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Pearl "Polly" Adler (April 16,1900June 11,1962) was a Russianmarker-born madam and author.

The oldest of nine children of Gertrude Koval and Morris Adler, Polly Adler emigrated to Americamarker from Yanowmarker, Russia, near the Polishmarker border at the age of 14 just before World War I. The war stopped her family from joining her. She worked in clothing factories and sporadically attended school. At 19, she began to enjoy the company of theater people in Manhattanmarker, and moved into the apartment of an actress and showgirl on Riverside Drive in New York Citymarker.

She opened her first bordello in 1920, under the protection of mobster Dutch Schultz and a friend of mobster Charles "Lucky" Luciano. One building in which she plied her trade was The Majestic at 215 West 75th Street, designed by architects Schwartz and Gross and completed in 1924 with hidden stairways and secret doorways. Her brothel there boasted such patrons as Robert Benchley, New York City mayor Jimmy Walker, and mobster Dutch Schultz.

In the early 1930s, Adler was a star witness of the Seabury Commission investigations and spent a few months in hiding in Floridamarker to avoid testifying. She refused to give up any mob names when apprehended by the police. She survived by providing half of her income to her underworld safety net. For over 20 years, Adler kept active by moving her brothel from apartment to apartment. She retired in 1944.

Adler attended college at age 50, and wrote a bestselling book, ghosted by Virginia Faulkner, A House is Not a Home (1953), allowing her to live off the proceeds. She died in Los Angeles, Californiamarker in 1962. A House Is Not a Home was made into a movie two years later, starring Shelley Winters as Adler.

Television and film portrayals

The 1989 Perry Mason TV-movie Musical Murder revolved around a faux-musical based on Adler.

Adler was portrayed by the actress Gisèle Rousseau in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.

Song

Pearl "Polly" Adler is remembered in the song "Pearl Polly Adler"[215426] by Brooklyn musician Robin Aigner.

Trials

Spring 1935

During Fiorello La Guardia's time as a mayor, Polly Adler and three of her girls were brought to court. She was pleaded guilty and subsequently sentenced to 30 days of jail (of which she served 24, scrubbing the jail floors in May and June 1935) and paid an additional $500 fine.

"A plea of guilty was entered for Polly Adler in Special Sessions yesterday to a charge of possessing a motion picture machine with objectionable pictures in her East Fifty-fifth Street apartment when it was raided by the police last March 5."

"Another unexpected plea of guilty to maintaining an objectionable apartment at 30 East Fifty-fifth Street blocked in Special Sessions yesterday the trial of Polly Adler on that and another charge that she kept an obscene motion picture film in the suite last March when it was raided."

January 1943

"Polly Adler is in the prison ward of Bellevue Hospitalmarker, it became known yesterday, awaiting a hearing for the seventeenth time for maintaining a house of prostitution." -- N.Y. Times: Jan. 16, 1943, p. 28

"A charge of keeping and maintaining a house for prostitution against Pearl Davis, better known as Polly Adler, was dismissed by Magistrate Thomas H. Cullen in Woman's Court yesterday after the court ruled that police had failed to establish a case." -- N.Y. Times: Jan. 27, 1943, p. 23

Footnotes

  1. Encyclopaedia Judaica
  2. J B Litoff, J McDonnell: European Immigrant Women in the United States, p. 2-3
  3. Jacobs, Lisa. "Majestic Towers’ Dirty Little Secret", 215 West 75 Street building newsletter, Winter 2002
  4. Dorothy Parker Society, "Polly Adler's Brothel", Dorothy Parker Society
  5. Internet Movie Database entry for Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle
  6. New York Times on April 16, 1935, p. 9
  7. photos dated March 5, 1935, March 12, 1935 and March 14, 1935
  8. New York Times on May 7, 1935, p. 10


References




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