Over the years there have been many rumors about Mae West, but the most bizarre rumour has to be that SHE…was really a HE!
Years ago, I read an article about the “real” Mae, who was indeed a woman. It stated that she died in the early-1950’s, yet reports popped up that her brother had died instead. Then, HE took over the whole Mae West persona.
At this time, apparently, there was a noticeable switch in Mae’s appearance. Personally, I never found her feminine, but as the story goes, this brother who became his famous sister in order to carry on the legacy had some manly features that couldn’t be disguised, like an Adam’s apple and much larger hands.
The closest online confirmation of this story that I could find comes from a submission to the Find-a-death website. Though this wasn’t where I originally read the theory, the Find-a-death contributor said:
…the real Mae West died somewhere around 1950, give or take a couple years, and rather than let the show stop, it was announced that not Mae, but her brother, died. Of course, the brother then became Mae West and carried on until November 1980. If you look
carefully at photos from around 1950 on it definitely looks like a different person not to mention the big hands and masculine features, bone structure, etc. I may not have all the details 100% correct but I would almost put money on the fact that the ‘Mae West’ ‘who died in 1980 had a weenie!!
Additionally, Raquel Welch, who worked with Mae West on the film, Myra Breckinridge thought there was something suspect about Mae West too. Yep, Welch also thought she was a man! In fact, she said she looked like “A Dock Worker In Drag!” LOL!
Above: Mae West in later years. In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, “She has MAN HANDS!”
Below: A screen grab about Dinah East…and the “secret” to be revealed upon Mae’s death!
50 responses to “Was Mae West…A Man?!”
I don’t give crediability to the findadeath website I want to know what do you think Michelle?
If this was true it was the greatest hoax ever!
hmmm – Last week I just Finished Charlotte Chandlers Bio of Mae. It states that she had Diabetes later in her life. Given the time & types of drugs used to treat that disease 30+ years ago “puffiness” wouldn’t be an uncommon side effect. I don’t put much stock in anything Welch has to say about the Myra film. The set fights are legendary & she seems like a person who would hold a grudge until her own death.
Yes I’ve also heard this rumor before Michelle. I did some research on it because it intrigued me and could find nothing to back up this claim. Interesting that Raquel Welch was making a film with Mae West about a sex change operation and then comes up with her remark. makes me wonder if it was all part of the publicity for the film. The autopsy report would prove Mae West was a woman. Nobody has ever contested it. Another urban legend of Hollywood.
Okay please ignore my previous remark. Raquel Welch made this claim only recently. I thought she made it at the time of filming. So these are her thoughts on the subject in retrospect. Well she’s entitled to her opinions but we know Mae West was born a female. It’s in her birth certificate. So we have to assume her brother posed as her after her “death.” He would have to fool all of her friends unless they were all knew what was happening. Sounds impossible to me. The doctors would have been in on it as well.
Yeah, Mae West was born a woman, that isn’t disputed. But Mae West dying in 1950 would stop the gravy train too. That’s when her brother stepped in. I haven’t checked, but it would be interesting to find out if there were articles mentioning her brothers death in 1950, or thereabouts. Apparently, a 1969 cult film, “Dinah East” was about a starlet drag queen, and so obviously based on West’s life that it was withdrawn from distribution because of legal threats from West herself! The doctors being in on “the greatest hoax ever,” as Betty put it would not surprise me at all. How much money would it take to get most people to tick the “female” box instead of the male one?! I’ll post the “Dinah East” info within the original blog post.
Her only brother John Edwin West was born 1900 and died October 1964.
So, this would mean that “John” played “Mae” in her last two films, “Myra Breckenridge” and “Sextette”. This, of course, was the tail end of her career and there were decades between these last two films and her mainstream career.
I don’t understand Michelle. How could her brother John play his sister Mae in Myra Breckenridge” in 1968 when he died in 1964?
You know, I just realized I totally stuffed that up. No wonder you didn’t understand! LOL! Yep, you’re right. I was confused with the original story that had “Mae” dying and her brother replacing her. But, you found evidence of her brother dying way before those last couple of films were made. Seems it’s all a myth…
…unless it wasn’t HER BROTHER portraying her !
LOL Yes it’s all an urban myth Michelle.
John Wayne did an interview with Playboy in the 70’s, and he said that “Mae West is a man, I know that for a fact”.
Ohhh, and the can of worms is once again – opened! LOL!
Raquel Welch did a spoof of Mae West in her over the top 1970 TV special called RAQUEL! (on Amazon on DVD). With Bob Hope she played Lil McGill… “But you can call me Nancy….or Bruce”. She is dressed like Mae was in Myra Breckenridge, and all through the skit jokes that Mae is really a man. This was while Mae was still alive. Here is the Youtube link.
Years ago I was in touch with the late Gordon Mitchell through his website, he was one of the musclemen in Mae’s Las Vegas act in the 50’s. I asked him about Raquel Welch’s allegations. He said Raquel was just being bitchy because of what happened during the filming of Myra Breckenridge. He also said that Mae auditioned the musclemen for the revue, including Mickey Hargitay and Dick DuBois, in a see through blouse with rouged nipples. She was well past 60 at the time. Jayne Mansfield saw Mickey Hargitay in the show, took him away from Mae, and married him. Mae met her longtime partner Paul Novak in this revue. He looked after Mae for the rest of her life as live-in lover and body guard. Gordon said “Believe me, Mae was all woman”.
So is Raquel just being bitchy? Even on Myra Breckenridge’s DVD commentary she says things like “Look at those man hands”. I admire Raquel, but honestly don’t know why she persists with this story because it can’t be proved either way. If Mae died in 1950 or 1964 and her brother took over, its an amazing story. If Mae just looked different after 1950 its because of a facelift, then that explains a lot too. Remember she was not a recluse, and she had many friends and lovers who would’ve known the difference. Robbie.
Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO6qHL2Te8M
Raquel is a HUGE BITCH. I know a few old Hollywood stars who worked with her and she was a bitch to everyone on set.
I came to this site by internet search because I just watched “The Heat’s On”, and was struck by her huge hands with wide palms. I suppose it’s possible a woman could have such hands, but I’ve never met one. I also now remember when I first saw a Mae movie as a kid, I thought it was a man dressed as a woman. Suppose her doctors and medical examiner benefited from a secret codicil in a will to keep their mouths forever shut?
Mae West was my grandmothers 2nd cousin (on my moms side). My grandmothers grandfathers brothers daughter.
I have heard that Mae was born with both sex organs.
And THAT made this story/secret/myth TRUE. I saw the story at find a death and then made my way here.
the hermaphrodite possibility seems most likely.
I believe that at some point, the real Mae West died & was most likely replaced by her sister, Beverly, who was the exact same size as Mae, also did Diamond Lil impersonations on stage & was also a singer. The reason I believe this, is that the photos starting in the 1950’s are radically different. I don’t think you can explain it away by saying she had plastic surgery. It’s even possible that Paul Novak & Mickey Hargitay met the replacement, not the original. The original Mae West was beautiful; the replacement was more exaggerated, both in make-up and wig. There is a photo showing Mae with her sister & brother — the brother does not look remotely like a woman. As to her friends knowing, when she went to dinner at Groucho Marx’s house, she insisted on dining by candlelight (perhaps to hide something?).
Mae supported her family financially — it would have been easy for the sister to get control using a power of attorney, or even simply impersonating her dead sister — the bank wouldn’t have known the difference. It’s possible the mortuary and maybe a lawyer would have been paid off to keep quiet about Mae’s death. I don’t believe there is even one single photo of Mae and her sister late in their lives posing together. If this is true, it’s one of the best stories of all time. Only a very few from the olden days would have known the real Mae West — like George Raft. Of course, Edith Head would have known the real Mae West — but maybe went along with the game when she designed the Myra costumes. Someone would have to really dig deep to find out the truth. You’d have to find the mortuary and mortician who might have taken care of the death of the real Mae West. I’m just guessing here — but I think there was a switch at some point. The look between the two is very close, but still different — the eyes are different and there are more teeth in the replacement. Look closely at the photos & you will see the differences.
Thank you for your great post, Lynn. Don’t see the photos though. If you e-mail them to me I’ll post a follow-up and use them. Thanks again xo
So that would mean when Mae West died they secretly buried her and when her sister actually died (who was pretending to be Mae) they buried her sister as Mae West? So how was the news handled at some point when the sister died, did they have to stage that too? Would love to know the media reports on her sister’s death. I am so confused! I haven’t seen the pictures, but she could have had dental work and the eyes do change with plastic surgery, and I am sure Mae had work done over the years…IDK….
People forget or don’t know that mae was imprisoned for ten days in the 1920s. There is a mandatory shower requirement . If she were a man that fact would have come to light. Also she was hospitalized at the end of her life. Surely the nurses who saw to her personal hygiene would have seen that she was a woman.
The rumor that miss west was a man is no more than that People forget that Miss West was imprisoned for ten days in 1927. Surely the mandatory showers in prison under prison matron’s watchful eyes would have revealed this hoax if it were true. Nothing was ever revealed about the true identity of her gender. Also during the last months of her life she was hospitalized in intensive care. Surely the nurses who attended to Ms West’s personal hygiene would have seen that Ms West was all woman. If not the tabloids would have had a field day with this story. I hope this rumor is laid to rest along with the remarkable Mae West. Thank you.
Actually the rumors of Mae West’s gender go all the way back to when she was on Broadway (prior to her film career) and were fabricated by blue noses and various Hays Office types who were extremely troubled by Mae’s extreme success and her sexual openness. Obviously, if there was any validity to this tripe, it would have surfaced a long time ago.
And Elvis is alive and well living in Bagdad with Michael Jackson.
Speculation leads to further fascination in regard to Mae West.
Either way, she was and still is relevant and entertaining.
A true original. To have seen her perform, to have met her
in person would have been wonderful.
“To much of a good thing can be wonderful”
She was and still is a wonder.
GO WEST ………….
I read on the net can’t think where that tony randall attended to her body at the time if her death and she was dressed etc in secret. I cannot see any resemblance between the young mae of the turn of the century and the movie star she became. In night after night she is a woman, no doubt, you can see in her revealing dresses but her makeup up is so different to the imagex of 1911 etc that it could be 2 different wonen but I find that with all silent stars. But by the time she appears as a cabaret artist any resemblance to the young mae or mae of the 1930s is gone. The idea that there was a play callec sex or drag in those days would mean that mae was very different to ‘ respectable women of those days,’. For mae to have written them must have made her notorious and infamous. Where and when did her features mouth start to have an overbite?
It is a feature tnat really altered with age. I do not see any resemblance of the older mae with the younger but that can happento alot of people but I think the tony randle story needs investigation.
Her overbite shows some in My Little Chickadee. She’s adept at concealing it with how she holds her jaw and mouth, but it occasionally slips in, and it’s easier to see in profile.
i think mae west acts like a drag queen in all her movies, who really cares , she was a great performer, and she made us laugh at sex.
An old Hollywood entertainer told me that Mae West was actually a man who’s real name was George Prescott! One of Mae West’s quotes was “I’m just a girl who works at Paramount all day and Fox all night!”
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The hermaphrodite scenario may be plausible. I had a great aunt who on early census reports was named Eli, male but by the time puberty came his name changed to Ora Belle, female. She married, never had children, but had many male features – more so in age. Possibly at a certain age male hormones kicked in and something had to be done to fix that? But look at any photo of Mae and you will see them edited and doctored to give curves and cleavage when in others her breast look flat. Dresses have inserts. And in her last movie Sextette, her dress swings away from her body and there doesn’t seem to be anything under it. Tape and makeup can give cleavage hence RuPaul. But she probably had both sexes at birth or the male one removed early on (but uncommon in early years), and had male features as well covered with illusion. And there are a lot of gay bodybuilders.
Ever notice where men’s elbows meet the body. Very high. Women’s elbows are around the waist. Look at the shins & knees of men. There are so many differences to prove Mae West was a man.
My name is Ted Mueller and from 1987 to 1990 I worked as a location scout in the Los Angeles area. A large part of my job was to go out and find film locations for forthcoming commercials, television shows and sometimes movies. Typically this involved going to the location, taking photos (with a film camera) and then either meeting the director the following day or perhaps Fedex-ing the photos to him or her for next day delivery. This gave the director a good idea whether or not the said location was a good fit for the project. In 1989 I recall getting a request to photograph and apartment interior for an upcoming television show. My boss knew of an old, 1920’s era apartment building in Hollywood that might work. I called, made an apportionment with the manager and went to the building. The manager, a very polite African-American woman, told me that many celebrities had called this apartment their home in years past, including Robin Williams – and Mae West. Still quite young in those days, I jokingly said, “You mean that blonde lady from the old movies who would say, ‘Why don’t you come up and see me some time?” She then said to me emphatically, “Mae West was no lady. Mae West was a man!!! I was one of the best kept secrets in Hollywood.” Incredulously I said, “Come on, they weren’t doing that kind of thing back then.” Forcefully, she said to me “Child, they’ve been doing that stuff since Sodom and Gomorrah!” This is absolutely a true story. It happened, and I heard it from the horse’s mouth.
WOW! Thanks for sharing, Ted! What a great, first hand account.
You are very welcome. After I posted this, I recalled that it was on a north-south street. After some Googling, I’m 100% certain it was The Ravenswood Apartments:
Where do people come up with all this thought process about Mae west anyway?
I recently came across some photos from an estate auction which I believe are old nude celebrity photos. Two of the photos appears to be of Mae West without makeup but one feature is different, her nose. Does anyone know if Mae West had a nose job. In her Hollywood photos she appears to have a wide nose but I seen a couple pics of her youth, she has a narrow nose. The photos I have matches the nose of her youth pics. They are on original 35mm color format from the 1930s in magic lantern style slides. Her body appears to be female but does have large hands and male facial features because of rugged look. It could be possible these photos were taken at a earlier date and reprinted or colored in the 1930s. One prop she is using in the photo is a old 1920s-30s western electric phone. The owner of these slides was a New York Broadway actor/photographer who was gay. Any info would be helpful.
Is there any chance you could send scans of these slides to my email address? – firstname.lastname@example.org
My husband and I actually collect glass slides, so these would be of interest. I would love to see them. You can either sit the slides on a window so the light reflects thru them to photograph, or if you have access to a reflective scanner, that is the ideal way. The window works for the purpose of being able to see the image though.
Most people have nose jobs to thin out their noses, take away bumps, etc…it is somewhat weird to think that Mae’s nose would be surgically widened. I would have to compare photos to be able to give a definitive answer.
Yet another mystery…another piece of the puzzle that is yet to truly fit together to complete the picture that was Mae West.
If possible, images of the slides can be sent to my email address – email@example.com – I would have to compare photos.
Placing the slides against a window to photograph them works well enough for viewing purposes.
This is all very intriguing. I would love to see them. Thanks for posting!
Vivien Leigh also had large hands for her size, of which she was very self-conscious, but nobody accuses her of being a man. If Mae West had large hands it means nothing, except that she could wear bigger diamonds without them overwhelming her. People’s features change as they age all the time. Menopause triggers higher androgen levels in relaton to lower estrogen levels which can make some women look more masculine later in life. Mae West’s sister Beverly had a longer nose and a more prominent septum. She died two years after her older sister Mae. She may not have liked to be photographed with her sister on account of sibling rivalry, and when they were in the same picture, somebody said that Beverly would look away from Mae. Maybe she didn’t age as well as her older sister, and perhaps that’s why she avoided being photographed with Mae in later years. Their brother John had an even bigger nose, bigger head and was taller — you can’t change height and head size with plastic surgery.
Actually I never really thought about it until I watched a video on youtube last night titled ” Anna Berger, part 6 Mae West”. She said she was really good friends with Mae and they would go to see psychics together. A psychic told Anna that she saw a baby in her future and after they left Mae said he wouldn’t see a baby in her future and Anna asked: “why not?” Mae answered, “because we don’t do it that way”. I will add that Mae seemed to surround herself with “gay” men. Even with Cary Grant and Randolf Scott. Some people said she was under 5′ tall, her assistant who is still living said she was 5’2″ tall, they all say she got her walk because she wore 7″ heels/ platform shoes. Two things that could have altered her appearance in later life, she could have changed her diet to like vegan or vegetarian and she got false teeth. Her assistant said in private she was almost the opposite of her persona, she didn’t smoke or drink. When she went to jail it was said that the sheriff spent the 2 weeks driving her around, going out to eat, treating her special. Over the decades I would think she had boyfriends and she had sex with them. In a speech she gave in the 70s, she said: “I’ve had sex with white men, black men, Asian men, I’ve never had sex with a Spanish man”. On another note there is speculation that Paul Mccartney of the Beetles died in the 60s and was replaced by his brother Raul. Paul started by playing the bass left handed and Raul plays guitar right handed?
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