Libby Taylor: Maid for the Movies

The story of Libby Taylor (1902-1961) is often simplified to “she was Mae West’s maid; she then played Mae’s maid in movies, and used that as a springboard to her own career”. But it wasn’t quite like that.

Originally from Chicago, Taylor later moved to Baltimore sang and danced on the black vaudeville circuits. Later she moved to Harlem, where she appeared in the shows Subway Express(1930), The Up and Up(1930), Social Register(1932), and Here Today(1932). Mae met her when she was a cook at a Harlem barbecue restaurant called Black and Gold. She hired Taylor to be her maid, cook, personal assistant, and general member of her entourage. Mae also put her in her movies I’m No Angel (1933) and Belle of the Nineties (1934), although Taylor had appeared in two movies prior to that, The Cabin in the Cotton (1932) and Ann Carver’s Profession (1933).

It was after this that Taylor struck out on her own, appearing in over five dozen more films, usually in maid roles, over the next two decades. You can see her in the original Imitation of Life (1934), Mississippi (1935) with W.C. Fields and Bing Crosby, Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), Diamond Jim (1935), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938), Ice Follies of 1939, Babes in Arms (1940), Broadway Melody of 1940, The Great McGinty (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), My Gal Sal (1942), For Me and My Gal (1943), Coney Island (1943), Saratoga Trunk (1945), Society Mugs (1946, with Shemp Howard), and Cinderella Jones (1946), Her last part was in the race film Bright Road (1953) with Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte.

For more on vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.