Ten men waiting for me at the door? Send one of them home, I’m tired.
— Mae West
She might have loved a man who took his time, but Mae West was otherwise a woman who did not wait. At age five she was performing on church and community stages in her New York neighborhood. By age 14, Ms. West was a professional vaudeville performer. She married in Milwaukee when she was 18.
Born Mary Jane West, she had used many stage names and personas early in her career, but the one most today know was crafted over the first two decades on stage when it was said she adopted her walk, attire, and bawdy humor from popular drag performers of the time. When she was 25, she wrote and produced her second Broadway play, this one aptly called The Drag. The play closed within two weeks but still netted her a reported $30,000 profit because of its popularity. And, unlike her first play, Sex¸ it did not land her in jail on morals charges.
Perhaps the story I most enjoy about West’s life involves how she handled a difficult situation involving her boyfriend at the time, William Jones, a boxing champion. Mr. Jones, an African American, was barred from living in the apartment building in which West lived due to racial discrimination. Knowing she would be unlikely to win a court decision in their favor, West did not wait to resolve this issue legally. She also would not move because to do so would be backing down. She bought the building and over time filled its apartments with their friends.
At age 61, West started dating Paul Novak, a man 30 years her junior. They became partners for the rest of her life.
There is so much life packed into Mae West’s 87 years because she did not wait. Along the way, she made scores of big, public mistakes. Unlike most of us, however, she did not shy away from making them. Still, it would be wrong to assume that West was capricious or unscripted. She was a meticulous planner. Her spontaneous licentious quips were anything but spontaneous.
As I write about waiting this week, I have been reviewing social science literature about problem solving and the effects of motivation on our impulses to act. I have not yet come across a theory or framework that includes a step called Wait until absolutely no one will make a fuss or be bothered by your actions.
I believe I was put on this Earth to take care of Mae West.
— Paul Novak