Prostitution Biography of Madam Polly Adler Part 1

About the famous Madam Polly Adler, biography and history of her New York bordello and its specialties.

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Polly Adler

Born of a Jewish family in a small Polish village, Polly Adler (1900-1962) emigrated to America in 1914 and lived in poverty for six years before opening her first brothel in 1920. A short, rotund little brunet who looked "like Donald Duck" waddling along behind her tall, stately girls, she combined native wit with an amiable disposition and a great ability to mix with and entertain all sorts of people to become the most famous madam in the 1920s and 1930s in New York. Servicing cops, writers, politicians, high society, and gangsters (like Dutch Schultz, Lucky Luciano, and Frank Costello), "Polly Pal" was known as one of Manhattan's most formidable "official greeters" by 1940. "I could boast a clientele culled not only from Who's Who and the Social Register, but from Burke's Peerage and the Almanach de Gotha," she recalled in her famous memoirs. A House Is Not a Home. Her lifelong fascination with writing and writers (Robert Benchley was a good friend) led her to enroll in college after her retirement as a madam in 1944, and she also immersed herself in a literary career which continued until her death.

Her Houses: Polly generally operated out of large apartments and flats in the East Fifties and Sixties of midtown Manhattan. Frequent raids kept her hopping from place to place, but the decor--and operating procedures--remained fairly constant. About 1934, she occupied an elegant 12-room apartment in "cafe society country"--55th Street and Madison Avenue. "The living room," she recalled, "was Louis XVI, but not arbitrarily so. . . . The decorator keyed the color scheme to my collection of rose quartz and jade lamps. The walls were warm gray and the draperies pale green satin. In the cozy paneled library, the walls were lined with shelves displaying my fine collection of books. . . . The taproom had a military motif. . . .The color scheme was red, white, and blue, the chairs were blue piped with white, and the bar stools were red leather. In the dining room, the idea, according to my decorator, was to suggest the interior of a seashell. . . .I did my four bedrooms in peach and apple green, and the baths were also peach and green." Four "hand-picked young ladies" provided hospitality for a price which seldom fell below $50. Much of the business was after 4:00 A.M., when the city's saloons closed. Free food was served, and the bar did a flourishing business. Many patrons came just for the refreshments and a chat with the loquacious madam. A clublike atmosphere prevailed, and Polly was careful to keep things that way. The girls were permitted only two drinks per working shift, and "at no time would I allow off-color conversation or the practice of unnatural sex."

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