While looking for inspiration for today’s post I stumbled upon a story about Joseph Force Crater a judge who disappeared on August 6, 1930.
He’s never been found
While that is a story, right now it’s a story for another day. I promise, I’ll get back to it.
In researching the story I again stumbled upon a character I found far more interesting.
The oldest of nine children, Polly Adler emigrated from Russia to America at the age of 12. On the way, near the Polish border her journey was stalled by World War I. Eventually she was able to travel on, but her parents were forced to stay.
Imagine 12 years old, alone, on your way to America.
When she arrived, she stayed with friends in Massachusetts. She cleaned house, attended school, and at the age of 14 began working in a paper mill.
At 15, she headed to Brooklyn, settled with cousins, and looked for work.
Right here I could go on a tangent as to just how ashamed we should be that this type of life for a child is in our past, but I’ll refrain. I think you know how I feel.
Polly worked as a seamstress at clothing sweatshops and on occasion attended school gaining enough education to “get by.”
At 19, she discovered the theater and “theater people.” She moved in with a chorus girl.
Polly, a vivacious, outgoing, and charming girl attracted all kinds of people. Good people and bad people.
Through the roommate she met a local bootlegger who offered to supplement her income if he and his girlfriend could use her place for assignations.
It was at this moment she became a madam.
Realizing there was money to be made and there was a way out of the sweatshops, she opened her first bordello in 1920.
Her backer and protector was Dutch Schultz, a mobster and associate of Lucky Luciano.
The bordello was in the Majestic at 215 West 75th Street and had been designed by Schwartz and Gross who designed apartments in Morningside Heights and 55 Central Park West, which you would know if you saw it; it’s the Ghostbusters Building.
215 had hidden stairways, hallways, and escape routes. It also had a slew of famous patrons: Peter Arno, Desi Arnaz, George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker !!, Milton Berle, and Hizzonor, New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker.
Some believe that Judge Crater, mentioned at the beginning of this increasingly enthralling post, died at Polly’s Majestic Bordello.
Polly, believing that any press was good press, worked to attract publicity! She dressed flamboyantly, made grand appearances at clubs while she was followed by her bevy of bordello beauties.
She also bribed anyone who would take it and offer protection.
In the 1930s, she was subpoenaed to appear as a witness in front of New York’s Hofstadter Committee. Know as the Seabury investigations, it was a joint committee formed by the New York State Legislature which investigated corruption in New York City.
Polly, no patriot, and fearing for her life, headed to Florida where she hid out with “friends.”
After being ratted out by a terrified crook back UP in NY, she was taken into custody, hauled off to New York where she refused to give UP any names.
She retired from the bordello business in 1944.
At the age of 50 she went to college, wrote a bestselling book along with Virginia Faulkner. It was called A House is Not a Home.
The book changed facts, ignored facts, and rearranged facts.
You might say, it was full of alternative facts.
Either way, it was a hit.
And it later became a movie starring Shelly Winters as Adler.
In the book and film, Adler is a poor Polish immigrant, works in a sweatshop, loses her job after her boss blames her when she’s is sexually assaulted by a co-worker, and moves in with a friend.
Her apartment is in a building owned by a gangster, he likes her friends, and he pays her to get them to go out with him.
One thing leads to another, and voila!, Polly is a madam.
Along the way, she meets Mr. Right, a musician who has no idea she’s running a whore house. He fall in love with her, asks her to marry him, she confesses her profession telling him that she can’t drag him down, he says he can live with it, but she feels it’s for the best that they not see each other again.
The movie was bigger than the book and won an Oscar for Edith Head’s costumes.
It also produced a song we’ve all heard a million times.
A House is Not a Home was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and has been recorded by Anita Kerr, Stevie Wonder, The Marbles, Dusty Springfield, Barbra Streisand, Ronald Isley, Luther Vandross, Lynne Arriale, Aretha Franklin, Marcia Hines, the Steps, and Japanese reggae artists, Reggae Disco Rockers.
But it was first recorded by Dionne Warwick for the film, which is of course, my favorite version since Dionne Warkick’s self titled anthology was the first album I ever bought when I got my first ever stereo!
So, from there to here…enjoy Dionne’s version…
Polly died of cancer in California. She left behind her mother, a brother, and supposedly a little black book…but just like Judge Crater, no one’s ever found it!