INTERVIEW: Dianna Harris, Co-Author of Gold Coast Madam: The Secret Life Of Rose Laws
By Tony Peregrin in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 9, 2012 5:00PM
Rose Laws—The Gold Coast Madam—with friends in the 1980s. (Ms. Laws is in the back row, second from the left.)
Men want sex.
Men need sex.
And men will pay for sex.
Shortly after her release from prison in 2010, Chicago’s most infamous Madam, Rose Laws, told ABC 7 News I-Team reporter Chuck Goudie that if she ever published her life story she would begin the book with those words—and she has done exactly that with her forthcoming tome Gold Coast Madam: The Secret Life of Rose Laws.
Ms. Laws’ autobiography, co-written with Dianna Harris, details her youth in the hills of Tennessee through her retirement in Florida after serving time for working as Chicago’s top call girl “agent” (a term she prefers over Madam.)
“I fell into my business by accident. I tried to run legitimate businesses over the years, but for one reason or another they never were able to bring in enough money,” writes Laws in the book’s foreword. Circumstances led me to a life working as an agent for women. I was trying desperately to find a way to provide for my five children in the 1960s.”
“The height of my career was working from downtown Chicago in 1986—the peak of the “Gold Coast” years,” adds Laws. “I had many great times during my life as an agent. I also have had a lot of regrets. As I like to say—many storms and many rainbows.”
Co-author Dianna Harris met Ms. Laws in the early ‘90s at a Fourth of July Fireworks party— a fitting setting for a meeting that would eventually spark a mutually beneficial relationship for the self-proclaimed history buff and the Gold Coast Madam.
Like all engaging autobiographies, Gold Coast Madam: The Secret Life of Rose Laws seems tailor-made for the silver screen (Ann-Margaret is Laws’ choice to play her if the book is ever optioned), a kind of Mad Men meets Fifty Shades of Grey. (And yes, Laws reveals her tips and tricks for pleasing men—the same advice she gave her “girls” many years ago.) Add to that a client list that included local and national sports figures, actors, and politicians; reported ties to the Mob; a chance meeting with Elvis Presley (pre-agent days), and someone needs to get on the horn with Ms. Margaret stat.
In an effort to pull back the covers on the life and times of Chicago’s most infamous Madam, Chicagoist spoke with Harris about working with Laws on the book, why the life story of a ‘60’s Madam is relevant today, and what Ms. Laws considers to be her greatest accomplishment.
Chicagoist: How active was Ms. Laws in writing the book? I’m curious because her narrative voice is readily apparent from page one.
Dianna Harris: She provided the audio tapes and piles of random notes. Rose is a great story teller, but she just did not have the skills or discipline to organize it all and put it on paper. I had the daunting task of compiling it all and organizing a time line so that it would read well—which took about four years to complete. Originally, it was not written in the first person, but after reading it and thinking about how it should sound, I decided to make it as though Rose was talking [to the reader.]
C: Ms. Laws estimates she had 5,000 male clients, including “Republicans in pantyhose” and some “mayors who did drugs.” Does she name names in the book of either her “girls” as she calls them, or her more famous clients?
DH: She cannot name specific names because of legal reasons. Some of the names are part of public record when she was on trial and going back and forth to court.
[Editor’s note: By her own admission, one of Ms. Law’s more infamous clients is former Chicago Bull player Dennis Rodman, who she claims “took me for a bunch of money.” But it wasn’t just a Bull in her pen, several Bears—specifically Super Bowl Champion Bears of 1985—were also her clients.]
Rose Laws, 1970s
C: What is it about Ms. Law’s story that will resonate with readers today?
DH: For Chicagoan's it shows a side of the city that we all know exists but never really knew that much about. Rose’s life-story exposes the reality of big business, big politics, big players. The history of Chicago prostitution runs deep. When you read about the Everleigh Sisters of the turn of the century you find that today, things have not really changed all that much. Technology has changed, transportation has changed, the availability of birth control has changed— but the desire to have sex and play out fantasies is the same.
C: In the book, Ms. Laws describes giving her “girls,” tips and techniques for pleasing clients: “Men want a woman to make love to their private parts just like they would his face,” observed Ms. Laws. “Men like a girl to take her hair and swish it gently around his body. Many men want to climax on a girl’s hair or on or between her breasts. I coached the girls to use their hair to make a man climax soon.” Did Ms. Laws have any reservations about including details such as these in the book?
DH: Funny you should ask—No, Rose is not shy. The publisher actually toned it down some for the readers.
C: Did Ms. Laws have a favorite among her girls?
DH: Over the years, Rose had many favorites. Daisy was one until she broke her son’s heart; Ellen was another until she started with the drugs; Devon was very special (she almost became like part of the family) until she went nuts and disappeared. She started saying that people were watching her and she became increasingly paranoid.
C: Does Ms. Laws think the world’s oldest profession has changed much over the years?
DH: Now, the girls are on the Internet which is different than when she was an agent. If you ask Rose, she’s say that the profession itself has not changed at all. It is an "in demand" product all the time for all time.
C: At one point, before moving to the Gold Coast, a customer gave her a west suburban hotel, where she lived with her five children and where some of her customers engaged with Ms. Law’s call girls. Did she ever feel conflicted having this business end of things in relatively close proximity to her children?
Ms. Laws' motel located in suburb outside Chicago. The sign states "Start The New Year Off With A Bang."
DH: She was able to buy the motel with her sugar daddy Viron's help. She seemed to find her groove here. I don't think she was conflicted about the children, because being a motel, there were people coming and going all the time. Whatever the couples did in the rooms behind closed doors was never out under the kids’ noses. The motel was actually the perfect cover for her business. The children lived above the office and didn't suspect [a thing].
C: Ms. Laws used her motel’s marquee (at the corner of Lake Street and Route 83) to advertise clever, suggestive signage such as “Stay Healthy. Eat Your Honey Here,” “Don’t Get Blown Down the Street,” and “An Unused Tool Gets Rusty.” Wow—those definitely qualify as a sign of the times. At one point, Playboy even offered her a weekly contract to photograph the marquee, but Ms. Laws demurred.
DH: Rose has a natural marketing talent. She had changed her hotel to a four hour rate for the purpose of "afternoon delight" and decided to advertise it as such. Her suggestive signs left little doubt that this was a place to come to stay if you did not plan on sleeping very much! The world in the late 60's and 70's was all about free love and the right to express yourself and she used that to her advantage. People had affairs all the time—every day. Why not bring it out of the shadows and capitalize on it?
C: I’ve read conflicting information about Ms. Laws and the Chicago mob. Some reports seem to indicate that she paid the mob off for protection, while other statements from Ms. Laws herself negate any such relationship with the mob. Can you set the record straight?
DH: Rose is adamant that she was not connected to the mob. She knew many so-called “mobsters” but she was not part of their organization and she did not have to pay them for protection. They would have been happy to help her if she asked— and she did a few times.
C: What was the most unusual customer request she ever had?
DH: That is a tough one—there are many! There was a guy who asked to be tied-up, put in a closet and then have honey poured all over him without actually having any sex—that was pretty unusual.
C: What is the one thing Ms. Laws is most proud of?
DH: Raising five children with no help from a husband, in the 60-70's when hand-outs were not an option.
C: What do you think will surprise readers the most about Rose Laws ?
DH: Even though prostitution is typically referred to as ‘the oldest profession,’ it is deemed immoral and is often ridiculed. Without knowing Rose's life story people probably judged her solely on choice of career. But Rose is a family person. She is friendly and caring. She wants to see people happy—and if that helps her make money, then all the better!
Gold Coast Madame: The Secret Life of Rose Laws
Rose Laws, Dianna Harris
Release Date: November 30, 2012