On 11 February 1990, the Observer sat down with Hollywood madam Alex Adams (a pseudonym among many; her real name was Elizabeth) and her dozen Persian cats to explore the Tinseltown demi-monde and listen to her ‘drop names no magazine could print’.
Heidi Fleiss might be better known, but Adams preceded her (and indeed later claimed she had given Fleiss her start in the business). Lying on her bed, 56 and in poor health with ‘thinning hair’, Adams seemed fragile, but in the 1980s, ‘Alex’s Aviary: beautiful and exotic birds’, as her business card read, reportedly earned her ‘several million tax-free dollars’ stuffed under her mattress in her bedroom.
Adams’s family moved from Manila to San Francisco when she was 17. She ran away from home and married badly. Her first husband threatened to hold on to their two sons when they split; ‘Keep them,’ Adams retorted. A second, deceased husband was an alcoholic and ‘possibly… a contract killer’.
Adams presented her profession as ‘an honourable waystation – a lot of stars did this’. The money the girls made was ‘to help you pay for what your parents couldn’t provide’. In Adams’s opinion, being a woman made her business almost wholesome. ‘I never sent the girls to weirdos, I let the men know – no violence, no costumes,’ she explained, claiming that ‘when a woman does it, it’s fun, there’s a giggle in it; when a man’s involved, it’s sleazy.’
Captured in an undercover sting trying to recruit a policewoman pretending to be a naive ingenue, Adams asked: ‘Are you scared out of your wits?’, explaining, ‘It’s just like going out on a date, but you get paid for it.’ Next, she demanded to see the officer’s breasts.
Under arrest, Adams was threatening to air her little black book of A-listers and ‘subpoena every Los Angeles cop she’s ever come across’. ‘In her head are the sexual secrets of many of the city’s most important men,’ the article titillated. Ultimately, Adams got off lightly with 18 months’ probation; most of her secrets accompanied her to the grave when she died, only five years later.