On the 10 May 1948, screen siren Mae West took her seat at Brighton’s Theatre Royal for the European premiere of ‘Ladies, Please!’ She co-wrote the play and was in town to attend its European premiere, bringing with her a dash of Hollywood glitz and glamour. And, judging by reviews published in local papers, the play was an ideal tonic for a town still in the grip of rationing and other post war austerity measures.
Heading the cast were George Gee and Betty Frankiss, who was famous for her panto appearances, supported by Pat McGrath and Dick Emery. The plot centred on two men (played by McGrath and Emery), who attend a birthday party dressed as women, with predictably comic results. The Brighton & Hove Herald declared that, ‘In a red wig and purple sequins, Dick Emery is irresistible and his clowning never flags, while Pat McGrath plays his platinum blonde companion with equal ease.’ And according to the Gazette, ‘It [the play] oozes sex from the opening lines to the final curtains but is honest enough to pretend to be nothing else but what it is, a blasé farce.’
West, who reportedly stayed at The Grand Hotel when she visited Brighton in 1948, also has a more permanent presence in the town. Visitors to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery may be familiar with the Mae West’s Lips sofa, designed by Salvador Dali around 1938. Dali was said to be fascinated by the actress and had painted The Face of Mae West in 1934. He then collaborated with his friend and patron Edward James on a collection of surrealist objects, including this iconic piece. One of only five originals, the sofa was acquired by Brighton Museum in 1983, and can be seen in the Twentieth Century Art and Design Gallery.
Kate Elms, Brighton History Centre