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Up for Bid: All That Glittered on Mae West

Entertainment * Butterfields will auction off her memorabilia and jewels (the real and fake ones).

September 22, 2000|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mae West was the genuine article--even if not all her diamonds were real. Such were my thoughts as Joe Gold and I, both longtime friends of Mae's, went over the jewelry and memorabilia that her longtime companion Charles Krauser had stored after her death in 1980 at 87. Krauser, who died last year at 76, and Gold, founder of Gold's and World gyms, were in Mae's fabled muscle man chorus line in her '50s nightclub act.

"Goodness, what diamonds!," said a speak-easy hatcheck girl to Mae, who replied, "Goodness had nothing to do with it," sashaying into film history in an otherwise forgotten 1932 film, "Night After Night." Yet in her personal life, Mae didn't go in for much jewelry. "I have to go to the safe deposit box and get the stuff out, and that's a lot of trouble," she explained.

An expert had already told Gold the startling truth: The three major stones in a magnificent diamond necklace were fake. Diamond Lil sporting rhinestones? I shouldn't have been surprised. I spent a lot of time with Mae and Krauser, known professionally as Paul Novak, during the last dozen years of her life. I recalled that she had once announced she would donate a portion of her diamonds to the war effort. Always concerned with finances yet generous to friends and relatives, she might well have discreetly sold the biggest stones from that necklace in leaner times. She declared out of the blue that of the two rings she always wore, the larger--composed of three stones big enough to cover two fingers--was a fake, whereas the other, an elegantly mounted headlight, was the genuine article. That 17.55-carat diamond ring will be auctioned in L.A. Monday by Butterfields and could fetch up to $100,000. Also up for bid: the necklace, expected to fetch up to $12,000, and an array of mainly Art Deco pieces. Of special interest is a pair of exquisite petit point and gilt opera glasses, a gift from Marlene Dietrich. The two, different in styles and personalities, struck up a friendship at Paramount in the '30s.

Along with those who answered Mae's famous invitation, "Why don't you come up sometime and see me," the occasional raffish type gained entry to Apt. 611 at the Ravenswood, Mae's home for 48 years. One was a guy who offered her some fine moonstones as a come-on to some diamonds that he said he smuggled into the country via his dog. "I told him I'd take the opals for my sister Beverly and pass on the diamonds, which were no good," said Mae. "Just imagine, he thought he could con me with lousy stones!"

*

Thomas wrote the Butterfields catalog essay for Mae West's jewelry. Information: (323) 850-7500.

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