Getting to Know a Gold Coast Madam

Getting to Know a Gold Coast Madam
Rose Laws and me photo/Sharon Woodhouse

It wasn’t until page 180 of Gold Coast Madam that I found a South Loop connection to my new best friend, the famous Gold Coast madam Rose Laws.  But it was there.

“In the 90s we had a three-bedroom penthouse apartment with a large balcony at River City, 800 S. Wells Street.  This very recognizable, curvy building on the Chicago River was practically a city within itself.  Inside the building there was a grocery store, pharmacy, dry cleaners, doctor’s office, gym.  Almost anything you could ever need was conveniently right there.  We had a really talented and hardworking girl at this apartment.  When she had dates with men, they never wanted to leave when their hour was up.  We made a deal with her to keep  the other girls in line.  She also did the laundry and helped the maid clean.  She was sort of a house mom, if you will, and stayed six months.  She would take two days off a week so she could explore the city.  She loved the arrangement and it worked out well for us too.  Everything was fine in River City until some girls solicited the valet help downstairs.  Needless to say we were thrown out of the building.”

So I exaggerate when I say Rose is my best friend.  Although at one time, we were sort of neighbors.  River City is a mere hop, skip and jump from my home at Roosevelt and State.  I’ve been there many times and have always admired the Bertrand Goldberg concoction of a building.  One of the quirks?  Many of the units’ windows face inward and over an enclosed atrium, nary a bit of fresh air to be had.

Rose and I met just once, in fact–at a book signing thrown for her at Nisei Lounge at Newport and Sheffield last Sunday.  I’d been reading her book and wanted to meet her in person.  She’s 78-years-old now.  And what a life she’s had!  The book is quite interesting and I highly recommend it.

Laws was born in rural Tennessee. You would be hard-pressed not to call her a “hillbilly.”  Her father was no good, very mean, had plenty of non-secret girlfriends and didn’t support the family.  Her mother was long-suffering.  Rose married an abusive husband who she met while he was serving in the military.  She had five kids in quick succession; her husband beat her but he didn’t drink or cheat.  She left him.  Her kids ended up in an orphanage and in foster care.  And for all practical purposes, Rose used her own sexuality–and the sexuality of others to make a lot of money, get her kids back and do right by her family.

The men in her life couldn’t wait to shower her with cash, many simply because they liked her, felt kind of sorry for her or just considered her a fun friend.  Her long-term romantic relationships were often like long-term business partnerships, the terms of which she proposed as soon as she set her sights on someone she thought would get it.  More often than not, she was right.  They got it.

Her journey through life put her in the same social whirl as many famous mobsters–some named, some not.  At a certain point, Rose leveled with her kids–four boys and a girl–about how she made a living and to one degree or another, they accepted it all and even helped the family business thrive in one way or another.

Rose has a cute way of talking about her own sex life here and there throughout the book, which she wrote with writer Dianna Harris.  The sexy  twinkle in Laws’ eye jumps out of her words–and right off the page.

Rose got in big trouble twice.  When the state came down on her the first time in 1988, she didn’t serve any time.  But when the feds came-a-calling in 2002, she ended up in federal prison.  She tried engaging in a number of legitimate businesses throughout her life but nothing seemed to turn out right.  Only being “an agent,” as she likes to say, worked for her.

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