Showing posts with label prostitution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prostitution. Show all posts

05 December 2021

 Debby Applegate

Excerpt from Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age (Doubleday, 2021)  

From Chapter 6 - "Thumbs Up With The Mob"

Polly Adler wearing her first, fabulous mink coat, strolling the boardwalk in Atlantic City in 1924 with a pal. Photo from the Polly Adler Collection courtesy of Eleanor Vera.

 After three years of Prohibition, by the summer of 1923, New York City’s underworld was booming.  “It was becoming increasingly fashionable to make money any way you could – except by working for it,” remembered Polly Adler. “It wasn’t only angle-shooters and corner-cutters and big-city sharpies who were on the ‘get-rich-quick’ kick.”[1]

Nobody was raking in the chips like the bootleggers, grifters, gamblers who orbited around Arnold Rothstein, aka the Big Bankroll, the Big Jew Uptown, or the Brain.   Some were primarily bookmakers and game runners, others had been thieves, drug dealers and strong-arms for hire before he took them under his wing.  But in the last three years, Rothstein’s proteges had become New York’s “hoodlum aristocracy.”[2]   

Polly was always cryptic about how she met Arnold Rothstein, saying only that he was “a man whom I was one day to know well.”[3]   But that winter of 1923 her brothel became a favorite hangout of the Brain’s criminal cabinet. “My clientele consisted mostly of gangsters and hoodlums,” she remembered, “some of whom were to become the big shots of the day.”[4]


Arnold Rothstein, c. 1920-1928. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Collection (Library of Congress).

It was as gamblers that Polly became intimate with the bullet boys.  Rothstein’s informal syndicate of law-breakers ran private high-stakes poker games and floating craps games, immortalized in the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls.  To elude cops and stick-up men the games shifted every night through empty garages, hotels, warehouses, and the back rooms of speakeasies.

The most important of these early patrons – her “benefactor,” as one of Polly’s well-informed friends put it – was the rising “King of the Bootleggers,” William V. Dwyer.[5] “Big Bill” Dwyer was a roly-poly man, with a disarming smile and expressive blue eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses. Rothstein had financed Dwyer when he began expanding his operation from robbing industrial alcohol from government warehouses into international smuggling.   Big Bill had, in one gangland lawyer’s description, “an easy way about him and a fine sense of humor.”[6]  He was a glad-hander, who loved the theater and saloon life and preferred grease to violence.  

William Vincent “Big Bill” Dwyer when he was known as “The King of the Bootleggers.” Photo in the public domain.

Dwyer had recently joined forces with another of Rothstein’s proteges, Francesco Castiglia, who went by the moniker of Frank Costello. (It never hurt to have an Irish name when conversing with cops).  They were joined that fall of 1923 by Owney Madden, recently released from Sing Sing, who enjoyed a reputation as one of the most vicious of the city’s Irish gang leaders.

Big Bill and Owney were partners with another of Rothstein’s proteges, “Smiling George McManus,” in a number of lucrative gambling schemes.   George McManus was a brawny, barrel-chested fellow, with a lantern jaw and a wide crooked grin that lit up when he was in good spirits.  His family had deep ties to the NYPD, which frequently came in handy.

Big Bill and Owney were partners with another of Rothstein’s proteges, “Smiling George McManus,” in a number of lucrative gambling schemes.   George McManus was a brawny, barrel-chested fellow, with a lantern jaw and a wide crooked grin that lit up when he was in good spirits.  His family had deep ties to the NYPD, which frequently came in handy.

Both were extroverted Irishman -- Dwyer from Hell’s Kitchen, McManus from Harlem -- who relished the limelight and the role of lavish host.  They also shared that most valued of traits in a madam’s estimation: a total disregard for the value of money.  Dwyer was famous for never allowing anyone to pick up a check, no matter high the bill, and McManus was beloved by waiters, entertainers and gold diggers up and down the Avenue for dropping $20 tips without blinking an eye.  


George McManus in 1929, when he was on trial for murdering Arnold Rothstein. Author’s collection.

That fall McManus and Dwyer, along with Owney Madden’s brother Marty, were running the hottest regular crap game in New York, with action running as high as $700,000 some nights.   There was nothing like shooting craps to stoke the appetite for a prostitute, Polly soon discovered. “Money meant nothing to these fellows,” she remembered with pleasure; “they sometimes spent five hundred or more in an evening. Whoever won the crap game paid the bill.”[7]

The games didn’t start till nearly midnight and ran till four or five in the morning.  Winners looking to celebrate their good luck had to worry about muggings and kidnappings, so providing a place that was safe, secret and always open into the wee hours quickly made her joint the preferred after-hours clubhouse of the late night dice-tossers.  

“It had not occurred to me to sell drinks until one of the bunch remarked that I was a sap to let them buy their booze from a bootlegger and cart it up to my apartment,” recalled Polly. “Why didn’t I get smart and sell them drinks at a buck a throw?  I took his advice, and, in his own words, cut myself in for a nice piece of change.”[8] 

She encouraged the johns to buy drinks for the girls, padding the bills further.  Of course, a tipsy girl was an uninhibited playmate, but a sloppy drunk was no use to anyone.  So she employed an old trick of brothels, serving the girls cold tea brewed to match the golden color of rye and whiskey.  On a good night, her bar bills dwarfed her profits on the bedrooms.

McManus and Dwyer were two of the most popular men on Broadway, and with their seal of approval her house quickly gained a reputation among underworldlings as, in her words, “a sort of combination club and speakeasy with a harem conveniently handy.”[9]   

But the gangsters came at a high price.   “They were a wild bunch all right,” she mused. Like most of the male half of Broadway, they all adored practical jokes and pranks, the more elaborate the better.  “They liked a joke all right -- when it was on someone else,” especially George McManus.[10] “The kids with him played the jokes and he would get a hell of a kick out of it at my expense.”[11]

Polly could tolerate the pranks, the chiseling and small cons. Unpaid loans and bad checks – stiffs -- were regular thorns. “I have enough stiffs to paper my garage,” she groused while going through a box of old papers years later.  She was freshly annoyed by one dated October 22, 1923.[12]  “It was given to me by one of the McManus gang telling me that he was president of the bank. I was gullible enough to believe that,” she remembered. “It probably was the bastards [sic] way to teach me not to believe everything told to me.”[13]  

But it was the ever-looming threat of violence that really wore on her nerves. The brass knuckle boys were notoriously unpredictable, especially when they were on a losing streak or a drunken, coked-up spree.  To prevent friendly arguments from turning fatal, she requested the boys check their guns at the door, along with their felt fedoras and bulky overcoats.  “I usually hid them in the stove,” she remembered, “figuring it wasn’t likely anyone would get a yen to bake a cake.”[14]

While that cut down on random gunplay, it didn't do much to improve their manners. George McManus, in particular, was a dangerous wildcard. “McManus was always quiet, and a gentleman when sober,” said Polly.[15]  But when liquored up, his mood could suddenly turn mean, and his jokes became cruel and dangerous.

Nonetheless, it was a price she was willing to pay.  The gamblers and bootleggers were spending like mad and her reputation was spreading fast.  She bought herself some swell clothes and showy jewelry.  “I had a big important project those days,” said Polly. “I was saving up to buy a mink coat.”[16] On Broadway, a full-length mink was the sin qua non of the fashionable flapper, just as monogrammed silk-shirts and spotless white spats marked the new status of the bootlegger.  “I talked about it so much that when a guy was trying to make a point at craps, he’d holler, ‘Come on, little Joe! This is for Polly’s mink coat,’” Polly recalled. “They told me it brought them luck.”[17] 

Business was so brisk that it wasn’t long before she had the cash in hand.   The night she brought the coat home the fellows passed it around, while Polly chuckled gamely, playing the good sport and watching nervously in fear they would spill cigar ashes or drinks on the precious mink before she could safely stow it away. 

Later that evening, as she’d returned from the kitchen, one of the gang called out, “Put your coat on, Polly.  We’d like to see it again.”

But when she opened the closet, it had disappeared.  Polly began to panic. The fellows made a show of helping her search, clowning around as they bustled about the apartment. Suddenly, one of them cried out, “You little dope, why did you put it out on the fire escape?” The boys roared with laughter. 

“I laughed loudest and longest of all – with relief,” remembered Polly.[18] 

But not every joke was so funny.   Between answering the phones, keeping an eye on the bedrooms, and serving drinks – “whiskey for the guys, tea in highball glasses for the girls”  -- it was inevitable that there would be screw-ups.  One night, McManus picked up a glass, took a deep gulp, and began gagging and sputtering.  “I knew what had happened even before he swiveled around and hurled the glass again the wall, splattering tea far and wide,” remembered Polly. “Of course he knew he had got the drink meant for his girl of the evening, and at the rate he was paying, each drink cost more than several pounds of tea.” 

Everyone in the room froze, awaiting his response.

“Okay, Polly,” McManus said evenly, “so you got to make a living…Well, fix me another drink.”

But McManus “couldn’t stand being played for a sucker,” Polly remembered. “He had to get even.” [19]  The next evening he doctored a tray of drinks with Mickey Finns, a mild poison or emetic, usually a horse laxative mixed with crushed ice that induced vomiting or diarrhea.  Several of the johns spent the rest of the night vomiting in the alley, and the girls were so sick they couldn't work for three days. It could have been worse though; he could’ve used choral hydrate, better known as knock-out drops, employed in clip joints to rob customers.            

It was a devil’s bargain, courting them as customers.  But as she put it, “there was nothing I could do about it.  I had chosen running a house as my profession and whatever the customers did, I had to take it and keep smiling.”[20]

 

 

References 

1. Polly Adler, A House is Not a Home (Rinehart, 1953), 144.

2. Art Cohn, The Joker is Wild: The Story of Joe E. Lewis (Bantam Books, 1957), 113. 

3. Adler, House, 32.

4. Adler, House, 55.

5. “Special Adler Supplement,” 4, Virginia Faulkner’s Notes for A House is Not a Home;  New York Times, February 2, 1934, 9.

6. Leonard Katz, Uncle Frank: The Biography of Frank Costello (Drake, 1973), 63.  

7. Adler, House, 56.

8. Adler, House, 56.

9. Adler, House, 96.

10. Adler, House, 56.

11. Polly Adler to Virginia Faulkner, Dec. 10, 1951, Faulkner Notebook, 13, Faulkner’s Notes for A House is Not a Home.

12. Adler to Faulkner, Oct. 13, 1951, Faulkner Notebook, 17, Faulkner’s Notes for A House is Not a Home.

13. Adler to Faulkner, Oct. 13, 1951, Faulkner Notebook, 13, Faulkner’s Notes for A House is Not a Home.

14. Adler, House, 56.

15. Adler to Faulkner, Dec. 10, 1951, Faulkner Notebook, 13, Virginia Faulkner’s Notes for A House is Not a Home.

16. Adler, House, 57.

17. Adler, House, 57.

18. Adler, House, 58.

19. Adler, House, 56.

20. Adler, House, 58.

 

DEBBY APPLEGATE is a historian based in New Haven, CT. Her first book, The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for biography and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography. Her second book Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age was published by Doubleday in November, 2021.

https://debby-applegate.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Polly-Adler-Madam-The-Biography-of-Polly-Adler-Icon-of-the-Jazz-Age-105313019559817


05 November 2021

Author discusses Polly Adler bio, 'Madam'

In this interview by Gerald Howard for CUNY's Leon Levy Center for Biography, biographer Debby Applegate discusses her just-released book, Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age (Doubleday). 

Polly Adler operated New York City brothels during the Prohibition Era, becoming associated with well known gangsters (Dutch Schultz, Capone, Luciano), politicians, entertainers and literary figures. The former madam became a best-selling author when she released her tell-some autobiography in the 1950s.

Applegate won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for her 2006 book, The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher (Doubleday).

See book excerpt: "Polly Adler as Al Capone's guest at the 'Battle of the Long Count,' September 22, 1927" (Writers of Wrongs, Sept. 27, 2021).

28 November 2016

Blonde Ambition - The Tale of Galina Orloff: Broadway Starlet, Gangster's Girlfriend - Part Three


Gay Olova, 1940.
This is the 3rd & final chapter...

Back to Part 2

As 1934 faded, the new year began with Gay Orlova completely enamored by Charles "Lucky" Luciano. She promptly dropped the stockbroker boy toy who funded her wardrobe and spending allowance, and as for the husband back home in New York - Edward Finn - well, he wasn't even an afterthought. The cigar-smoking showgirl/scarred-face gangster duo quickly became close, and Orlova basically moved into Lucky's luxurious Waldorf Astoria pad. Everything was looking good for both, but the party was about to end through a series of legal entanglements that would consume each of their lives.
"Carroll, a judge of female flesh
without equal, stated unequivocally Gay was the most beautiful
bimbo who ever worked for him.." -Lee Mortimer, 1959.

New York City had a new District Attorney, Thomas E. Dewey. He was a crusader (be it for righteous reasons or political gain - that's debatable) set on taking out the 'big fish' of Gotham's underworld.  Arthur 'Dutch Schultz' Flegenheimer was number one on that list. The Dutchman got whacked though (and many believe Luciano was very much behind the assassination) and therefore Dewey had to pick a new target.  Lucky Luciano fit the bill.  Charlie Lucky earned the Public Enemy No. 1 spot immediately after Schultz's death.  Investigators were very anxious to 'speak with' Lucky and Johnny Torrio (Al Capone's former mentor), but the two were conveniently 'resting' in Florida when the Dutchman got nixed.  Dewey went to work, and with the help of his staff, found a way to put a case together against Luciano - Prostitution.
 "The most dangerous and important racketeer in New York City if not in the country" - Thomas E. Dewey, characterizing Lucky Luciano, 1936
Upon hearing of Dewey's intention, Lucky fled to gangster-friendly Hot Springs Arkansas.  Gay Orlova spent a great deal of time with him there as well.  Still, Dewey diligently continued putting together a case against Luciano because sooner or later... he'd get the gang boss back to New York.   That moment of truth arrived in spring of 1936 when - after much legal back and forth battles - Luciano's luck ran out. Unlike how the government generally went after top mobsters, the DA's angle wasn't the tried and true Tax Evasion charge. Dewey had him extradited and charged with Compulsory Prostitution. He proclaimed Lucky the head of nationwide vice ring, and knew that of all vices... the sex trade would likely gain him no sympathy in court and the court of public opinion.

Orlova became the target of both prosecution and defense teams.  "I don't want her mixed up in this case," Lucky told his lawyers. When she was called into Dewey's office, the staff were both shocked and awed. Gay Orlova was adorned in diamonds, a fur coat, but most of all - spoke to the prosecution team as if they were the the shocking ones.  To Orlova, the expensive accoutrements were the norm, and she was not one to filter her thoughts. As for helping the DA, that wasn't going to happen. She continually spoke of Lucky with admiration, albeit a bit unorthodox in using the word 'sinister' as a compliment!

Lucky Luciano, 1936.
Luciano went to trial and was made an example of.  The judge sentenced him to a 30-50 year term! Meanwhile, Orlova began feeling paranoid.  Word spread that 'people' had been following her ever since Lucky was extradited to New York.  Plus, she still had to deal with her husband, whom she hoped would just divorce her. Simply put, a divorce wouldn't effect her citizenship.  Edward Finn had, by the time Lucky Luciano had become a household name from the sensational vice ring trial, become aware of his bride's love affair.  He was going to do something, but not divorce.
“Oh, I’m infatuated with Lucky. He’s so sinister.” - Gay Orlova, 1935.
1937 should have been a welcomed change, considering how tumultuous her life had been the previous year.  However, Orlova's worst was yet to come.  First, she outright told husband Finn to "get a divorce" as she boarded a ship to France. Her plan was to get some dancing gigs and photo shoots in Paris, a city she felt comfortable and safe in.  Finn, on the other hand, took a trip straight to the courthouse and requested an annulment.  Upon pleading his case, Judge Cohalan remarked, "Have we reached a point where we should dissolve marriages because a woman won't support a man?" The court's discontent took a backseat to further convincing testimony, and Edward Finn got the judgement.

Gay Orlova denied entrance to United States, 1937.
Back in Paris, the now-brunette Gay Orlova had no idea of what husband Edward had been up to. On August 11, she boarded the liner Normandie and sailed for New York (ironically, the Normandie was seized by the United States during WWII, and while being converted into a troop ship - caught fire. Suspicions of Nazi sabotage led to the government enlisting the help of the mob to protect New York's harbor, the imprisoned Lucky Luciano being a pivotal figure in the mix).  Upon arrival, authorities denied her entrance. Contrary to many news reports of the time, Orlova was not deported, but she did have to remain on the ship and sail back to France. Had Finn filed divorce, Orlova would have retained citizenship; annulment did exactly what it was designed to to - made it like she'd never been married, and no citizenship.
"He was lovely to me. I even gave up my broker friend just for him. Then I was with Lucky a lot in New York." - Gay Orlova, 1936.
Back in Paris she continued to model and dance.  Then, opted for wedding bells once more, this time with a French Count whom she'd allegedly met some years prior. Three weeks after the marriage Gay divorced the Count, yet the pair remained quite close, that is until WWII interfered. Late September 1939, the French nobleman was called to duty near the Maginot Line. Orlova, always persistent when she wanted something, journeyed the northern border of France. The two reunited, but military police were extremely suspect of the flamboyantly dressed woman hiding out in a deserted village. Both the Count and Orlova were taken into custody and interrogated for hours. The word 'spy' had been muttered, and Gay knew what happens to spies - firing squad.  Finally the truth of their former marriage (and of course who they both were) reached the officers; both were set free. Orlova told to return to Paris immediately, which she did.
Gay Orlova, 1940. Photo courtesy of Christopher Jones

“All those headlines about the reunion Gay Orlova planned with Lucky Luciano came as a complete surprise – not to say shock – to him. He hasn’t heard from her in many years.” - Dorothy Kilgallen, 1946.


Over the course of several more years, the American press would periodically 'check in' on Gay Orlova, or perhaps better stated - would publish brief and unflattering grapevine gossip. Lucky's sentence got commuted and he was exiled to Italy 1946. Upon such news, whispers a purported 'reunion' soon emerged. True or merely conjecture, such a meeting never transpired.  Sadly, the most disheartening rumors were often quite true. After the apparent dissolution of any further relations with the French Count, Orlova spent time in Spain, where she met and began an affair with Pedro Eyzaguirre, the Chilean Secretary of Legation. He wasn't the only man in her life, but certainly the one she envisioned a future with. Wishful thinking again, plans were not going to materialize as she'd hoped. Gay Orlova wanted marriage. Eyzaguirre, a married man, was unable, or unwilling to get a divorce. Some reports circulated that she was destitute, others that she was depressed.  The latter was unfortunately true. 

Walter Winchell's 'On Broadway' column, 1948.

In 1948, Galina Orloff, aka Gay Orlova, turned on the gas inside her Paris apartment.  Her death went largely unnoticed, save for a single brief, inconclusive and cold mention in Walter Winchell's syndicated column on February 28th. According to Patrick Modiano (novelist and 2014 Nobel winner in literature), in his memoir Pedigree (published in 2015) Orlova (who he stated had an affair with his father) carried out her suicide on February 12th, and was interred in Sainte-Genevi√®ve-des-Bois (the Russian Orthodox section of Cimeti√®re de Liers).


That same year, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, found the love of his life while living in exile. Her name was Igea Lissoni, a former ballerina with whom he spent the better part of a decade with until her death (breast cancer) in 1958.  Lucky granted interviews to a number of American reporters who visited Naples. He was usually quite cryptic in responses to the questions regarding actual crimes and the subject of Gay Orlova. To the former, a jaded tongue lashed out at corrupt politics. To the latter, he never spoke in any detail, only addressing the time frame of their affair, and generally only mentioning how he spent a lot of money on material things and women.


www.ganglandlegends.com



Sources:
Cipollini, Christian, Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend, Strategic Media Books, 2014, p. 57-69.
Donati, William, Lucky Luciano: The Rise and Fall of a Mob Boss, 
Modiano, Patrick, (translated by Mark Polizzotti), Pedigree: A Memoir, Yale University Press, 2015, p. 13.
Raines, Robert K, Hot Springs: From Capone to Costello, Arcadia Publishing, 2013, p. 56-57.
"Luciano's Ex-Sweetheart Escapes Death as a Spy," The Philadelphia Enquirer, October 24,1939, p. 2
"Another Lucky Escape for Unlucky Lucky's Girl," Albuquerque Journal, December 24, 1939, p. 15.
"Lucky's Dear Friend," The Morning Herald, April 24, 1936, p. 1.
Sell, Robert. “Another Lucky Escape for Unlucky Lucky’s Girl.”
Norman, Charles, "Prosecutor of New York Rackets Strings Bow for "Big Shots" Only," The Florence Times, August 10, 1936, p. 5.


Lait, Jack. “Broadway and Elsewhere: Opium, Politics, Love.” St. Joseph Gazette, 1949 2-September: 4.

Winchell, Walter, "Broadway," Albany Times Union, September 23, 1940, p. 4.
Winchell, Walter, "Broadway," St. Petersburg Times,  February 24, 1948, p. 32