Fleiss Case Opens Window on World of L.A. Call Girls : Prostitution: Three women talk of easy money made from the rich. And of the loneliness they often feel.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

See, she confides in a breathy, Marilyn Monroe voice, she has this idea for a movie of the week: A nice kid from New Jersey comes to L.A. to be a star, but goes broke and turns to--well, you know. She toys with an unlit Capri cigarette and tousles her ash-blonde hair. Her nails, pale pink ovals, match her sofa upholstery. Her gingham dress is breathtakingly brief.

She is 23, and since her friend, Heidi Fleiss, got arrested, life has overflowed with drama and possibility. Police have interrogated her. Reporters have dogged her. Fleiss' enemies have hounded her from her plush townhouse on the Westside. When she called her parents to explain why the woman she had introduced as her "agent" was on the cover of People as "sex broker to the stars," her mom refused to come to the phone.

The $12,000 she had cached in her teddy bear is gone. She had to hit up an old client for move-in costs on her new Beverly Hills-adjacent place. Now she spends her days chain-smoking behind these cheesy stucco walls, racking her brains for the upside, the next move, the big break.

"See," she continues earnestly, moving to the next plot point, "she's only going to do this once or twice, to catch up on her bills." She lights her cigarette. "It's going to be a two-hour movie, my lawyer's setting it up. It'll say 'based on a true story of Hollywood.' "

There are a lot of true confessions from Hollywood's service sector these days, tales of wanton women and naked big shots running amok. With scandal has come opportunity, and since the Fleiss accusations hit, L.A.'s call girls have scrambled to exploit their moment of fame.

Prostitutes--some who knew the accused madam, more who just claim they did--have hit the talk shows and tabloids in a dirt-dishing cavalcade. Fleiss' best friends have sold everything from anecdotes about her to home movies. The memoirs of Elizabeth Adams, the Beverly Hills madam, have been rushed into print. Norma Jean Almodovar, author of "From Cop to Call Girl" (actually, she was a meter maid), has issued a flurry of press releases. Ditto for the lesser-known madam Cheri Woods, who, according to her publicist, "is interested in going public with regards to all media forms."

The buzz has tended to center on unnamed names, the who-did-what-to-whom-in-whose-boudoir. But behind the hype, there are also private stories: Here is what it is like to be in the service of loneliness. Here is how you become dazzled by power and glitz. Here is the rush you get at the thought that a multimillionaire would pay thousands of dollars just to behold your body or bend your will. Here are the fruits of oppression, the wages of sin.

What follows are three tales culled from detailed interviews with more than a dozen high-priced Los Angeles call girls. One woman spoke freely; two asked anonymity. None were completely candid about the emotional costs of putting your body up for rent.

"It was like living in a fantasy world," the actress-model murmured, flipping through a big pink scrapbook commemorating her days as a $1,500-an-hour prostitute. "It isn't just, 'Oh, I never thought it would end this way.' I never thought it would end. "

A Smile With Dimples

Brandi McClain came to the door in very short running shorts, a cutoff T-shirt and little wire-rimmed sunglasses. Her bright blonde hair was combed into a brief ponytail, and she dimpled deeply when she smiled. She offered a taste of her latest vegetarian casserole and thrust out a big friendly hand. She was broad-shouldered and tall, with the sort of muscular thighs that do not quite meet at the top.

"People always expect some girl with, like, red lipstick and bleached blonde hair and a sequined dress and spiked pumps," the 22-year-old joked. "But it's a misconception. . . . I don't even own a pair of spiked pumps."

McClain, a part-time college student from San Diego County, was one of four young women swept up in the vice sting that resulted in Fleiss' arrest. On the afternoon of June 9, police allege, she--along with three other women--showed up at the Beverly Hilton at Fleiss' behest to provide four Japanese businessmen with $6,000 worth of sex; she had barely shrugged off her designer blazer when police burst through the door.

She was taken into custody but never charged, and is expected to testify against Fleiss, who has pleaded not guilty to the felony pandering and narcotics charges against her. McClain has since said her feelings for Fleiss are a mixture of regret and fondness. She now lives alone in a San Diego apartment. But on the warm July morning when she talked about her initiation into "the life," she was living in Fleiss' Benedict Canyon home, cooking and answering the four-line phone in exchange for room and board.

The San Diego home was fragrant with perfumed candles, its airy rooms spotless. She sat down at a glass dining room table. Outside, beyond the pool, birds twittered in a jasmine hedge.

"I was living in New York, working for a florist two years ago, and there was this girl I ran with in Central Park," she said. "She always seemed to have money, and she had beautiful furniture, and I thought, 'How does she do it?' I mean, she was in nursing school.

"Well, one day she told me." McClain impersonated a shocked Valley girl. "And, like, I never would have guessed! "

The friend gave her Fleiss' number as a going-away present when she moved to Los Angeles. She waited a few months to call. Fleiss, she said, told her that "she had very rich clients, that it was on a good level and I wouldn't encounter any weirdos."

A month later, she was in Las Vegas, the guest of a wealthy, middle-aged man who took her gambling, dancing, dining and, yes, to bed. "It was like going on a weekend date, except it was very lucrative," she said.

After that, she said, she began coming to Los Angeles once or twice a month, driving up from her home in Cardiff by the Sea just often enough to cover her rent. There were more legitimate ways to make a living, but few as glamorous. She was too short to model, not trained to act, not interested in some briefcase-toting career. She had one big asset: Men liked her looks. Enough to pay for her company.

She rarely got sent to the biggest spenders--the Middle Eastern dignitaries--because she was deemed "too skinny," she said. But she was suitable for the next tier.

"There were kids of celebrities, celebrity kids, trust fund babies, one (European) billionaire," she said. Most often, her clients were younger business types who would introduce her as their girlfriend, or assistant or, simply, a friend. She discovered she had a talent for massaging their egos. She acted as if each home were a mansion, each gold record or Oscar a chunk of the crown jewels, each trick a one-time adventure.

"Usually, I would meet them at their house--that is, the house their wives weren't at--and we'd go to dinner, Nicky Blair's or Spago or the Bistro. Then maybe to a club and then back to the house and then, well, whatever. Have sex. Do what you want, what they want."

There were rules: Dress conservatively. Don't give out your home number or full name. Don't forget to give the madam her 40% cut. And above all, don't behave as if the transaction was solely about sex because that was only part of it. Men who wanted call girls, she learned, were paying for something else too--companionship, status, window dressing, fantasy.

As for McClain, here's what a kid four years out of high school got out of it: "Money. You tell me one job where you can make $1,500 an hour. One job. A doctor doesn't make that much. A lawyer. Twice a month, and there you go. Your bills are paid. Besides, anybody can go get a job at, like, The Limited. But how many girls could keep a billionaire interested? I did."

Sleeping With the Masses

In the clatter of a Downtown diner, "Leann" rolled her brown eyes, simultaneously chuckling and chewing a bite of warm apple pie.

"God, I've slept with the masses."

She was 35, she said, had never met Heidi Fleiss and had been a call girl since the age of 29. She had contacted the press, she said, because she had information about a fellow prostitute whose death she had heard police discussing on the evening news.

Speculation was that the dead girl might have known Fleiss, but Leann, who asked that her real name not be used, believed that the two could not have met. She knew this because "as with anything else, there are echelons in this business," and her circle and Fleiss' did not intersect.

Her circle, she said, was a quieter crowd, one that serviced older professional men. Her price was $400 an hour, three-hour minimum for local calls. With a little notice, she could charge it to your corporate credit card and make it look like you had bought roses for the secretarial pool. Her black book had home, office and car phone numbers of clients. Her computer had the name of each client and the client who made the referral. Her clients ranged from business executives to former politicians.

That she might be sought out as an escort for men of a certain age was plausible. Trimly dressed in pearl earrings, a white cotton sweater and shorts, her honey-colored hair pinned up, she could have passed for a rich man's wife just back from the country club. Sometimes, however, she gave herself away. She had the habit of ending sentences with the phrase, as it were. As she sipped coffee at the Pantry, she self-consciously lifted her pinky and segued to the wild particulars of her life.

She had seen it all, she laughed--mustachioed cross-dressers, aging rock stars, comedy teams who insisted on sharing a room, guys who would chase you around the bed with a toy gun because they had played cowboys and Indians with their moms when they were little boys. Bankers who wanted to pretend this was not a financial transaction. Doctors who wanted to be the patient for a change. Lawyers who wanted a good spanking. A movie producer "who believes, really believes, that sexually he is really Ava Gardner, and wants you to say things like, 'Oh, Ava, you look wonderful tonight.'

"You learn more about men than you would ever need to know for the rest of your life," Leann sighed. Not that she could use that information in her personal life. She has no personal life. She lives alone in the San Fernando Valley in "a house with a pool and a Jacuzzi and a vegetable garden and orchids," and it has been years since she has had a deep, loving relationship, she says.

Still, the money is good. She estimates she made $300,000 last year, enough to buy her mother a new car. And she suspects intimacy may be overrated.

"Do you know how many women are going to El Torito on a Friday or Saturday night and giving it away for three or four margaritas?" she said. "Whereas I can go for a couple hours, collect my money, stop at whatever restaurant I want on my way home, decide who I want to sit across from and what I want to eat, and not put up with anybody's ----."

Her eyes went narrow. Her mouth was tight. She knew all about that inevitable moment when the person to whom you have opened your soul sees what you will forever be.

"They say they love you," Leann said quietly, "but when it comes time to end the relationship, they're the first ones to turn around and say, 'You ----ing whore.' "

Snapshots of a Life

The big pink scrapbook covers most of her life to date. Here she is with Brandi in Las Vegas. Here she is at the nightclub Tatou. Here she is with a girlfriend who sold her story to a supermarket tabloid, posing in a G-string bikini and calling herself "Desiree."

The actress-model bounced over to a cabinet beside her big-screen TV, picked up a videotape and popped it in. Wanna see some home video? Here she is in her Azzedine Alaia catsuit giving a tour of Heidi Fleiss' house. The woman with her, the one with the frizzy blonde hair, is a stripper with whom she had worked out a whole act for clients who requested menages a trois.

Oh, here's a video she shot just last Christmas, clowning around with friends. That's "Desiree" on the left, and her friend on the right. The guy in the bathrobe, wishing someone's mother a happy holiday from Malibu Lake, is actor Charlie Sheen. (Sheen's publicist said he filmed the video greeting as a favor to one of the young women, whose mother was hospitalized with cancer; if the women were prostitutes, the publicist said, "he didn't ask and they didn't tell.")

There are even a couple of Polaroids of her in the old days, when she first arrived in Los Angeles. She had wanted to be a star, but had ended up biding her time, working two jobs to support herself. By day she was a $9-an-hour secretary for an accountant in Canoga Park; by night, she waited tables at the Rainbow Bar & Grill on Sunset Strip. She met rock stars at the club, and even dated a few, but it wasn't the living she had in mind, and it left little time for acting lessons and auditions.

Then two things happened: A roommate made off with every penny she had saved, $4,000 in cash, and a regular at the Rainbow offered to introduce her to another customer--Heidi Fleiss. She had heard through the grapevine about Fleiss, and understood the world she was entering, she said.

"At the time, I had no money and no place to go. I had never been on my own before, and I'd never dreamed life could be so hard," she sighed. Fleiss invited her to stay at her home until she could resettle herself. A few months later, she said, she turned her first trick.

"It was exciting," she smiled, tucking her legs up under her dress. "It was me and one other girl. We went to Paris for a week with an Arab prince who took us shopping at Chanel." A real estate heir gave her $4,000 to spend the night. A Hong Kong businessman made her his mistress for a year. A movie producer took her to a Christmas party and introduced her as a member of his bowling team.

Sex in Hollywood is a commodity with infinite shadings; payoffs come in many forms. For her, there was sex for money, yes, but also sex for access, status, payback, a shot at fame.

And for each type of transaction, there were middlemen--the agent who suggested she come up to the Holmby Hills mansion to meet a few friends, the man from the music industry trade paper who wondered if she would have time to entertain a rock star for the night.

And the colorful Vince Conti, a photographer and actor who used to play Sgt. Rizzo on the TV series, "Kojak" and who last month was sentenced to three years in prison for felony pandering. Conti, 63, was among the better-known players on the Hollywood underground. Unlike a madam, according to court records and prostitutes, he never demanded a cut; instead, he fixed up good friends who then did him favors, such as a European dignitary who gave him a studio on his Beverly Hills estate.

In an interview, the photographer acknowledged that he often introduced aspiring actresses to his friends, but chalked it up to his photography business--which, court records say, has included portfolios for Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Demi Moore.

"I run in a pretty good echelon of people, and got pretty girls around all the time," Conti said. "They come to my studio, and I say, 'Joe! Say hello ta Maryann!' What consenting adults do, I got no control over that."

It was in this spirit, the actress said, that Conti introduced her to a former California politician and Conti's dignitary friend. Soon, hooking was her only source of income, aside from an occasional bit part.

Her nights were booked up with club-hopping and "dates." She lived in a cocaine-fueled world where the day began at noon and didn't end until 4 a.m., where you could blow $1,000 on a dress and earn it all back the next day. In this world, she was "Sheena" or "Tiffany" or sometimes just a body with no name at all.

The only problem was bridging the dry spells, because things tended to backfire when she tried to rustle up clients of her own. Like the time in Palm Springs when her friend set the two of them up with a fat, loudmouthed producer of professional wrestling videos.

What a debacle, she recalled. They were expecting $5,000 in exchange for a day of sex and a quarter-ounce of cocaine. Instead, the man hogged the drugs, slobbered all over them, made them get down on all fours and repeat, "We love being your whores," then tried to pay them with a rubber check and a fistful of expired credit cards.

Furious, they showed up at his mansion and told his wife, with all the dignity they could muster, that they represented a businessman to whom he owed money.

"She just laughed," the young woman recalled. "She said 'If you're one of those girls he takes out to Palm Springs, you'll have to get in line. He's been in and out of (drug) rehab for a year, and he doesn't have a cent.' "

Times like that made her miss her old life, when she could date and have boyfriends like other women her age. She had developed this phobia: She couldn't fall asleep next to a man.

Then one day she had a revelation. She was shopping at the Broadway when she saw an old client with his wife and child. Although their eyes locked, neither spoke. Such things had happened before, but for some reason, she was disturbed.

"It leaves you wondering what's it really like to, you know, make love? What's it like not to put on an act? It was nice to have someone treat you with respect and buy you things and take you for rides in his (Ferrari) Testarossa . . . but it catches up with you emotionally."

These are the issues she hopes will be addressed if, someday, her life story is made into a script.

"It's a story about reality, not a fairy tale," she said. "It'll make you laugh. It'll make you cry."

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