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And Now, Life Lessons From Heidi Herself

February 18, 1996|ROBIN ABCARIAN

I much prefer the Heidi Show to the O.J. Show.

Certainly, they share many elements: sex, tales of drug use, exploitation, legal travesties and rancid relationships. And, of course, neither shows the slightest sign of abating any time soon.

But with Heidi, there is no ultimate heartbreak. No one has been left motherless. No families grieve for what they can never have back. Heidi is instructional, but not in the sense of having to confront the social issues that have been known to cause Los Angeles to erupt in flames.

Heidi, you might say, is O.J. Lite.


Having just watched the stunningly funny British documentary "Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam," I can say with certainty that if you apply yourself to its study, the Heidi Show will yield many life lessons.

Among them:

* Everyone in Los Angeles is on the take. Or does it just seem that way? For my money (as it were), the most brilliant moment in the documentary is a shot of former Police Chief Daryl Gates pocketing the $1,500 filmmaker Nicholas Broomfield paid him to talk about the Fleiss case, then finding himself in the uncomfortable position of being forced to answer a question about his own brother, a prostitute and selective enforcement of vice laws.

* Hookers have hearts of gold? I don't think so. Former Heidi girl Victoria Sellers (yes, her again) talks about how close she and Heidi were, then calls her pal "a disgusting ice-cold bitch."

And this from the infamous Madam Alex: "I like Heidi." She then describes her young rival as "not even a 5. . . . Heidi had no style, she wore raggedy jeans and her hair looked like it hadn't been washed in ages. . . . Men liked her, though."

* Love and videotape go together like Faye Resnick and friendship. Ivan Nagy, the unctuous B film director and convicted bookmaker with whom Heidi has an obsessive love/hate thang, sells Broomfield a videotape. The tape, says Nagy, who testified against Heidi and who she claims is among those responsible for her arrest, shows some of the "emotional" moments the couple shared. Heidi is on the phone, transacting business, as Nagy's voice is heard off camera, cajoling: "Come on, Heidi, show me your [body parts]. Come on, Heidi, show me your [a different body part]." It's one of those moving, tender moments, I guess, between a panderer and her bookie.

* You can't be too rich, but you can be too stupid. Heidi boasted far and wide about the huge amounts of money pouring in through her call girl ring--she speaks in the documentary of $40,000 one-night fantasies. ("Hey, it's hard work," she explains.)

I don't know about you, but as I sat down to figure out my income taxes this week, I thought of Heidi Fleiss failing to declare her true income, letting you and me subsidize the upkeep of the streets outside her Benedict Canyon home . . . subsidize her share of taxes for the Fire Department, for the welfare system, for the space program. OK, I got carried away.

Anyway, this is why, even as Heidi took to the airwaves last week to promote her pay-per-view nude beauty pageant and to complain about the gross unfairness of the federal prison stretch she faces for income tax evasion, money laundering and conspiracy (up to seven years, to be announced in April), I could not summon much sympathy. We paid ours, girlfriend. You shoulda paid yours.

* Military academies: not such a bad idea after all. I imagine Heidi's parents have spent a good deal of time agonizing over their liberal child-rearing ways. Paul Fleiss, her father, has been sentenced to three years' probation, to pay a $50,00 fine and to 625 hours of community service for conspiring to hide profits from his daughter's call girl ring. Elissa Fleiss, her mother, says she can't quite explain how her daughter went from upper-middle-class rebel to Hollywood madam, but theorizes it may have something to do with the '60s being a time that "did not stress personal responsibility." Oh, that, and "bad company."

* There's always a class of people who will be exploited. Actually, that's a quote of Heidi's from the documentary. It's an excerpt from a phone conversation she has with Nagy, explaining in her inimitably snarky way why Madam Alex and others were willing to give Nagy a cut of their profits when she was not.

This is such an unwittingly dead-on description of Heidi's own life that I had to shake my head with an emotion, I dare say, approaching pity.

I can't quite buy the notion that prostitution involves no victims, but certainly the Hollywood Madam was subjected to more prosecution than she deserves.

She is at the mercy of forces so much bigger than she, so much more evil, that her legal travails might be funny but for the fact that she's going to prison, even as that other famous defendant, as she points out indignantly, is off playing golf.

* Robin Abcarian's column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Readers may write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Life & Style, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.

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