West was born Roland Van Zimmer to a theatrical family in Cleveland, Ohio, he began acting in vaudeville productions as a teenager. By his early twenties, he was writing and directing vaudeville productions.
Shortly afterward, he began directing films such as The Monster (1925) with Lon Chaney, Sr., The Bat (1926) based on the novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart (dramatized on stage by Rinehart and Avery Hopwood), Alibi (1929) for which he nominated for Academy Award for Best Picture, The Bat Whispers (1930) (also based on the Rinehart novel and play), and Corsair (1931).
So established was West by 1930, that The Bat Whispers was billed on posters as Roland West's The Bat Whispers. However, he made only one more film in his career.
Roland West's first wife was actress Jewel Carmen, although the two would eventually become estranged, and West began a long time affair with actress Thelma Todd. Following Todd's death in 1935 and his divorce from Carmen in 1938, he married actress Lola Lane sometime after June 25, 1946  and remained married to her until his death in 1952.
Following Todd's death and his divorce, West rarely worked and withdrew into virtual seclusion. In the early 1950s his health began to decline and he suffered a stroke and a nervous breakdown. He died in Santa Monica, California in 1952, aged 67.
Death of Thelma Todd
West has long been considered a murder suspect in many conspiracy theories due to the unusual circumstances surrounding the death of his mistress, actress Thelma Todd. Todd and West began their affair shortly after meeting on a yachting excursion to Catalina Island in 1930. The two eventually became business partners and would move in next door to each other in California. Their relationship was described as volatile and West was described as being controlling and possessive.
Todd was found dead in the garage of her home in December 1935. An autopsy concluded that she died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the exhaust of her car. Some conspiracy buffs have suggested that Todd was really murdered by West aboard his yacht, the Joyita. This theory states that he then planted her body in her garage to be found later and staged the scene to resemble an accident. The Joyita would gain further infamy in 1955 when her entire complement of 25 passengers and crew went missing in the South Pacific.
No evidence concerning allegations against West has ever surfaced and neither he nor anybody else was ever charged with any crime surrounding Todd’s death. (According to the Internet Movie Database, in 1952 West gave a deathbed confession to actor Chester Morris implicating himself in Todd's death, but the confession was never independently confirmed.) However, the bad publicity surrounding his alleged involvement in Thelma Todd's death hurt his reputation and have largely overshadowed his film work.
- Fidler in Hollywood Nevada State Journal (June 25, 1946), p. 4
- "Roland West - The Great Experimenter". Retrieved 2010-05-25.
- John Wakeman, ed. (1987). World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company. pp. 1194–1197.