cover image Mae West: It Ain't No Sin

Mae West: It Ain't No Sin

Simon Louvish, . . St. Martin's/Dunne, $26.95 (491pp) ISBN 978-0-312-34878-6

Although at least four full-length biographies have been written about Mae West since her death at 87 in 1980, Louvish (Man on the Flying Trapeze ) is the first biographer to have access to the recently opened archive of West memorabilia including a 2,000-page collection of quips and jokes and the numerous revisions of the 12 plays, eight screenplays and three novels she wrote. West created and perfected her languid sex goddess persona during years in vaudeville and by serving as her own playwright, but Louvish discovers West's secret life was filled not with lovers but long nights of polishing and refining her scripts. She was almost 40 when she made her first film, but two years later, she was the highest paid performer in the U.S. Louvish's bio is appreciative and extensively detailed, focusing on West as writer. It can sometimes feel plodding as he transcribes skits and routines (although most still sparkle seven decades later, like "I used to be Snow White, but I drifted"). Summing up West's final three decades in a mere 50 pages feels rushed. But Louvish's research cements West's reputation as the definitive siren of suggestion, without whom there would never have been any Sex & the City . Photos. (Nov. 21)