When this permanent A-list actress/comedienne/sex symbol said she would take a few secrets to the grave, she was not kidding around.
No it’s not the rumor you think (yes she was born a woman), the big secret was that she was illiterate.
She never got past her freshman year of high school, so she said, but her educational career was spotty at best probably because she was dyslexic and ashamed of it. Yes, she even had people write letters and sign autographs for her.
An actual autograph from her is extremely rare, because she also used auto-pen.
Even though she took credit for all of the play and movie scripts she wrote, she had other people write them for her.
One of the people who helped her create her works and develop her persona was the man who was briefly married to her at the beginning of her career.
She kept him on her payroll for decades.
Even though she had the marriage annulled, the husband didn’t contest the divorce and technically remained married to her until this secret marriage was exposed during the height of her popularity in the mid 1930s and the marriage was dissolved not too long after.
Between then, he helped write her scripts and develop some of her classic one liners.
When he died in the mid 1960s, she paid all of his funeral bills as a kind of thank you.
The Bizarre Milwaukee Connection Behind Mae West’s Biggest Secret
In 1935, Mae West was one of world’s greatest sex symbols, a blonde bombshell who made her name during the so-called “pre-code” era of Hollywood. She was reportedly the second-highest paid person in the United States, behind only the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. And it was at the peak of her stardom that she became entangled in an odd controversy centered in Milwaukee.
It was a sharp-eyed clerk working a dreary New Deal government job in the office of Milwaukee County Register of Deeds who broke the story. While filing away old marriage certificates, the clerk found one dated April 11, 1911. The groom was a man named Frank Wallace, age 21. The bride was a Miss Mae West, age 17. A little detective work found that bride’s parents, listed as John West and Matilda Dilker-West of Brooklyn, had the same names as the parents of the actress West. The New York papers picked up the sensational item and West was deluged with inquiries about the find. The famously-single West insisted it was a mere coincidence. “Why, I never heard of the guy,” She said of Wallace. “There were two other Mae Wests on the stage before I came along. The Mae West in the Milwaukee certificate must have been one of the other two girls. I received many gifts for Easter… but this is the first time I’ve ever got a husband.”
She offered no explanation for how the “other” Mae West had the same parents as she did. Also at issue was the age of the Mae West who married in Milwaukee. The famous West kept her age a closely guarded secret. If she had been married in Milwaukee, it would have made her almost 42 years old – another charge that West denied. “I was just a school girl in 1911,” she insisted.
Meanwhile, the papers worked to track down Frank Wallace. There were rumors that a Frank Wallace who had been on the Broadway scene years ago often boasted of having married West. Other reports told of a Frank Wallace who had worked on the stage who had died in the early 1930s. Yet another Wallace put out a statement through a publicity agent that said he could “neither deny or affirm the report that he is the husband of Mae West.”
Finally, the New York Daily News found the Frank Wallace in question. He said that he and West had been in a production of “A Florida Enchantment” at the Davidson Theater in Milwaukee in 1911 and had indeed been married in the city. But since 1916, he and West had kept the union a secret, having been convinced by a booking agent that West would project a better image as a single woman. He had been working as a sign painter when the story broke, but was now – with the secret out – fielding offers for the stage, billing himself as “Mr. Mae West.”
Mae continued to deny everything. When it came out that she had helped Wallace get work in a play in 1928, she looked at his photograph from the show and said she couldn’t even remember the man’s name. “What kind of nut is pulling this one on me, anyway?” She said. “I’m not good at riddles [but] I ought to know if I was ever married or not.”
Eventually, after a lawsuit from Wallace that asked for half of her $8 million fortune in alimony, West admitted that she had indeed been married in Milwaukee. – Source
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