Texas: Washington Sq Woman
Mary and Mary (-Jane) — — Quite Contrary
The law and Lady Luck played a role when Marie Guinan [1884-1933] and Mae West [1893-1980] reinvented themselves in Greenwich Village.
• • In 1907, a demure 23-year-old Sunday schoolteacher rented a $2/ week room [72 Wash. Sq So] and assumed a louder identity: TEXAS Guinan. The neighborhood suited her. Even while earning a Park Avenue income ($700,000 in 1927, i.e., $5.5 million today), Tex kept her West Eighth Street duplex.
• • After singing in several main-stem musicals, Tex starred in 30+ silent Westerns [1917-21] in Hollywood. In 1922, Tex returned to The Big Apple where nightlife had changed. Speaks — — all the rage — — had no entertainment, she noticed when visiting a Washington Square So. club run by her neighbor Barney Gallant (formerly Eugene O’Neill’s roommate). Gallant’s barstools were warmed by Walter Winchell, literati from The New Yorker, and big spenders.
• • Now 38 years old, Tex began to orchestrate whoopee for clubs — — herself on center stage. Soon she was in the money, in the paddy wagon, and in the headlines. News of her arrests and antics fanned her fame.
• • • • Village sites linked to Texas Guinan include her former homes, where her friends and showgirls lived, her church, her bank, and where the diamond-draped speakeasy queen garaged her 2 armored cars.
• • • •
• • Mary-Jane West [1893-1980] — stage name Mae West — reinvented herself in Greenwich Village as playwright Jane Mast. Billed as the “baby vamp” in Brooklyn in 1899, the singing comedienne did not enjoy a steady rise to stardom a la Texas Guinan. Instead she performed in vaudeville and on Broadway for 20+ years without making headway.
• • In 1920, Savoy and Brennan put the Greenwich Village Theatre on the map with The Greenwich Village Follies. July 1922, Mae rehearsed The Ginger Box Revue there. In Act 2, Mae sang “Eugene O’Neill, You’ve Put a Curse on Broadway” as she spoofed The Hairy Ape [debut: Provincetown Players March 9, 1922]. But The Ginger Box was a flop. After Mae turned 30, she had few bookings [1923-25]. Encouraged by her mother, the actress began writing (penname: Jane Mast).
• • Her play Sex premiered April 1926; though critics bashed her, the box office boomed for 11 months. Jim Timony urged her to launch another show. For inspiration, Mae visited Paul & Joe’s [62 W. 9th St.]; a restaurant by day, after dark it became a famous gay cabaret. Mae auditioned 50 gay men she met there for The Drag. To keep The Drag off Broadway, police arrested Mae and the cast of Sex February 9, 1927, and locked her up in Jefferson Market Jail, where she mined material for Diamond Lil. News of her unjust imprisonment and trials made Mae West a household name.
• • • • Village sites linked to Mae West include clubs, eateries, cells, etc.
Mae West and Texas Guinan BRUNCH and TOUR on Sunday August 20, 2006. Reserve at Village Restaurant [62 West 9th Street, NYC]: 212-505-3355.
• • Photo: Mae West • 1928 • Mae set the play in Suicide Hall [295 Bowery]
Illustrator: Tom Tierney • • Texas Guinan • • 1927