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Heidi's Arrest Is the Talk of Tinseltown : Vice: Celebrities are rushing to help or distance themselves from alleged madam to the stars.

August 01, 1993|SHAWN HUBLER and JAMES BATES | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

No wonder California was in the poorhouse, she wisecracked after the arrest--they had sent three police agencies and two canines to nail a 115-pound party girl. The cops leaped from her shrubbery as she was taking out the trash. "LAPD!" they barked. "Which one of you is Heidi Fleiss?"

It surprised her that they had to ask. Everyone who was anyone in Hollywood knew Heidi. Gliding right in to the best booths at Jack Nicholson's place, the Monkey Bar. Clubbing with Billy Idol and Peter Sellers' daughter, Victoria. Hobnobbing with Robert Evans, the producer of "Chinatown." And wasn't it at Fleiss' house that they held that bash for Mick Jagger?

And now what a ruckus her arrest has raised.

She's not an actress, not a director, not even a producer, but she has surely been a player in this town. Most of the summer, her case has captivated the entertainment industry on both coasts and ignited speculation--lists of celebrity clients, heads rolling at studios, a mysterious tape-recording that names names.

For although formal charges have yet to be filed, police say that Fleiss, the 27-year-old daughter of a prominent pediatrician, has for the last three years filled a time-honored niche: madam to the stars.

Within a week of Fleiss' arrest--according to her, her friends and a tape-recording of her phone conversations--four major producers had called directly to express their condolences. Eight more producers and entertainment industry executives had friends call on their behalf. Six big-name actors checked in, as did an international financier, a Sunset Strip rock impresario, a Texas real estate heir and a Beverly Hills real estate agent calling on behalf of an Italian multimillionaire who, for sentimental reasons, wanted to buy Fleiss' $1.6-million Benedict Canyon home.

Some called out of friendship. Others, Fleiss said, were concerned that the names in her big black book may come out when she goes to court Aug. 9. "A lot of people are nervous," one well-known producer said. "She . . . fixes everybody up (and) there are a lot of married people in this town getting some booty."

As long as there has been a Hollywood, there has been a Hollywood madam. But rarely has one arrest offered such a ready window into the world whose unspoken motto has been "discretion, discretion, discretion."

"I have warned her, you cannot mention johns, not even privately--it ruins careers," sighed Elizabeth (Madam Alex) Adams, whose 20-year reign as Beverly Hills madam ended with her arrest in 1988 and who has known Fleiss for at least the last five years.

But, from Fleiss' standpoint, the potential for leaks of her client list could be a benefit.

Two well-known producers, according to a tape-recording of one of Fleiss' phone conversations that she confirmed, have anted up several thousand dollars apiece toward her legal bills. Meanwhile, two other producers and a screenwriter have inquired about the rights to "The Heidi Fleiss Story."

"It's self-explanatory," said screenwriter Matt Tabak, who called Fleiss to offer his help and ask for a 30-day option, minimum $300,000 on her end.

"How does someone go from being a nice Jewish girl whose father is a doctor to being arrested as an alleged Beverly Hills madam? How does that happen? It's gotta be an amazing story."

*

She was raised in a Spanish-style home in affluent Los Feliz, the third of six children born to Dr. Paul Fleiss and his now ex-wife, Elissa, an elementary schoolteacher.

Success ran in the family. Dr. Fleiss lectured at UCLA's School of Public Health. Elissa Fleiss specializes in teaching gifted children. Their eldest daughter is a veterinarian. Their elder son is in medical school.

But Heidi--although charming and popular--was somewhat less than a model student. Pressed to earn straight A's at John Marshall High School, she found herself unable or unwilling to compete.

"I was always in the classroom staring at the blue sky, thinking, 'Gotta go, gotta go'," the green-eyed brunette said. "After a while, I hardly went to school at all. I'd cut class and go to the beach or the racetrack."

Hoping to challenge her, her parents enrolled Fleiss at the local parochial high school, Immaculate Heart, but she flunked out after one semester, school officials said. By her senior year, she had become so alienated that she dropped out, telling her parents she wanted to get a GED and start college early.

But that summer, there was an automobile accident. Fleiss was driving, and her sister was injured, nearly losing an arm. The guilt, her family said, sent her into a tailspin. "It was July 10, 1984," said her sister, Shana, 26, "and after it happened, it changed everyone's lives."

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