Too Much of a Good Thing: Mae West as Cultural Icon

Ramona Curry

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook


Before Madonna, before Marilyn, there was Mae. The impact of Mae West—through her films, attitude, and aphorisms (“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful”; “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”)—continues to reverberate through American popular culture fifteen years after her death. In Too Much of a Good Thing, Ramona Curry examines the interplay between West’s bawdy, worldly persona and twentieth-century gender and media politics.

Although West has remained an important figure, her image has fulfilled varied cultural functions. In the thirties, she was a lightning rod for debates over morality and censorship. In the seventies, the complexity of her portrayal of gender made her a controversial figure for both the gay rights and feminist movements. Curry analyzes the symbolic roles West has occupied, arguing that she represents a carefully orchestrated transgression of race, class, and gender expectations, a transgression expressed through West's spectacular costumes, her distinctive performance style, and her on- and off-screen relations with African Americans and gay men. In addition, Too Much of a Good Thing takes a historical look at West’s disruptive power as a comedian, a primary source of her continuing appeal.

Moving beyond a detailed examination of Mae West’s place in American popular culture, Curry illustrates how icons of pop culture often distill contested social issues, serving diverse and even contradictory political functions. Curry then proposes a model for cultural studies that integrates history, media, and feminist theory. A pithy and innovative look at what Mae West means, Too Much of a Good Thing is must reading for fans, film buffs, and anyone interested in how popular culture evolves and circulates in the United States.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Place of PublicationMinneapolis
PublisherUniversity of Minnesota Press
Number of pages240
ISBN (Print)9780816627912, 9780816627905
StatePublished - 1996


  • West, Mae


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