Transitioning from the notorious Hollywood madam to a modern-day William Randolph Hearst will be quite the trick, but that’s just what Heidi Fleiss has in mind. After years of brokering sex services for the famous (followed by nearly two years in prison), Fleiss now says, “I’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the publishing industry.”
At Borders Books in Westwood on Friday, Fleiss was off to a good start doing what she does best -- pressing the flesh -- only this time it was to promote her memoir, “Pandering,” the first of several books she plans to release through her new publishing company, 1 Hour Entertainment.
“I love you, Heidi!” an admirer yelled as Fleiss touched a strappy gold stiletto to the stage, triggering an assault of flashes from a fleet of photographers’ cameras. Fleiss, looking exceedingly thin and ultra-glamorous in black, greeted the outburst with a grin before inviting the audience to ask questions. The 75 or so people on hand were happy to oblige, and Fleiss seemed entirely in her element as she tossed off quick and witty one-liners.
“What do you miss most about the business?”
“What did you miss most while in prison?”
“Looking back, what would you do differently?”
“I wouldn’t get caught.”
Fleiss may have made a lot of enemies, but her goofy, reckless, no-holds-barred spirit has also won her a diverse group of devotees. “She’s smart, she’s bold, she’s ambitious. She went out and did what she wanted, and I admire that,” said Latoya Lewis, a 25-year-old Alaskan who came to see Fleiss while vacationing in L.A. Lewis was standing in line with two copies of “Pandering,” one of which she planned to give her mother.
If the crowd at Friday’s reading was any indication, Fleiss’ appeal runs deep. There were frat boys, middle-aged men with Grecian Formula comb-overs and a mustachioed fellow whose dress shirt was unbuttoned a little too far. Then there were the women: a mix of housewives, gym victims and hotty-totty twentysomethings -- girls in midriff-baring macrame halters and hot pink micro-minis who, a handful of years back, might have been interviewing for a job.
When asked to describe her fans, Fleiss said, “All I have to go by is my store, Heidi Wear, and everyone there was from age 14 to a nun in full regalia asking for a hug, so I have nothing to gauge it by.” Then what’s the draw? “It’s sex,” she said. “Sex is on everyone’s mind.”
And Fleiss takes full advantage of that. Where she once profited from literally selling sex, she’s now selling it via books. Over the next 18 months, she plans to publish five additional titles, including two sex guides, (one for men, one for women), a photo book about exotic dancers and the memoir of a Beverly Hills tutor. She also plans to publish her prison journal.
“I wrote everything in code and sent it home to my brother, so I have to decode everything and all that,” said Fleiss, now 37. “It’s complicated.”
What isn’t complicated is her business model: Sex sells. “Everyone thinks of sex,” said Fleiss. And everyone thinks of sex when they think of Fleiss, so it’s a naturally symbiotic relationship.
Like the business she named it after, “Pandering” comes at a cost, in this case $50. Less a memoir than a coffee-table book, it’s a pastiche of court records, news clippings, photos and commentary for those with short attention spans.
“It’s geared to make people read, because a lot of people don’t anymore,” said Fleiss, who has a new appreciation for reading, having done a lot of it while in prison.
“Throughout this whole thing I’ve found my passion in life, which is books,” she said. “I’m telling you, look out, everyone. Look out. I’m making my way.”
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The Heidi chronicles
June 9, 1993: Fleiss taken into custody on felony pimping, pandering and narcotics charges.
July 28, 1994: Fleiss and her father, Dr. Paul Fleiss, indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of depositing checks for prostitution services and lying on tax returns.
Dec. 2, 1994: Fleiss convicted on three counts of pandering. Jury deadlocks on two other counts.
May 25, 1995: Fleiss sentenced to three years for pandering, fined $1,500. (Verdicts later overturned, new trial ordered.)
Aug. 11, 1995: Fleiss convicted of conspiracy, tax evasion and money laundering in federal case.
Jan. 8, 1997: After telling a federal judge in a letter that she was “young and stupid and ... wrong” when she launched her high-priced call-girl ring, Fleiss sentenced to 37 months in federal custody.
Sept. 21, 1999: Fleiss released from federal prison.
Oct. 20, 1999: Fleiss files for bankruptcy protection.
March 30, 2001: Fleiss arrested on suspicion of violating her parole by using drugs.
April 9, 2001: Fleiss sentenced to six months’ home detention for drug use and refusing a mandatory drug test.
April 8, 2003: Fleiss completes her probation.
May 9, 2003: Fleiss signs books at Borders Bookstore, Westwood.
-- Compiled by Robin Mayper
Author: Heidi Fleiss
Publisher: 1 Hour Entertainment (2003)
Next: Book signing, 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Borders Books
and Music, 475 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena