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Fleiss Case Opens Window on World of L.A. Call Girls : Prostitution: Three women talk of easy money made from the rich. And of the loneliness they often feel.

December 13, 1993|SHAWN HUBLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

And the colorful Vince Conti, a photographer and actor who used to play Sgt. Rizzo on the TV series, "Kojak" and who last month was sentenced to three years in prison for felony pandering. Conti, 63, was among the better-known players on the Hollywood underground. Unlike a madam, according to court records and prostitutes, he never demanded a cut; instead, he fixed up good friends who then did him favors, such as a European dignitary who gave him a studio on his Beverly Hills estate.

In an interview, the photographer acknowledged that he often introduced aspiring actresses to his friends, but chalked it up to his photography business--which, court records say, has included portfolios for Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Demi Moore.

"I run in a pretty good echelon of people, and got pretty girls around all the time," Conti said. "They come to my studio, and I say, 'Joe! Say hello ta Maryann!' What consenting adults do, I got no control over that."

It was in this spirit, the actress said, that Conti introduced her to a former California politician and Conti's dignitary friend. Soon, hooking was her only source of income, aside from an occasional bit part.

Her nights were booked up with club-hopping and "dates." She lived in a cocaine-fueled world where the day began at noon and didn't end until 4 a.m., where you could blow $1,000 on a dress and earn it all back the next day. In this world, she was "Sheena" or "Tiffany" or sometimes just a body with no name at all.

The only problem was bridging the dry spells, because things tended to backfire when she tried to rustle up clients of her own. Like the time in Palm Springs when her friend set the two of them up with a fat, loudmouthed producer of professional wrestling videos.

What a debacle, she recalled. They were expecting $5,000 in exchange for a day of sex and a quarter-ounce of cocaine. Instead, the man hogged the drugs, slobbered all over them, made them get down on all fours and repeat, "We love being your whores," then tried to pay them with a rubber check and a fistful of expired credit cards.

Furious, they showed up at his mansion and told his wife, with all the dignity they could muster, that they represented a businessman to whom he owed money.

"She just laughed," the young woman recalled. "She said 'If you're one of those girls he takes out to Palm Springs, you'll have to get in line. He's been in and out of (drug) rehab for a year, and he doesn't have a cent.' "

Times like that made her miss her old life, when she could date and have boyfriends like other women her age. She had developed this phobia: She couldn't fall asleep next to a man.

Then one day she had a revelation. She was shopping at the Broadway when she saw an old client with his wife and child. Although their eyes locked, neither spoke. Such things had happened before, but for some reason, she was disturbed.

"It leaves you wondering what's it really like to, you know, make love? What's it like not to put on an act? It was nice to have someone treat you with respect and buy you things and take you for rides in his (Ferrari) Testarossa . . . but it catches up with you emotionally."

These are the issues she hopes will be addressed if, someday, her life story is made into a script.

"It's a story about reality, not a fairy tale," she said. "It'll make you laugh. It'll make you cry."

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