My Life as Madam to the Rich and Famous
by Alex Adams and William Stadiem
(Villard, 1993, 284 pages, $22.00 cloth)
Riding the crest of the tabloid publicity generated by the trial of “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss, Madam 90210 offers the story of the woman Heidi Fleiss aspired to be–Alex Adams, who for two decades was the undisputed queen of sex-for-sale in Hollywood. The question is whether anyone is still interested in buying, and, if so, why.
Publication of this book was moved up several months because of Fleiss’s notoriety. And the scarlet-jacketed Madam 90210 opens and closes with stories about Fleiss, making clear that her role, as the poster girl for scandal, is to lure the marks into the tent.
But it’s the 250 pages between those tales which must raise the book above an exercise in side-show sensationalism. Adams and Stadiem divide those pages between them, with the lion’s share going to sometime screenwriter Stadiem.
The “Merry Madam’s” episodic first-person narration of her long reign is told in a direct, unsentimental voice, alternating between an unembarrassed bluntness and unabashed bragging. Those autobiographical glimpses are woven into Stadiem’s more extensive third-person profile of the sex business in Tinseltown, based on interviews with more than a hundred clients, past and present call girls, and rival madams.
But this is neither sociology nor serious journalism–expect no index or list of sources. Madam 90210 is a behind-the-scenes exposé, nothing more. And the only good reasons to pick up such a book are the curiosity factor, the gossip potential, and the titillation quotient.
The curiosity factor turns on questions such as “Why do rich, famous, powerful men want or need to pay for sex?” The gossip potential depends on name-dropping, or, at least, a generous sprinkling of clues to the identity of disguised clients and call girls. The titillation quotient depends on the authors’ willingness to peek through the blinds, so the reader can play voyeur while Alex’s “creatures” ply their trade.
Madam 90210 falls short on two of the three measures.
Starting at the bottom, the gossip potential is nearly nil. A few stars are identified by name, but only as window dressing–what a disclaimer calls “incidental references to public figures.” Stadiem promised anonymity to those he interviewed, and his graphic docudrama-style vignettes have undoubtedly been rendered lawsuit-proof by the publisher’s legal department.
As for the curiosity factor, neither Alex’s clients nor her call girls get much chance to speak for themselves in Madam 90210–a missed opportunity. And the pseudonyms, reconstructions of private conversations, and imaginary movies, agencies and studios give the book the feel of fiction, which renders Stadiem’s second-hand testimony much less compelling than it might be.
Because Stadiem doesn’t blink when the action moves to the bedroom, relating events there with earthy sex slang and an X-rated explicitness, Madam 90210 scores highest on titillation. Even though ostensibly nonfiction, it works best when viewed as a sort of trashy roman a clef novel of Hollywood vice.
Stadiem nearly succeeds in grounding both the headline sensationalism and Alex Adams’ self-aggrandizing memoirs in a more serious context of the dynamics of money, sex, and the law. But, ultimately, Madam 90210 is at best a guilty pleasure, a sort of unofficial “companion book” to the Court TV coverage of the Heidi Fleiss trial.
–Former Goshen resident Michael P. Kube-McDowell is the author of eight novels, including Exile and the Hugo Award nominee The Quiet Pools.