Catherine LeFrere performs as Mae West in Dirty Blonde

by Lenise Willis

Before Marilyn Monroe there was Mae West. And before Mae West, there was a very different expectation of women. Mae West, an inspiring independent woman, actress, screenwriter, comedian, singer and sex symbol, made quite the name for herself (and the empowerment of women) during her entertainment career, which spanned seven decades.

So, what is it like getting to portray such a strong, bawdy creature? According to Triad Stage‘s Catherine LeFrere, who’ll be performing as the historical sexpot in Dirty Blonde, it’s sexy, exciting and scary all at the same time.

“She was and is such a big part of not only cinematic history, but popular culture, as well,” LeFrere said. “Do you know there’s a term in physics called a ‘Mae West curve’ (it looks like two big breasts), a drink and a doughnut named after her? Not only that but there are about 100 lines that she either wrote or said that are world famous.”

As a natural brunette, LeFrere has certainly made herself over inside and out, as well as added on a few new takes to tackle the role.

“I’m certainly trying to convey her essence in terms of her voice and mannerisms, but I’m not trying to do an actual impression of her,” LeFrere said. “I have to bring some of myself to the role in order to make it truthful.”

“So far I’m having a blast with her,” she added. “There really was no one like her. Many people don’t know she wrote most of her roles and material. She knew what she was best at and wasn’t going to wait around for a man to give her an opportunity. I so admire that. She was way ahead of her time and it’s an honor to get to portray her.”

So what would it have been like to interview Mae West? LeFrere gives us a peek with an in-character interview, conducted in West’s typical open and matter-of-fact manner.

An interview with Mae West (Catherine LeFrere): What do you think is your best attribute?

My face … though my curves ain’t too bad neither.

What do you think about your admirers, including fans, fanatics and gentleman callers?

Everything I do is to please my fans, from taking the greatest care of myself to finding a fresh new handsome face for my pictures “” remember, I discovered that Cary Grant. I always try to give my fans what they want.

I never met a man who didn’t want me, not counting those a little light in their loafers, and even they are of use to me in other ways. Though I prefer men on the larger, beefy and tough side. Oh!

What is it about you that attracts so many?

I think people can relate to me and enjoy that I’m not afraid to talk about sex. I look like a real woman while simultaneously being every real man’s fantasy.

Which is better: sex or diamonds?

I usually never do one without the other. But if I had to choose, definitely sex. You can buy beautiful diamonds any day, but I always say, “A hard man is good to find.” Sex is necessary at least once a day.

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?

When I was with Paramount, I asked them what the head of the studio was making and I told them I wanted to be paid one dollar more than him. At one time I was the highest paid individual in America.

What is your best-kept beauty secret?

I don’t let my skin see the light of day, even when indoors. I look like a girl of 26. I also get regular colonics. I highly recommend them.

If you could give one piece of advice to the young women of today, what would it be?

Find what works and freeze it. Don’t go around trying to be someone other than yourself. You should march to the beat of your own drum.

You can find out more about Mae West in Triad Stage’s Dirty Blonde, which weaves together the historical tale of Mae West with the story of two present-day fans: an aspiring actress and a film archivist. The play delves into the journey from vaudeville to Hollywood and what it takes in between. !


Triad Stage’s production of Dirty Blonde runs Friday through Feb. 15 at the Pyrle Theatre, 232 S. Elm St., Greensboro. Tickets range from $10-$48. For tickets or more information, call 363.272.0160 or visit