right after them.
  • There are no good girls gone wrong, just bad girls found out.
  • Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
  • Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
  • It is better to be looked over than overlooked.
  • Keep a diary, and someday it'll keep you.
  • To err is human, but it feels divine.
  • Love conquers all things except poverty and toothache.
  • I've been rich and I've been poor. Believe me, rich is better.
  • Virtue has its own reward, but no sale at the box office.
  • Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.
  • I like my clothes to be tight enough to show I'm a woman, but loose enough to show I'm a lady.
  • You're never too old to become younger.
  • I like restraint, if it doesn't go too far.
  • I never worry about diets. The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond.
  • A dame that knows the ropes isn't likely to get tied up.
  • I never loved another person the way I loved myself.
  • Love thy neighbor--and if he happens to be tall, debonair and devastating, it will be that much easier.
  • It's all right for a perfect stranger to kiss your hand as long as he's perfect.
  • It's not the men in my life that count, it's the life in my men.
  • Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can't figure out what from.
  • A man in the house is worth two in the street.
  • A hard man is good to find.
  • Ten men waiting for me at the door? Send one of them home, I'm tired.
  • Give a man a free hand and he'll run it all over you.
  • A man can be short and dumpy and getting bald but if he has fire, women will like him.
  • An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.
  • Don't keep a man guessing too long -- he's sure to find the answer somewhere else.
  • Flattery will get you everywhere.
  • I've been things and seen places.
  • I'm no angel, but I've spread my wings a bit.
  • The score never interested me, only the game.
  • Men are my hobby. If I ever got married I'd have to give it up.
  • So many men . . . so little time.
  • I only like two kinds of men, domestic and imported.
  • I go for two kinds of men. The kind with muscles, and the kind without.
  • I only have "yes" men around me. Who needs "no" men?
  • Save a boyfriend for a rainy day--and another, in case it doesn't rain.
  • Some men are all right in their place--if they only knew the right places!
  • I like a man who's good, but not too good--for the good die young, and I hate a dead one.
  • I feel like a million tonight. But one at a time.
  • Men? Sure, I've known lots of them. But I never found one I liked well enough to marry. Besides, I've always been busy with my work. Marriage is a career in itself and to make a success of it you've got to keep working at it. So until I can give the proper amount of time to marriage, I'll stay single.
  • His mother should have thrown him out and kept the stork.
  • He's the kind of man a woman would have to marry to get rid of.
  • Don't marry a man to reform him--that's what reform schools are for.
  • It takes two to get one in trouble.
  • Too many girls follow the line of least resistance--but a good line is hard to resist.
  • Good women are no fun. The only good woman I can recall in history was Betsy Ross. And all she ever made was a flag.
  • Good sex is like good Bridge. If you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand.
  • Diamonds is my career.
  • When it comes to finances, remember that there are no withholding taxes on the wages of sin.
  • No gold-digging for me. I take diamonds! We may be off the gold standard someday.
  • You can do what you want, but saving love doesn't bring any interest.
  • Any time you got nothing to do and lots of time to do it, come on up.
  • Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.
  • Kiss and make up--but too much makeup has ruined many a kiss.
  • Brains are an asset to the woman in love who's smart enough to hide 'em.
  • Say what you want about long dresses, but they cover a multitude of shins.
  • Cultivate your curves--they may be dangerous but they won't be avoided.
  • The curve is more powerful than the sword.
  • I've been in more laps than a napkin.
  • I'd like to see Paris before I die. Philadelphia will do.
  • I see you're a man with ideals. I better be going before you've still got them.
  • Women with "pasts" interest men because men hope that history will repeat itself.
  • Don't ever make the same mistake twice, unless it pays.
  • You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.
And, one of my favorites, since I've already posted on Catherine the Great. Here's Mae West from a speech she delivered during a curtain call after she performed her play Catherine Was Great: "She ruled thirty million people and had three thousand lovers. I do the best I can in two hours."


There are wonderful biographies in addition to the films--but to start, you might head over to the Mae West website--there's a brief but excellent biographical essay; a photo gallery with portraits, movie stills, shots from stage plays, and a lifetime of shots of a figure who loved the camera; even more quotations; and links to lots of other Mae West-related sites.