Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Mae West Made this “Insane” Film in Her 80’s


The film “Sextette,” which Mae West made at age 87, was actually a “radical power move,” according to comedian Natasha Lyonne. It demonstrated West’s supreme confidence as a woman trying to defy the taboo against sexual older women. At the same time, it showed that the persona Mae West created in the 30’s was so original that it could endure into the 1970’s and beyond.


- [Gray-Haired woman] How the heck can you make the thing you were in 1934, still work in the 1970s?

This is how strong it was, this is how original and unique it was, and this is how much she owned it, knew what it was, and could deliver it.

(heroic music) (crowd cheering) [Red-haired Woman] Here's the plan.

I'm gonna be 87 years old.

I've got an idea for a picture.

It's called Sextette.

I'm gonna play 28 year old woman.

I'm gonna be marrying Timothy Dalton.

- [Timothy Dalton] I wanted to carry you across the threshold.

My exes are gonna include a Tony Curtis, - [Tony Curtis] Tonight, (cork pops) we relive the past.

- George Hamilton, - [May] Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?

- Ringo Starr, - [Ringo] And you will always have a place in my heart.

- Really. There's going to be this obscure, cameo by Keith Moon playing my stylist.

- Wild silk, wild silk. - Oh, beautiful.

- Alice Cooper's coming over.

(upbeat disco music) This movie's gonna make little to no sense.

It's gonna to be clearly from the first frame, insane.

There's gonna be a scene where I'm sort of talking to a bunch of Olympia, Olympic athletes, (gym equipment noises) - [May] Wow, I've never seen that position before.

- She's 87, doing these numbers.

It's a radical, radical power move.

Very, very rare.

- Oh, it was great.

Oscar nominated it should have been.

Yes, please.

- Sir, I am Laszlo Karoni.

- Husband number six, meet husband number four.

- A pleasure.

- [Ringo] I just thought it'd be great to hang out with May.

The most difficult thing was while we're working, the director would give her her lines into the air earpiece, and then she would say her lines, but it's still, she was May, and that was that.

- She invited us to dinner and she went all the time to this restaurant she knew, but she gets there an hour earlier than you to do the lights.

So (laughs) she's got all the lights on her as you're walking in the restaurant and, you know, we heard later, she does that wherever she goes.

- [Gray-Haired Woman] May West in doing these films, skirted the edge of disaster.

And for many people, she was a disaster.

They were embarrassed.

They were shocked, but she didn't care.

- [Black-Haired Woman] Why is it horrifying that she's out there being sexual?

I mean, she's parading it in the same delirious over exaggerated way.

She always paraded sexuality.

Why aren't we with her anymore?

- The British are coming.

- [Woman With Curls] She was allowed to break every taboo except the sexualized, older woman.

That became too scary.

- Hi.

- Well, I certainly take my hat off to you.

- You'll have to take off more than that, honey.

- As a woman in her sixties, I can say I have no problem with her staying with this character.

(laughs) An idea of a woman with an appetite of all kinds.

(upbeat music) - [Gray-Haired Woman] If the idea of a woman standing up and saying, as an old woman, I can still be attractive.

I can still have a sex life.

This may look dumb to you, but this is who I am.

If that's sad, it's sad, but you know, there's a kind of wonderful courage and defiance to it.

And there's the one thing that she always had, self-confidence.

Women need more self-confidence, and she's the role model for that more than for anything else.

That a girl, May.

Go get them.

(audience applauds)


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.