Mae West was certainly not a stranger to controversy. But on December 12, 1937, she brought her outrageous humor to radio and in less than a half hour managed to get herself banned from the air waves for good – or at least, as it turned out, for a dozen years until finally invited to perform on Perry Como’s Chesterfield Supper Club in 1950.
The vehicle of Mae’s descent into disgrace was ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s radio show The Chase and Sanborn Hour. She went on the show to promote her latest movie, Every Day’s a Holiday, and playing herself, appeared in two sketches with Charlie McCarthy. As usual she was all wit and double entendre, referring to Charlie in the first sketch as “all wood and a yard long” and commenting that his kisses gave her splinters.
But it was the second sketch that started the phones ringing. Mae played Eve and Don Ameche was Adam in the Garden of Eden. Charlie McCarthy entered as the snake and the dialog got dicey.
Eve: Listen, what are you — my friend in the grass or a snake in the grass?
Snake: But, forbidden fruit.
Eve: Are you a snake or are you a mouse?
Snake: I’ll — I’ll do it [hissing laugh].
Eve: Now you’re talking. Here — right in between those pickets.
Snake: I’m, I’m stuck.
Eve: Oh — shake your hips. There, there now, you’re through.
Snake: I shouldn’t be doing this.
Eve: Yeah, but you’re doing all right now. Get me a big one. I feel like doin’ a big apple.
For days after the broadcast, the studio received calls and letters labeling the show immoral and obscene. Women’s clubs and Catholic groups went after the show’s sponsor for “prostituting” their services and being far from good to the last drop. The Federal Communications Commission weighed in, finding the broadcast “vulgar and indecent.”
Standing a little less than tall, NBC personally blamed West for the incident and banned her (and the mention of her name) from their stations. It was not the content of the skit (which the network had provided), but the way she delivered it. Charlie McCarthy and Don Ameche escaped punishment. Just like in the Bible, it was all Eve’s fault.