Obituary: Paul Novak

THE LEGENDARY star Mae West once said, "A man in the house is worth two in the street", and for the last 26 years of her life Paul Novak was that man, her companion, bodyguard and acknowledged love of her life who shunned publicity himself but ensured that West's last years were happy ones.

He had met West in the 1950s when he became one of the team of musclemen who backed her in her night-club act, and he soon fell in love with her, though she was nearly 30 years his senior. Described as "the epitome of the strong, silent type", he was content to stay in the background and let it be assumed that he was merely the star's bodyguard, but in fact he was her husband in everything but name.

Born Chester Ribonsky in Baltimore in 1923, Novak served as a navy gunner in the Second World War and as a member of the merchant marines fought in Korea and Vietnam. A body-builder with aspirations to be a wrestler, he changed his name to Charles Krauser. His friend Joe Gold, founder of Gold's Gyms and another member of West's chorus line, said, "He changed his name legally in New Orleans to Krauser, thinking it was a good moniker for a wrestler." (It was West who suggested a final change to Paul Novak.)

He also worked as a circus handyman before joining West's line of eight loin-clothed musclemen to whom she sang, "I Like To Do All Day What I Do At Night" in the fabled night-club act that made a sensational debut in Las Vegas in July 1954. Time magazine reported, "Mae's troupe proved invigorating even for jaded Las Vegas", and the act subsequently toured the US for over five years. One of the other chorus-boys was the former "Mr Universe" Mickey Hargitay who in 1956 became romantically involved with Jayne Mansfield.

When Mansfield and West began to fight over Hargitay, and Mansfield made some publicly disparaging remarks about West's age, the ensuing uproar resulted in Novak's punching Hargitay - the only occasion on which Novak made the headlines. An intensely private person, he managed for the rest of West's life to stay out of the limelight, though when photographed with her they made a striking couple, West's tiny if voluptuous body contrasting with the wide shoulders and massive chest of her companion.

Throughout her career, West had been known for her countless love affairs with actors, wrestlers, prize fighters and chorus boys (she once said, "Sometimes it seems I've known so many men the FBI ought to come to me first to compare fingerprints") but, according to the writer Justin Clayton,

Her love affairs continued until she fell in love with beefy muscle-man Paul Novak, who quickly became her lover, bodyguard, driver, cook and anything else to prove his love for her. From that meeting and up until the end of her long life, Novak would be at Mae's side to tend to her every need. His devotion was noted by nearly everyone who was in their company, and for the first time in her life Mae began to settle down in a monogamous relationship.

Though those who knew them attested to their mutual devotion, they were both strong-willed and temperamental, and Novak, like any paid companion, was not popular with all of West's friends and relatives. On one occasion after an argument with West's brother and sister-in-law, whom she supported, Novak rang Joe Gold and asked him to drive him to New Orleans so that he could sign up for another tour of duty with the merchant marines.

Dolly Dempsey, a long-time friend of the couple, said, "It was the first time I ever heard Mae really talk like Diamond Lil. As Paul was leaving, she told him, `Just remember, there ain't no swingin' doors in this place!' " Joe Gold added, "Just as Novak was about to board ship in New Orleans he stopped to make a phone call. Returning, he said, `I've got to catch a plane', and he flew home to West, leaving me to drive back to Los Angeles alone."

During the final years of West's life, she and Novak lived a quiet life, entertaining small groups of friends (including the directors George Cukor and Robert Wise) or strolling by the sea near the 22-room beach house in Santa Monica where they spent most of their time, though West also had an apartment in Hollywood.

With Novak's constant protection and his concern for her diet and excercise, West survived until the age of 87, when she had a series of strokes. On 22 November 1980 she died in her sleep, with Novak at her bedside.

A few years before she had said that Novak was "a good guy", adding, "Of course there's 40 guys dyin' for his job!" In her last years West continually asked him to contact an attorney so that she could change her will in his favour, but he later stated, "I always said to her, `Now now, dear, there's plenty of time to do that.' I guess I thought she would live forever. How did she ever pick me - just a wrestler and roustabout?' "

Chester Ribonsky (Paul Novak), sailor, bodybuilder and bodyguard: born Baltimore, Maryland 1923; died Santa Monica, California 14 July 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin