Three quarters of a century after her huge cinema success in the 1930s, the name Mae West still conjures up a mystique, a star quality and a fondness that is palpable and always sure to raise a smile.
She has her own place in history, for sure, but also in the hearts of her many fans who adore her and whose devotion she accepted as the natural order of things.  She reigned supreme from her sumptuous gilt and cream world at “The Ravenswood” in Hollywood and until her passing in 1980, was rightly regarded as a living legend and the epitome of the word “Star”.
Mae West was once the highest paid woman in the USA.  In her first film, "Night After Night", made in 1932, she quite simply took the cinema by storm.  Her “act” was that of a wise-cracking, glamorous, successful and sexually predatory woman who was the centre of attention and who, by the end of the film, had had all the men and owned everything in sight, especially the diamonds!

She wrote and starred in two films in 1933 -"She Done Him Wrong", based on her stage success “Diamond Lil”, and “I'm No Angel" - the grosses from which were credited with saving Paramount Pictures from impending bankruptcy.  She had “outed” sex as something to be enjoyed openly and without shame.  Her lusty style and her famous one-liners - “come up and see me sometime” being the most famous - hit all the right buttons with the general public and they screamed for more.  
Such was her impact on sexual attitudes that the establishment i.e. the churches, the government and parts of the press, lined up to have her censored.  Ultimately they succeeded and she left the screen in the early 40s after making only seven more films, including the highly successful “My Little Chickadee" with W C Fields.  She returned to the stage where she continued to break box office records.  She also had success as a novelist and recording artiste.  
Mae West had married a fellow Vaudeville performer, Frank Wallace, in 1911 but never lived with him.  It has been suggested that the marriage was only entered into as security in the event the sexually active West should become pregnant.  To her great embarrassment, the marriage came to light in the 30's when she was at the height of her fame.  After a series of denials she eventually agreed a settlement on Wallace and secured a divorce.  She never remarried.
In the 50s, Mae West had huge success with her record-breaking night club act, performed with a troupe of muscle men!  It was at this time that she met her long-time and devoted companion, Paul Novak.  Paul moved into the Ravenswood and was passed off in public as her butler, bodyguard and chauffeur.  Their actual relationship was kept quiet lest it interfere with Miss West's image as a free spirit, ever ready for her next man.

For this reason she was rarely romantically linked to any man and only in her latter years acknowledged the devoted Paul as the love of her life.  He believed that he was put on earth to take care of Miss West and this he did with great tenderness right to the end.
In 1969, at the age of 76, Mae West returned to the screen in the ill-fated “Myra Breckinridge.  It was like she had never been away.  She demanded and got star billing even though she didn't play the title role.  Her appearance in the film and at the premiere was nothing short of amazing and she delivered her lines with all the old gusto.  She made her final film, “Sextette, in 1976 in response to the demands of her fans.  By this time Mae was in her 80s and time at last was beginning to take its toll.  It is a charming film, nonetheless, and her performance in it is remarkable.

Part of the Mae West mystique was her defiance of the passage of time.  She did not deny her age as such, just its effect.  She did not see why she should conform to what society thought a woman of her age should look like or do - and she never did.  She famously got irritated when a woman, attempting to compliment her, exclaimed "My goodness, Miss West! You look HALF your age!"  Mae later complained to her friend, "Can you believe what that bitch said to me? Half my age! That's FORTY!"  In her own eyes she always remained not a year older than twenty-sex!
Even before her great success on the screen, Mae West had a brilliant career on Broadway, breaking taboos with her own sensational plays about homosexuality, mixed race relationships and prostitution.  Her most notorious claim to fame (or rather infamy) was a short spell in prison in 1926 for “corrupting the morals of youth” in her play “Sex” (a sensational title in its day).  Always a shrewd business woman, however, she turned this potentially damaging situation into a massive publicity coup that established Mae West, not just as a trail-blazer for progressive entertainment but also as a force to be reckoned with.
Her career as a playwright was a natural progression from her earliest days as a child performer and featured artiste in other people's productions where she began to adapt and then write dialogue suited to her developing stage personality.

It was in her most famous play, “Diamond Lil”, that the Mae West character came into its own and, over time, the fictional Lil and the flesh and blood Mae became the dazzling star that is still shining bright.
The one and only,

Miss Mae West