Thursday, March 19, 2015

Innocence Faded

A happy crossing. 1:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Thursday, March 19, 2015. Cold and sunny yesterday in New York.

It was Wednesday; I went to Michael’s. I was having lunch with Ron Mwangaguhunga who publishes the daily blog The Corsair.  There was a lot of activity in the room on arrival. Frank DiGiacomo of the Hollywood Reporter is doing a big piece – an oral history on Michael’s. He was there with photographers and cameramen.

It turned out to be a good day to follow this story because today’s Guest List had some fascinating touches to it. For example, beginning with: At table one was a guy named Dennis Hof, who owns something called The Bunny Ranch in Las Vegas and is also the star of the HBO documentary “Cathouse.” You know all about it already, no? Actually I didn’t but everyone else in the room seemed to. Table one, incidentally is in the bay at the head of the front room, so everyone can get a good look when passing by. Many a famed face has sat that table. Many of those most particularly recognizable of the rich, the chic and the shameless, too.

Dennis Hof, Diane Clehane, and Heidi Fleiss at Michael's.
After all, Michael’s is basically the media restaurant in New York. Yes there are others, but this is the place for the ballyhoo and the serious “newsmakers.”  With Mr. Hof at Table One was Judy Twersky, his publicist, Jennifer Bristol, and a brunette lady named Heidi Fleiss, a name you know from somewhere ... right? A famous famous lady in her day, and still a “name” of interest and imagination, right?

They were being interviewed by Diane Clehane who herself had been up all night with – her very young daughter who was sick. There’s a book coming out. Mr. Hof’s book: “The Art of the Pimp.”

The publisher is Regan Arts, the new imprint with Leon Black’s publishing company Phaidon Global. The publisher of Regan Arts is none other than the irrepressibly curious Judith Regan who also occupies a special place of celebrity in the publishing world. Mr. Hof’s story is one of the first to be published by her new imprint. Mr. Hof credits Judith for this book which is a memoir-ish recollection in which he chronicles “the secrets of the business of love and sex,” and nobody does it better.
At the table right next to them was a man named Ron Jeremy. If you don’t know who he is, be rest assured a lot of people do – and I’d guess that at least more than 50% of the men know/knew. In fact when I arrived at Michael’s I went over to say hello to Michael Kramer, Dr. Gerry Imber, Mr. Della Femina and Mr. Greenfield, and Michael who was sitting across the aisle from Jeremy said: I dare you to print that Ron Jeremy is lunching at Michael’s today.”

Mr. Jeremy was with a young blonde named Krissy Summers. Ms. Summers dropped out of college and went to work for Mr. Hof, another kind of education but an important one.
Dennis Hof, Heidi Fleiss, and Ron Jeremy.
In the room with all this going on was Mickey Ateyeh and Julie Greiner, Exec VP of Macy’s; Peter Brown and Mike Holtzman; David Sanford of the WSJ and his partner Lewis Stein; Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post; Judy Licht Della Femina at the table right behind her husband’s, with Lisa Birnbach; and across from them was Bob Friedman and guest.  Paul Wilmot was lunching with WWD editor Jim Fallon; Glenn Horowitz; Joan Gelman with Lynn Goldberg, Greg Lawrence (Jackie O biographer); Denise LeFrak Colicchio with her sister Francine LeFrak (Sane Sky Jewelry), and a friend; Jack Myers with Sue Fennessy and Bob Flood; Arthur Shorin of Tops Sporting; Leonard Shulman; Barry Frey with Maury Rogoff; Todd Joyce; Noble Smithy, Aerin Brown; Cynthia Lewis; Shelly Palmer; Rebecca Belldegrun in from Los Angeles; and a couple who were in town from Sydney, Australia, Mr. and Mrs. Peter von Fritz. 

Mr. Fritz came to the table to introduce himself and to tell me that his wife read the NYSD every day in Sydney, and that he was with her. Immediately I asked to meet her, a very nice woman whose reservation was in the name of Baroness von Fritz. She did indeed look like one’s imagination of a modern baroness; very attractive, smartly dressed, gracious and poised. She told me she’d found the NYSD quite some time ago and has been reading it ever since. Then I told her a little bit about the room and the day and the special guests. I think she enjoyed the verbal tour.

The view from Doheny and Robin.
After lunch, as the room was clearing out, our neighbors, Mr. Hof and Ms. Fleiss et al were leaving too. I’d never met Heidi Fleiss before but I struck up a conversation with her about Los Angeles. She’s living in Las Vegas right now but she does love living in Los Angeles. I told her that I had been a neighbor of Madam Alex (aka Elizabeth Adams) who was famous at the time for being the West Coast version of the Mayflower Madam, and who was succeeded in her profession by Heidi, as the world now knows.

The madam and I lived a ways up Doheny Drive close to the top of hill, in an area known as the Bird Streets (Oriole, Robin, Thrasher, Flicker, Thrush, etc.) that run off Doheny. It’s a main drag of hillside residences that separates West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. It had and surely still has a good share of entertainment people, stars and assorted celebrities. Larry Flynt lived nearby (He had a gold Rolls Royce limousine). Hepburn still lived there part time on George Cukor’s property; Vincent Price, Britt Eklund, Franco Zeffirelli, Eddie Murphy, Ricardo Montalban, Madonna, Dolly Parton, Leo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep and many others, unfamous to the public but prominent in their professions. It was a great Hollywood neighborhood. Just houses of various sizes, styles and market value. There were gated ones and many that were roadside (with the pool behind).

In Hollywood the houses were all secrets. What might look like a simple, stucco, boxy house on the outside might be a palace behind the front door with high ceilings, chandeliers, great art, even a magnificent view. That, or just an ordinary California modern of a batch of styles wrapped up in one dwelling. Everything was a surprise.

There was a sidewalk on the roadside way up where I lived which was unusual but handy for walking the dogs. It extended around a sharp bend in the road leading to an area called Doheny Estates -- which was just another name for a once upon a time new development. I’d walk my dogs up and down that third of a mile a couple of times a day. I was very likely the only person of the hundreds who lived in the area, who could be seen walking on the roadside sidewalk. Ever. Everyone else was of course in a car.
View from Robin of the sidewalk. I lived on the right side of the curve, across the road. Madam Alex's house was that upper left end of the sidewalk on the next curve.
Those daily walks naturally gave me the opportunity to look at the neighborhood from various hillside vantage points as well as imagine who lived behind those doors. There was one house just around the bend from mine which had frequently changed hands, every year or so that showed the most activity.

It was a hillside house right on the roadside, with a two car garage and terrace over looking the canyon and some of the city to the southwest. Aside from the potential great city views (I’d never been inside, so I’m assuming), it was an ordinary flat-roofed pastel stucco’d one story ranch style house.

A new buyer did some interior remodeling (I could see from the carpenter and painter trucks). One day on one of my regular dog walks, I noticed an older woman, possibly in her early sixties, dark hair going grey pinned back off her face, a faded housecoat dress and those big puffy slippers that some women used to wear around the house.  She looked like a tired housewife who’d long before lost interest in the way she looked. It was the countenance of a woman who worked in life to support herself, her family.

After that initial sighting, I don’t recall seeing her again. Occasionally I would see a young man and a young woman arriving or departing from the garage. Sometimes I’d see them chatting with each other in front of the house. I assumed they were the older woman’s family. They looked young enough to be her adult children. Otherwise, it was a house like most other houses in the neighborhood where you never saw the inhabitants unless it was departing or arriving in their cars. And even that was rare.
The "house" in the Hills.
Nevertheless, this house did have one particularly unusual – and remarkable – characteristic. Very often on my daily walks (which were never more than fifteen or twenty minutes; just taking care of business), when I was walking by this house occupied by the older lady, a shiny black BMW coupe would drive up, park roadside, and beautiful  brunette woman who emerge and go into the house.

I’d continue my walk up the hill and a few minutes later, when I was returning home, the black BMW would have left.  This wouldn’t happen on a daily basis, and it only happened in the later daylight hours, but then my walks were not strictly scheduled. But it happened often enough that I recognized some kind of pattern,. What intrigued me was the shiny black BMWs always driven by a beautiful young brunette. They were different women but a type that reminded me of Jaclyn Smith; stunning radiance. They’d drive up, go into the house and several minutes later be gone.

It retrospect it seems ordinary but at the time it never occurred to me. Then one day on one of my canine excursions, a white  BMW couple drove up to the house on the bend, and the driver was a beautiful blonde – a Nicole Simpson beauty – again the stunning, fresh radiance. This girl with long blonde hair, dressed in white leader with fringe jacket and skirts and boots, was late, and nervous. I was passing the house while she was nervously pushing the doorbell, impatient and worried.

That was interesting in terms of expanding my wonder. And on my return trip down the hill, the white BMW was still there. That was unusual. Even more unusual, the following morning on my walk, the white BMW was still there. And then in the late afternoon. Why? I’ll never know.

Finally, one day I mentioned the “mystery” house to my neighbor across the road. Her house was located below (in the canyon) the “mystery.”

“Oh, that’s Madam Alex,” she said matter-of-factly. When I asked who  Madam Alex was, she explained. When I asked how she knew this, she told me it was because she and Madam Alex shared a gardener, a Mexican fellow who provided the news.

“She always paid the gardener cash,” my neighbor reported. “He’d be working on property and she’d come on the terrace and tell him he didn’t need to do any more that day and then she’d throw some cash over the balcony and it would float, wafting down to the ground. One day after being there only fifteen minutes, she came out and told him he could leave and she tossed the cash down. That day it was eight one hundred dollar bills! He was really happy!”

Then one night many months, maybe a year after I’d learned the identity of Madam Alex, I was watching television in my workroom which was in the front of the house, when the racket of helicopters overhead broke the nocturnal stillness of the canyon. Their searchlights made the street outside light as day. Almost at the same time, a cavalcade of black cars and LAPD cars moved very quickly by the house, heading around the bend up the hill. Something was going on. Like a curious neighbor I was out on the road watching the copters obviously searching something.

Madame Alex, who died in 1995. According to an LAPD detective, "In all the years we played cat and mouse, she never once tried to corrupt me."
Minutes later they departed, although all of the police and plainclothes cars remained. Until finally an LAPD detective car drove by, and riding in the back seat was my neighbor, the lady who knew all the beautiful young women in the black BMWs (and one white) Madam Alex herself.

The next day it was in the headlines of the LA Times. Madam Alex, the West Coast madam had been arrested at home visited by a swat team while she was dining quietly with a friend. She was released soon after on a million dollar bond.

That was the end of Madam Alex’s long career as a madam. She didn’t return to the house on Doheny. After her legal troubles were sorted out (I don’t know if she did time), she moved to a small simple bungalow on Norma Place, off Doheny in the flats of West Hollywood.

Enter Heidi Fleiss, and you know the rest of the story from there probably better than I do,

I never met Heidi Fleiss before yesterday afternoon at Michael’s. She is a very nice woman with a low-key but interested personality. She may very well have been one of those brunettes in the black BMWs. The image when I recalled it amused her.  When I told her about swat team attack on Madam Alex’s house, she seemed not to know about it. However, she is in one of those businesses, not unlike people in the medical field, who know a great deal more about people than they will ever let on. When I told her about the gardener and the tossing of the 8 one hundred dollar bills, she laughed and said: “That’s her!”

Madam Alex, having returned to her former image of Elizabeth Adams, lived simply after being hauled in, and died several years ago.  A friend of mine lived nearby her in those later years. She said she was a very intelligent and interesting woman who needed to make a living and filled a need for others.
 

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