Heidi, take note: Ms. Barrows instructs

January 24, 1994|By Brenda Herrmann | Brenda Herrmann,Chicago Tribune

Heidi Fleiss is awaiting trial on charges of operating a Hollywood call-girl ring. Whatever the outcome, don't be surprised to one day find Ms. Fleiss teaching a course -- at UCLA, perhaps -- on how to be a professional escort, or how to run an escort service.

It could happen -- look at Sydney Biddle Barrows.

She was the woman who shocked Manhattan society in 1984 when she was busted for running the most successful escort service in the Big Apple. A socialite in good standing who could trace her ancestry to the Pilgrims, Ms. Barrows was dubbed the "Mayflower Madam."

That became the title of her best-selling autobiography and of a 1987 TV movie with Candice Bergen in the title role. There followed the lecture and comedy circuits (which she jokingly referred to as her first "standup job"), and another book, "Mayflower Manners," detailing proper etiquette for situations Emily Post would deem too indelicate -- bedside manners, you might say.

On Feb. 2, Ms. Barrows will be in Chicago teaching a course at the Discovery Center on "How to Get a Job as an Escort (or Start and Run an Escort Service)."

She also will be offering tips and tricks for keeping your man during a "Girls Only" lecture Feb. 1 at the Discovery Center.

"It's a little unusual, but we like to offer a wide variety of topics," said Susan Johns, assistant to the director at the Discovery Center. "We promote the course, not necessarily the topic."

It's all perfectly legal, at least in Illinois.

"In some states, such as California, there is a pandering law and they would consider my class as encouraging someone to be a prostitute," Ms. Barrows said. In those states, Ms. Barrows cannot teach a class on "How to Be an Escort" but she can talk autobiographically.

Ms. Barrows has taught the class in Cincinnati, Boston and New York. She still lives in Manhattan and that's where she was during a phone interview that began with her answering questions curtly.

"Why do I teach these courses? Because it pays," she said. "No matter how good your book does, you can't live for eight years off it."

The course brochure promises that a student will learn:

* How to become a rich and successful escort.

* Whether escorts must have sex with their dates.

* What an escort gives a client that his wife doesn't.

* What type of man seeks an escort and why.

"I provide this information mainly for the women because it's the women who are always being taken advantage of in this situation," Barrows said. "With my tips, women who have already decided to become escorts can maintain their dignity and safety."

So, tell us Sydney, what's it really like? Of course, you were never an escort -- you were the madam -- but what did your girls tell you?

"It's good money," Ms. Barrows said. "It can be very glamorous, if you're working for a top-level service. TV will show you street girls to make people think something terrible will happen to you if you're a prostitute. But being a street girl is so completely different -- you have to make that distinction.

"It's fun!" she added, sounding more enthusiastic and a bit naughty. "You meet wonderful guys -- women would pay $5,000 to a dating service just to meet these men. They are names you'd recognize. What's wrong with having bottles of Dom Perignon and fabulous conversation for $1,000 a night?

"I look at all the women who sleep with men on the first date and think, that's essentially all this is. In fact, this is safer. The men are screened, they are required to practice safe sex and there's someone watching out for you and calling to check on you every hour."

Of course, there is a downside.

"You get used to making fabulous money and it's very difficult to go back into the real world," Ms. Barrows said. "You get too old -- youth is certainly a factor. As well, girls get tired of acting. It becomes a strain to always be the perfect date."

Not every young woman with the desire can become a highly paid escort.

"First, you can only go as high as your looks will take you," Ms. Barrows said. "And you have to be intelligent, fun and easy to be with because even with beauty, if you're not bright enough to entertain a man for a whole evening, you can only work for the lower agencies. Guys don't keep a girl for several hours if she's not nice, fun and personable."

And the girls have to be groomed just so.

"No heavy makeup -- that's very stereotypical of hookers," Ms. Barrows said. "You want a fairly simple hairstyle, something that can be touched -- not something teased and sprayed.

"And every girl must have a pedicure," Ms. Barrows noted, emphatically.

In running an escort service, Ms. Barrows said, it's important "to have something for everybody. Asian girls were incredibly popular, followed by Scandinavians. Redheads were the hardest book. And every man asks for blonds."

What kind of men hire escorts?

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