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Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madame of Crystal

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Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madame (sic) of Crystal
HBO Documentary

Thanks to HBO, I was able to get the 411 on Heidi Fleiss, whose activities, as readers may know, I’ve been following for a couple of years. I started tracking the infamous Hollywood Madam when she announced plans to open a Stud Farm catering to women in Nevada, where prostitution is legal in ten counties. Last I heard, she’d lowered her sights considerably, and was running a laundromat instead—named, yep, you guessed it, Dirty Laundry. Stud Farm has gone no further, to date, than a want ad for potential studs. The obstacles to its development are laid out in Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madame (sic) of Crystal. (A zippy, if biased, review is in the New York Sun.).

There seem to be four major obstacles:

1. Heidi can’t get a license.

According to the Nevada laws governing prostitution and the operation of legal brothels, anyone convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude” is barred from the business. Fleiss, as everyone knows, was convicted in 1995 of running a business in which models turned prostitutes were flown around the world to service wealthy actors and clients, who paid as much as $10,000 for a single meeting.

2. Heidi’s a witness in a pending lawsuit.
Joe Richards, who owns two brothels in Crystal, Nevada, was planning to hire Fleiss as a madam hostess of his Cherry Patch Ranch, and at one point he sent the Nye County Commission a letter informing them of this. In March 2006 Richards was arrested on charges of Wire Fraud–Deprivation of Honest Services for allegedly paying a Nye County Commissioner to change a land use ordinance that restricted brothels to not be built within 300 yards of the frontage to a road or highway. This “300-yard rule” was preventing Richards from building another brothel on land he owned. The bribe was a paltry sum–$5,000—and was improbably disguised as a scholarship for the (unnamed) bribee to attend law school.

Fleiss’s association with Richards apparently makes her a witness in the case. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? I mean, this was an FBI sting, over a miniscule amount of money, carried out smack dab in the middle of the controversy over Fleiss’s plans—which brings me to the third factor–

3. The Court of Public Opinion
Although Nevada’s brothel owners, like most people, think a male prostitution business can’t possibly succeed because women won’t pay for it, they’ve managed to get their knickers in a tight twist. George Flint, Director of the Nevada Brothel Association, is terrified of Heidi: “She’s too high in the sagebrush,” he says, meaning, she attracts too much attention—and if there’s anything these guys don’t want it’s attention. As long as they remain off the public radar, they’ll continue quietly raking in bucks from the biz, but if the circus comes to town chasing stories on Heidi and Her Studs…well, it doesn’t take a psychic to read those tea leaves. Some person or persons of high “moral turpitude” could make a crusade of reforming Nevada, and there goes the neighborhood.

Another prominent brothel owner, “Miss Kathy,” is circulating a petition not just against the Stud Farm, but against any new brothel development whatsoever. In the film, Heidi visits Miss K, who goes apoplectic. “It’s a man’s world,” she repeatedly yells. “You make your money off the men!” Miss K seems offended by the notion of selling sex to women, but not in any sexist or puritanical way—I got the impression she thinks it’s immoral to make money from women. I also got the impression that the brothel owners are afraid of Heidi as competition—not from the Stud Farm, since they don’t think it’ll succeed, but they might be afraid that when it fails, Fleiss will go back to tradition, and she was, after all one of the most successful madams in history.

4. Bird Brain: Heidi Got Distracted
Heidi Fleiss comes across in the film as a nutcase, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn she has some neurological disorder (I’ve been reading a lot of books about the brain lately). When she first got to the desert, she befriended her neighbor Marianne Erickson, an ailing ex-madam who collected exotic birds. On her deathbed Erickson told Heidi to take care of them. Fleiss went ballistic at first—she says she never lets herself “get attached,” but she complied, and her life now revolves around parrots and cockatiels. She built an elaborate aviary, and even got several more birds. When her favorite, Dalton, died of an intestinal virus, she was deeply aggrieved.

Besides care of the birds, Fleiss bought a laundromat and named it after my blog (I concede that Dirty Laundry isn’t so unusual, that she could’ve thought it up herself). Why did she buy a laundromat? And where is this woman getting her money? She bought Nevada land, and has no job. Did she hide her earnings while in prison, and pick them up later? Does her family support her? Her tiny laundromat in the middle of nowhere must be about as lucrative as its namesake.

On the advice of attorneys, Fleiss is waiting until after the Joe Richards trial to resume work on the Stud Farm. It sounds plausible I suppose—but I’m losing faith in this woman. She might have been a raging success when her business was illegal and adventurous, but I doubt her ability to play the game straight. As much as I dislike the greedy, small-minded brothel owners who’ve banded against her, their fear of what could happen if Fleiss draws a crowd makes sense.

She’s just got too much going against her to get this thing off the ground, much less make it succeed. Which is too bad. Besides my personal interest in the Stud Farm, I’m dying to see a high-class, well-run sex business catering to women make it, if only to fly in the face of received opinion and prove that women, just like men, sometimes want a particular kind of carnal experience, and are confident, powerful and rich enough to pay for it.

HBO schedule for Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madame of Crystal


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