She was born Mary Jane West in Brooklyn, New York, a daughter of Jack West and Matilda Doelger.
Mae West started performing in Vaudeville at the age of five. By the time she was twelve she was doing Burlesque under the name "The Baby Vamp."
She eventually started writing her own risqué plays. Her first play on Broadway was titled Sex. It starred Mae West, who was also the writer, producer and director. The production did not go over well with city officials, however. The theater was raided and West was arrested along with everyone else in the cast.
She was prosecuted on morals charges and, on April 19, 1927, was sentenced to ten days in jail for public obscenity. She was incarcerated on Welfare Island.
When she regained her freedom she set to work on her next creative effort. Her second play was about homosexuality and was titled The Drag. It was a success, but audiences had to go to New Jersey to see it because it was banned from Broadway.
For her third adventure into theater she had a Broadway hit, Diamond Lil. The show struck box-office gold and heralded the brazen blonde to new heights of fame.
She was offered a contract by Paramount Pictures. She signed and went to Hollywood in 1932 to appear in the motion picture Night After Night starring George Raft. Upon her arrival, she moved into an apartment in the Ravenswood at 570 North Rossmore Avenue. She maintained a residence there for the rest of her life.
Mae West, the prototypical wisecracking femme fatale, starred in eight films for Paramount. Then, in 1940 she starred opposite W.C. Fields in My Little Chickadee at Universal.
During World War II, allied soldiers called their inflatable life jackets "Mae Wests" from its resemblance to her curvaceous torso.
She was apparently married in 1911 to Frank Wallace, a fellow Vaudevillian who in 1942 showed up with a questionable marriage certificate. She denied ever marrying him, and records showed she had never lived with him, but she still found it necessary to seek a legal divorce.
In 1959, West wrote her autobiography titled Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It.
After an absence of almost thirty years from the silver screen, she appeared in Myra Breckinridge with Raquel Welch. And at the age of eighty-five she returned in her last film, Sextette.
Mae West died at her home in the Ravenswood apartment building on Rossmore Avenue. She is interred in the Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.
She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1560 Vine Street in Hollywood.