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Gold Coast Madam: The Secret Life of Rose…

Gold Coast Madam: The Secret Life of Rose Laws

by Rose Laws

Other authors: Dianna Harris (Author)

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Rose Laws began her life in Tennessee, in a town so small it could hardly be called a town. She was the ninth baby born to a family that knew little more than poverty and struggles, where if you did not kill it or grow it you wouldn't eat, if you did not sew it you had no clothes, and if you did not work you were beaten. Her father was a ne'er-do-well who hardly provided for his family and was more likely found with another woman until he tired of her and returned home, only to leave again. Her mother was a "very religious, church-going woman" who somehow managed to hold the family together and provide for them. At school Rose was taught by the same people who dated her various family members and it was there that she learned to use her wiles to get her way. Her upbringing was difficult and a hardscrabble life, yet it was filled with the love of her family and some wonderful memories. Unfortunately, this part of Rose's story is all too short and the more interesting part of her life.

After leaving Tennessee, Rose ends up in Chicago married to a brutal man and pregnant "eight times in eight years". She eventually leaves her abusive marriage with her five surviving children but loses them when it's determined that she cannot provide for them. Finding that she can get whatever she wants via sex, she becomes a prostitute, ostensibly (and a sign of incredibly bad judgment) to get her children back. This line of work proves to be too lucrative to give up once her children are returned and she continues to "play", as she calls it. Eventually she becomes a madam, including owning a hotel that rents rooms by the hour and several apartments on the "Gold Coast" of Chicago (hence the title "Gold Coast Madam"). This is the story she tells in sometimes unrelenting and uncomfortable detail. It seems as though every man she met wanted her and she rarely said no, especially if there was something she could get whether it was a hot water heater, a bank loan, or that hotel.

In her later years, Rose sat down in front of a tape recorder over the course of several weeks and talked about every part of her life that she could remember. Her "co-writer", Dianna Harris, has done little more than transcribe these recorded memories and divide them into chapters. The editorial decision to tell her story in this 'stream of consciousness' fashion is akin to sitting next to someone with a good memory and plenty of time who will not shut up. Perhaps it could have benefited from the occasional 'third person' point of view, e.g. "Rose and her children then moved to blah-blah where she blah-blah...". As it is, this way of telling of her story does get tedious. And, of course, we have really no way to verify which parts of her story are true, ("some names have been changed to protect the innocent" and all that) there are some occurrences that will leave you shaking your head in disbelief - meeting Elvis at a gas station? providing 'services' for almost all of the important mobsters in Chicago and the Chicago Bears football team? - there are parts that ring true, sad but true.

After serving time in prison (she pleaded guilty to "conspiring to conduct and participate directly or indirectly in the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering", apparently what the Feds call 'running a prostitution business') Rose has retired to Florida where she reminisces and is "spending my days like many seniors here". Her children did not follow her in the 'business'.

Generally, it's easy to assign a book to a genre or two. This one, however, is confounding. Although it is an autobiography, any other genre does not easily come to mind. If reading about prostitutes and madams sounds interesting, then this is the book you are looking for. ( )
1 vote TheFlamingoReads | Apr 1, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Growing up in abject poverty in Tennessee, Rose Laws endured countless obstacles on her way to success. She struggled to stay in school despite family tragedies, escaped the Tennessee backwoods through marriage. Then the marriage turned abusive and she had her children taken away to different orphanages. All this is prologue in Gold Coast Madam: the secret life of Rose Laws, by Rose Laws with Dianna Harris.

Laws fought to get her children back, discovering along the way her ability to nurture connections and to provide the movers and shakers of Chicago with, shall we say, entertainment. While it sounds salacious, Laws chronicles her dealings with the police, maintaining a hotel property, and issues with clients and girls. Despite these obstacles, it seems like everyone enjoyed Laws's girls. These individuals included members of organized crime, politicians, actors, sports figures, and, of course, the very wealthy.

Gold Coast Madam boasts a lot of stories about sex, but it also an unlikely primer about class in America. Laws finds financial success in an illegal business, thriving in a marginalized culture akin to women succeeding in sideshows, burlesque, and roller derby. Nature abhors a vacuum and, by the same token, people will go where the money is. Unlike "streetwalkers" who solicit johns at cheap rates in sketchy neighborhoods, Laws facilitated meetings between her girls and johns. Instead of street corners, the girls meet the johns at a predetermined meeting space, usually a hotel that Laws owned, and paid upwards of $400 an hour. Laws operated out of Chicago's prestigious Lake Point Towers until a sensational bust in 2002 when her property was raided by the FBI.

A note about the ratings below: It isn't often that I've rated a book with such a wild disparity in numbers. The lower number is for the general reader. I rated it rather low because, despite its fascinating content, the writing is pedestrian and flat. That said, Rose Laws isn't a professional writer and not an acolyte of Gordon Lish's "cult of the sentence." But Gold Coast Madam represents a boon to readers interested in Chicago history, women's history, and other diverse topics, including class, gender relations, sex work, and the urban/rural divide. Laws isn't a professional writer, but the fact she wrote down her life story is invaluable to researchers, historians, and specialists searching for first-hand testimony. Historians, like lawyers, are always searching for evidence. This evidence comes in two flavors: primary documents (like this book, first-hand accounts, letters, etc.) and second documents (monographs, academic texts, history book, oral history collections, etc.). One builds a secondary document from either one or many primary documents. When confronted with a lurid assertion, allegations of international conspiracy, or an unpopular interpretation of a well-known event, I leave you with this nugget: Consider the source. Who said it? When did he or she say it? What evidence does he or she have to support their claims? Is cherry picking involved? Does the author's bias distort or edify the interpretation? And these questions breed more questions until the evidence is picked clean like a carcass in desert.

To sum things up, Rose Laws isn't a great writer, so don't plan on picking this up on a whim. If you're interested in Chicago history, especially its seamy side, make sure to read Gold Coast Madam.

Out of 10/6.0 for general readers; 8.5 for fans of Chicago history, the history of prostitution, and those seeking firsthand accounts of the sex industry.



http://driftlessareareview.com/2013/03/22/cclap-fridays-gold-coast-madam-by-rose... ( )
  kswolff | Mar 22, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Rose Laws was known as the Gold Coast Madam from her days in Chicago running a high-class prostitution "agency", and this is her memoir, after she has been forced into retirement from the business through various arrests and jail time.

This is definitely an interesting read, especially because so much of it takes place in Chicago. Rose Laws' life was full of crazy twists and turns, and events I doubt very many other people have experienced. I did feel that some of the events were so out there and unbelievable that they took me out of the book wondering if they could be real, but I don't doubt that Ms. Laws is telling the truth in her memoir. It's just such a crazy tale, and that's what definitely makes the reader keep reading. The writing style is merely okay, but the story is fascinating. ( )
  seasonsoflove | Mar 9, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Reading this book was like sitting down and talking to the author. Very interesting subject matter, fascinating actually, but there were times when I wondered if the story was embellished somewhat. Perhaps not, though; I've never been in any kind of situation like hers to know what it would really be like. It kept me glued to the page until I finished reading it. Anyway, for all of the different and difficult circumstances she went through, it's amazing that she came out of it as well as she has. Honestly, I think it would be great to sit down and talk to Rose Laws in person. She certainly has lots of things to talk about! I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. ( )
  Rob.Larson | Feb 15, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Gold Coast Madam is a book about Rose Laws a Chicago madam written by Dianna Harris and Rose Laws. If you are interested in Chicago history this book will be of interest. After reading the book I had the feeling that Rose would still be working as a madam and while she said she got her start in the field for her children I found myself not believing that as the reason but the "acceptable excuse" when in reality is that she loved the notoriety and being on the fringe of acceptablibility. Didn't find her at all sympathetic but her story was an interesting one. ( )
  mmoj | Jan 21, 2013 |
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Rose Lawsprimary authorall editionscalculated
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To my children, my family, so they will know my reasons why. - R.L.

To my late mom, Rosemary, and my late dad, Dale, for everything they did to help me be who I am today. And to destiny and its amazing role in my life. - D.H.
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Chicago, 1988. I was 52 years old, 5'4 tall, and 130 pounds, with red hair and a 36DDD bust, enjoying dramatic Lake Michigan and skyline views from my 21st-floor apartment in the landmark Lake Point Towers building. I had never felt more alive. I was Chicago's reigning madam, providing $400 an hour call girls to Chicago's business owners, traders, lawyers, judges, politicians, mobsters, pro athletes, and Hollywood stars at addresses all over Chicago's downtown and Gold Coast.Vice was on their way up--the doorman had tipped me off. I started thinking back on my life, where I came from, and how I ever got to where I was now.I began life the youngest of nine on a primitive farm in the backwoods of Tennessee. Seeking to make my own way in the world I would meet and marry a man from Cicero, Illinois. Soon I was pregnant eight times in eight years, malnourished, and beaten--once nearly to death. That's when I left. When I recovered and returned for my five kids, I discovered they'd been put in a brutal orphanage. It took me years to get them back.God knows why I got into this business. It was to save my kids. But I chose to stay. I enjoyed it, I was good at it, and I'd still do it today if I could...From my earliest days as a hanky-panky entrepreneur in the 1960s--renting rooms by the hour at the Addison Motel--others took notice. Playboy, Penthouse, the Sybaris. My adventures took me to all over the Western Suburbs, to Atlanta, Savannah, and the Oak Brook Polo Fields, and eventually to the nightclubs, bars, yachts, and penthouses of Chicago's Gold Coast. I'd work in this business until 2002 when the FBI busted me and I served 17 months in federal prison.Now I'm retired, living in Florida, and spending my days like many seniors here, walking, playing with my grandchildren, going to church. Let me take you back to my days of juggling three sugar daddies, living and breathing sex, providing the city's elite with beautiful women, having loads of cash and tons of fun, and experiencing the joys and heartaches of a life on the edge, lived to its fullest.… (more)

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