Call Her Madam
Sex, Crime and Fun in Polly Adler’s New York
July 7, 2022
Digital

To call Polly Adler (1900-1962) the most famous madam of the Jazz Age does not do her justice. In those heady days between the world wars, she was one of New York’s most celebrated hostesses and an underworld icon. Her swinging parties and deluxe bordellos were patronized by some of the biggest names of the era – luminaries like Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Dorothy Parker, Milton Berle, Al Capone, Huey P. Long, and, it was rumored, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Even Al Hirschfeld, that broadminded boulevardier, admitted to stopping into Polly’s brothels on occasion. “From the parlor of my house I had a backstage, three-way view,” remembered Polly with pride. “I could look into the underworld, the half-world and the high.” Al Hirschfeld captured many of Polly’s pals in his illustrations from those years. This exhibit offers a sample of Hirschfeld’s drawings of the colorful characters who made up their mutual social circle. Polly...