Who Inherited Mae West's Money After She Died?

Mae West, the comedic sex symbol whose revealing outfits and double entendres titillated Depression-era moviegoers, died at home in Los Angeles. After a series of strokes and pneumonia, she had been released from the hospital to recover when she died on November 22, 1980, according to Biography. She was 88 and had been entertaining audiences for nearly her entire life — more than 80 years, per the Petaluma Argus-Courier.

Through the last 26 years of Mae's life, her bodyguard and companion Paul Novak was by her side, but when the court probated her will, he received very little in the scheme of things — $10,000 — according to "Mae West: It Ain't No Sin." Novak fought for a bigger piece of her estate and eventually won. Most of her $1 million estate went to her sister, Beverly Arden, who, like Mae, had pursued a stage career. But unlike her ribald sister, Beverly saw very little success and often relied on Mae for support. 

Mae West's younger sister

Beverly Arden was born Mildred West in 1898, five years after her sister Mae, who by then had already begun appearing on the stage, per "Mae West: It Ain't No Sin." Beverly followed Mae into show business but could never get out from under the shadow of her older sister. They appeared on the vaudeville stage together in the 1920s, and Beverly followed her sister to Hollywood in the 1930s. Mae attempted to help her out by providing her with work, including having her run a short-lived Chinese chow mein factory.

When Mae died in 1980, she willed most of her estate to her sister, which included — besides money — her jewelry, a car, and other property, per the Associated Press. Mae's nephew, John Frank West, also benefited, receiving $15,000. Elsewhere, her personal secretary received $10,000, and the Mae West Fan Club of Ontario received $3,500. According to The Sacramento Bee, Paul Novak believed he was owed more, and he wasn't going to let it go without a fight. He sued the estate.

Mr. Baltimore goes to court

Paul Novak had a series of name changes before and after he met Mae West and became one of several members of her all-male chorus line during her Las Vegas act in the 1950s, according to The Guardian. He started life as Chester Ribowsky and fought in World War II before becoming a professional wrestler as Mr. Baltimore. He then changed his name to Chester Krauser. After the strong man began his long-term relationship with Mae, he again changed his name, this time to Paul Novak. He took care of Mae as she got older and was, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, "her husband in everything but name."

In the will, he's listed by his birth name, which led both The New York Times and the AP to erroneously report that he had been left out. He recalled in "Mae West: Ain't No Sin" that Mae had told him to get a lawyer to update her will to give him more, but he kept putting it off. "I guess I thought she would live forever," he said. He sued the estate and in May 1982 settled for $91,000 in cash and stocks, per The Sacramento Bee. A year after her sister's death, Beverly Arden also had a stroke and moved out of the ranch in the San Fernando Valley Mae had bought her father back in the 1930s. After she left, souvenir hunters ransacked the home and looted it. Arden died in March 1982, and Novak followed in 1999.