Sextette is a 1978 American musical comedy film released by Crown International Pictures. The film stars Mae West.[4] Other actors in the cast included Timothy Dalton, Dom DeLuise, Tony Curtis, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, George Hamilton, Alice Cooper and Walter Pidgeon.[4]

Theatrical release poster
Directed byKen Hughes
Produced by
  • Daniel Briggs
  • Robert J. Sullivan
  • Harry Weiss
Screenplay byHerbert Baker
Story byCharlotte Francis
Based onSextette
by Mae West
Music byArtie Butler
CinematographyJames Crabe
Edited byArgyle Nelson, Jr.
Distributed byCrown International Pictures
Release date
  • March 2, 1978 (1978-03-02) (United States)[1]
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$4–8 million[2][3]
Box office$50,000[3]

Directed by Ken Hughes and produced by Daniel Briggs, Robert Sullivan and Harry Weiss[4] for the production company Briggs and Sullivan, the script was dramatized for the screen, by Herbert Baker, from Mae West's final stage performance play Sextette, later renamed "Sextet," which West herself had originally written (based on a story idea by Charlotte Francis) and performed on stage in 1961.[5] Costumes were designed by Edith Head.

Filmed at Paramount Studios, Sextette was Mae West's final film, as well as that of Walter Pidgeon and Keith Moon. Featured were cameos by Rona Barrett, Regis Philbin and George Raft, all of whom appeared as themselves. The film turned out to be a major box office bomb, grossing just $50,000 against an estimated budget between $4–8 million.


The legendary American movie star and sex symbol Marlo Manners (Mae West) is in London, England, where she has just married for the sixth time. She and her new husband, Sir Michael Barrington (Timothy Dalton), then depart for a honeymoon suite at a posh and exclusive hotel that has been reserved for them by her manager, Dan Turner (Dom DeLuise).

The hotel is also the location of an international conference, where leaders have come together to resolve tensions and problems that threaten the survival of the world. As the chairman, Mr. Chambers (Walter Pidgeon) is trying to call the meeting to order, the delegates are crowding to the windows in an effort to catch a glimpse of Marlo when she arrives.

As they enter the lobby, Marlo, now Lady Barrington, and her husband, a knight, are swarmed by admirers and reporters. When asked, "Do you get a lot of proposals from your male fans?" she quips, "Yeah, and what they propose is nobody’s business."

Once inside their suite, the couple are unable to go to bed and have sex because of constant interruptions due to the demands of her career, such as interviews, dress fittings and photo sessions, as well as the various men, including some former husbands, diplomat Alexei Andreyev Karansky (Tony Curtis), director Laslo Karolny (Ringo Starr), gangster Vance Norton (George Hamilton), and an entire athletic team from the U.S., all of whom want to have sex with her.

Meanwhile, Turner desperately searches for an audiotape containing his client's memoirs, in order to destroy it. Marlo has recorded extensive details about her affairs and scandals, with a lot of dirt about her husbands and lovers. Ex-husband Alexei, who is the Russian delegate at the conference, threatens to derail the intense negotiations unless he can have another sexual encounter with her. Marlo is expected to work "undercover" to ensure world peace.




Sextette became the source of several urban legends. One such persistent rumor is that Mae West, who was 84, could not remember any of her lines and had to wear a concealed earpiece under her wig to have her lines fed to her. Tony Curtis later commented that West could not hear well, and thus required the earpiece. Creatively rewriting the story for dramatic effect, in an episode of the program The Dame Edna Experience, he said that because of the frequency of her earpiece she accidentally picked up police radio frequencies, and at one point mistakenly stated, "There's a 608!"[6]

In reality, West wore an earpiece so director Ken Hughes could feed her lines. Hughes had rewritten most of the dialogue because he and West both felt the script was weak. As a result, West had no time to study the script to memorize her lines. Hughes has repeatedly debunked the urban legend that West's earpiece picked up police signals and that West repeated them.[7]

Director Ken Hughes did later state that with hearing loss, West was unable to take direction, which caused problems in filming. Hughes recalls one incident involving a scene of West in an elevator which took an entire day to film. After the scene was finished, Hughes wrapped production for the day. West was not within hearing range to hear Hughes's call to wrap and remained in the closed elevator for half an hour before being let out.[8]

Timothy Dalton had mixed feelings about the film,[9] but complimented West. "I admired her nerve, and enjoyed working with her - I was even interviewed by Rona Barrett in the picture! It was a real stretch for me, and, frankly, after making love to a woman in her mid-80's, I knew I could handle any assignment!"[10]


Soon after filming ended, the film's producers had difficulty in finding a major studio to distribute the film. As a result, producers scheduled several highly publicized sneak previews in order to garner support. The first sneak preview was held on the Paramount Pictures lot and the second was held at the Fox Bruin Theater. At the Bruin Theater, West received a standing ovation after the film's end.[11]

After failing to find a distributor, the producers decided to release the film themselves. Sextette premiered at the Cinerama Dome in March 1978.[12] West was moved when she was greeted by thousands of young fans who showed up at the openings, there and in San Francisco. Arthur Knight wrote in The Hollywood Reporter about "a kind of odd gallantry in the octogenarian Mae's loyalty to her public".[11][13][14]


Critical response

Upon its premiere, most critics panned the film. Variety dubbed it "a cruel, unnecessary and mostly unfunny musical comedy."[15] The New York Times called Sextette "embarrassing", and that "Granny should have her mouth washed out with soap, along with her teeth."[11] Film critics Vincent Canby and Rex Reed also gave the film negative reviews.[12] On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 20% based on 10 reviews, with an average rating of 3.8/10.[16]

Box office

Sextette earned $31,000 in its first week, largely due to West's appearance at the premiere. The film went on to earn about an additional $20,000 in the United States before being pulled from theaters.[17] Against its budget of $4–8 million, it was a major box office bomb.[3]

Home media releases

Sextette was later released on VHS in the 1980s. In April 2011, Scorpion Entertainment released the film on Region 1 DVD in the United States.

In July 2011, Sextette was released as part Mill Creeks Entertainment's "Dangerous Babes", a budget priced three-DVD set that includes eleven other Crown Pictures films.


  1. Opened March 2 at Cinerama Dome as per Eells-Musgrove biography of West p. 304
  2. "Sextette (1978)". Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  3. Gabbi Shaw (February 27, 2017). "The biggest box office flop from the year you were born". Insider. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  4. "Sextette". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 21, 2016.
  5. "Sextet"stage program, by The Kenley Players, Ohio, August, 1961
  6. Excerpt from The Dame Edna Experience on YouTube, September 16, 1989
  7. Watts, Jill (2010). Mae West: An Icon in Black and White. Oxford University Press. p. 310. ISBN 0-195-16112-2.
  8. Tuska, Jon (1992). The Complete Films of Mae West. Citadel Press. p. 187. ISBN 0-806-51359-4.
  9. Will Harris (9 May 2014). "Timothy Dalton on Penny Dreadful, serenading Mae West, and being James Bond". The AV Club. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  10. Glenn Fuller. "Introducing Timothy Dalton". Prevue Magazine. 1987
  11. Watts, Jill (2003). Mae West: An Icon in Black and White. Oxford University Press. p. 311. ISBN 0-195-16112-2.
  12. Louvish, Simon (2006). Mae West: It Ain't No Sin. Macmillan. p. 416. ISBN 0-312-34878-9.
  13. Eells-Musgrove biography of West p. 304-306
  14. Maurice Leonard biography of West p. 399-401
  15. Sextette Review Variety, 1 January 1978
  16. "Sextette (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  17. Tuska, Jon (1992). The Complete Films of Mae West. Citadel Press. p. 186. ISBN 0-806-51359-4.
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