Saturday, September 2, 2017


This image is from WIKICOMMONS

MAE WEST making a speech after the film premier of Sextette, which she wrote.

The handsome man in the tuxedo to her left is PAUL NOVAK. 
(1923 - 14 July 1999)

PAUL NOVAK, was born Chester Ribonsky, changed his name when he became a body builder to the more German sounding Chuck Krauser, and then, after he beat up Mr. Universe, Mickey Hargitay, some say over Mae, his name changed again; a new start with Mae, a new name.  He was 33 and she was 63 when they began. Novak knew he was meeting a woman with a long career as an entertainer on stage, a woman who wrote novels and plays for stage, a superstar at the Paramount Studios, and a Sex Goddess.  Not as well known to those of you reading Mistress Manifesto BlogSpot today is that Mae had a large African American following having asked Duke Ellington and a number of other African Americans to perform with her.

Paul Novak looked macho in his youth.  He had done military service, been in the merchant marines, and a gunner in World War II, and then in the Korean War. It's said that he was so much in love with the much older Mae, love at first sight for him, that he gave up on his dreams of sailing the world to meet her every need.

When she came to Hollywood, she moved into the Ravenswood Apartments in Hollywood and forever more considered her two bedroom apartment to be home. They kept separate bedrooms but it wasn't that big a place. Mae also had a 22 room beach house in Santa Monica where they spent much of their time.

He always called her "Miss West."  He was respectful and, well, servile, but there was much more to their relationship.  Volatile at first before they settled in, Mae said they were sexual and there too he met her needs.

He played chauffer and went into the store when they went to grocery shop while she stayed in the car incognito. He drove her to her beach house for the day where they played. He drove her in a limo to the San Francisco premier of a play she wrote. 

When she was diagnosed with diabetes, Paul kept Mae on an exercise and diet program, making sure she didn't load up on chocolates.  One to fib about her age, (officially Born Aug. 17, 1893 in Brooklyn and Died Nov. 22, 1890 in Hollywood) West may have thought that the truth about her age or marrying would effect her sex symbol status.  Paul watched over her protectively when a Playboy photographer came calling, never leaving the room.  He kept false friends away, spun the PR when she had a stroke, and ultimately buried the childless Mae when she died. 

Then he went to live at the marina on a small boat, then he took a cruise around the world on a big ship, then he disappeared from the people they once knew and the old haunts. 

He had no regrets, saying he had lived a wonderful life.  (But he did sue her estate.)

Novak had a brief time as a public person when he was a weight lifter.  He'd won Mr. Baltimore  - a weight lifting title. In 1954 he was one of the muscle men that West chose to be sex symbols for her Vegas stage show. Their relationship began about then.  Other than his weightlifting and stint as an entertainer with Mae, not much, besides what I've mentioned above, is known about him.  They were that private.  He was that quiet.  Or was it that he was that hidden?

Paul's role in Mae's life was not on stage but in the home.  He was there to keep her happy. 

He was easy going, quiet, intuitively knowing, anticipating her every want and need. Mae kept him, and a small number of people she employed, around that apartment in Hollywood. 

Mae had not been socially accepted by main-stream Hollywood until her later years.  Only Marlene Dietrich tried to be her friend. (They did not become lovers.) She became rich not only from being exceedingly well paid at points in her career, but also, like Bob Hope*, Gene Autry, and others who came to Los Angeles early, in land and property real estate. Yet, she never got around to changing her will.  Had he gently suggested to her that she should. Yes he did.   In 1962 Mae West became the first woman admitted to the Hollywood Friar's club, the club known for roasting members with jokes.

It crossed my mind, as I began researching Paul Novak and Mae West, that perhaps he was homosexual, for among body builders there are some, who saw Mae as an icon of femininity.  As for her sexually provocative humor, maybe she had her own issues, for she managed to keep men attracted but away. When she died, it was even rumored that she was a man who had lived his life in drag. We have her word for it, and his, that they were sexual, yet such rumors existed.  She was openly for gay rights.

These two books are the prime reference for this month's


Mae West's relationship with Paul Novak can be confusing because she can be.  For instance she claimed she was not a feminist, considering femininity to be power, but she did want to liberate women.  She treated men, her bodybuilder stage props, as objects.  She herself was a sex object and apparently wanted to be. She wanted to be in charge so her heart would not be broken, and denied an early and brief marriage.  She wanted to seem available as a woman forever, but maybe that was her act.  Prior to Paul she had many affairs, adoring wrestlers and prize fighters especially.  Did she stop because she fell in love with him, or did Mae really have as many affairs as attributed to her?

This is an excerpt of what Mae had to say about Paul that Charlotte Chandler wrote in her book "Mae West - She Always Knew How."

"Pauls' the great man in my life.  It's pretty well-known that every man, well, just about every man I ever met fell in love with me.....  So it doesn't raise any eyebrows that Paul is madly in love with me, though we try to be discreet.  ...  What we don't want people to know is that ours is a genuine love story.  It's both sides of the street, not a one-way relationship... I don't like the word to get out too much because it isn't my image for my audience, but, honey, I love Paul as much as he loves me., and that's a whole lot..."

Paul said he had fallen in love with her at first sight. She said sex with him only got better and that their relationship never faded. (286)  He accepted that she would always look at other men but told her he never had eyes for any other woman but her. (287)

Paul said, "This (ie. tending to Mae's needs) is why I'm here.  My purpose in life is to protect Miss West.  I was just a roustabout, and she chose me.,  I've been blessed."  He said she gave meaning to his life and before he met her he felt lost and depressed.  He said he hoped he would die first. (290)


Paul provided Mae with personal protection by carrying a gun, in particular to prevent her from being robbed of her diamonds.  He's credited with persuading her to wear fakes.

When she developed diabetes in old age, he watched her diet, and would try to tame people offering her sweets by giving them the eye.

For the lady who had everything she wanted or needed, he gave her beautifully wrapped presents (contents unknown) on her birthdays.

He cared for her reputation. He covered her first stroke at age 87 with the story that she had fallen out of bed while dreaming of Burt Reynolds.  (A second stroke is what she died of.)

He wanted to create a huge Hollywood funeral for her fitting a big star, but did as she wanted and protected her privacy.  (297)

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Some Notes from Missy

Research for this post included reading around the internet, including obituaries, fan pages, and so on.  Some of the information was repetitive. If interested in Stars from the Golden Era of Hollywood, check out my posts on Bob Hope and his women, and the Silent Star Clara Bow!  Or run the word Hollywood in the search feature embedded in this BlogSpot.


Walter said...

Very interesting observations on Ms West and Paul. I don t understand the rumors about Mae being a man for two reasons: 1, she spent eight days in Welfare prison in 1927 for writing an indecent play. A mandatory shower and search would have been required at which point the “secret” would have been revealed. 2) the nurses who attended her hygienic needs during her 1980 hospitalization for a stroke would have been immediately alerted to any deception.
I also question the rumor that Paul was a kept man. Given Mae s well known vanity it is doubtful she would have paid for the romantic services of any man By all accounts Paul was on salary and more than earned his income through his services as an excellent cook, bodyguard, chauffeur and trusted confidante, a function he carried out until the day she died and beyond unlike the companions of today s celebrities who can t wait to promote a book deal or schedule the next tell all television interview. I believe he was a man of high moral values who truly loved and cherished this woman for no other reason than genuine love. Thanks for the column. Walter

Missy said...

The fault I find with your comment is that a mistress or mantress is only there for sex services and that the arrangement is money for sex. Mae and Paul had a real and lasting relationship. Of course we always question the definition here. For instance most of the people who are called "mistress" in the press are women who have short term affairs with a celebrity, even if he isn't also married. Thank You for your comment, Walter.

Mae West NYC said...

After Mae West died (November 1980), Paul Novak did marry again.
The Mae West Blog discusses his 2nd marriage.
Come up sometime . . . . . . .