Sunday 25 September 2016

The Happy Hooker on being happy ever after

The Happy Hooker, a between-the-sheets memoir by brothel owner and call girl Xaviera Hollander, was an overnight success when it was published in 1971. We discovered that the 72-year-old is still putting bums on beds - by running a B&B in Amsterdam

Published 10/08/2015 | 02:30

Happy days: Xaviera Hollander in 1975 in her heyday as a brothel-owner and self-proclaimed queen of kitsch.
Happy days: Xaviera Hollander in 1975 in her heyday as a brothel-owner and self-proclaimed queen of kitsch.
More recently, Xaviera with her husband Philip
Happy Hooker book cover

Xaviera Hollander still has a face full of divilment. Her waistline is wider and her blonde hair is now silvery-white, but those vulpine eyes still glimmer with mischief and that knowing smirk, which makes her look like she is about to divulge some deliciously wicked secret, is now permanently etched on her face.

  • Go To

It's more than 40 years since the release of her best-selling memoir The Happy Hooker: My Own Story, which charts her journey from promiscuous teenager to one of New York's best-known brothel owners at the tender age of 28.

The memoir was an erotic odyssey, jaw-dropping even by today's standards. Readers were privy to all manner of sexual hijinks, including orgies, S&M, and a memorable scene in which she joins the mile-high club with a stranger she is seated beside on a flight. With the clever positioning of a flimsy blanket, they pulled off the feat no less than three times before they were asked to fasten their seatbelts for landing.

Xaviera was arrested on several occasions and eventually deported back to Holland, but not before she gave evidence at the Knapp Commission, which investigated alleged police corruption and brown paper bag payments between brothel owners and police officers.

The scandal could have been the end of her, but she had other plans. She cannily parlayed the overnight infamy into a writing career, and The Happy Hooker was published in 1971. The book sold 6.6 million copies by mid-1973 (12 million copies in total) and Xaviera became a household name.

She has since swapped S&M for B&B. These days she runs a guesthouse on the south side of Amsterdam, which she says isn't unlike running a brothel. "Now I'm a Happy Booker," she quips.

Her clients tend to be curious, adventurous, and sometimes utterly oblivious to the fact that the lady of the house is the author of the book they used to smuggle out of their parents' bedroom. The TripAdvisor account for The Happy House B&B makes for particularly good reading.

If I were to write a TripAdvisor review, I would describe The Happy House as charming, relaxed and bohemian. The living-room harks back to the Seventies heyday of the self-proclaimed 'Queen of Kitsch'; the walls are lined with photographs and paintings of a younger Xaviera, and row upon row of bookshelves are dotted with figurines, miniature cars and watches collected by her husband Philip. Minimalists would baulk, but it's very homely.

Alongside bed and board, she occasionally runs talks and lectures on 'how to become a better lover'. These tend to be female-centric events, though Xaviera would prefer more gender parity. "They should bring their men," she pouts, "often selfish assholes."

I soon discover that Xaviera always has an afterthought. She thinks out loud and doesn't seem to have any filter. This makes her excellent company but a frustrating interviewee, as most of what comes out of her mouth is unprintable. The rest is gloriously unashamed. "I'm trysexual," she tells me. "I'll try anything".

She says she became a sex worker when she reasoned that she may as well get paid for doing what she enjoyed. Her specialty was S&M fetish, for which she could get up to $1,000 per hour. The more powerful the clients, the more they wished to be dominated. "It's actually very easy money," she explains. "You just tell a guy to 'get down on your f***ing knees and lick the floor'."

It would be fair to call Xaviera a sexologist, or a "penologist", as she prefers to be called. She authored a book called 69 Orgasmic Ways to Pleasure a Woman, and she wrote a sex advice column for Penthouse magazine for 35 years. In later years she embarked on a same-sex relationship with a poetess named Dia until Xaviera realised she was really a "closet heterosexual".

She gave up smoking marijuana years ago and has generally stayed away from alcohol and harder drugs. It's paid off - she has just turned 72 and still looks extraordinary. "I've never had anything done," she asserts, before looking up at the ceiling and adding, "Well, maybe a little eye-lift."

She says her natural looks set her apart from other call girls of her era, and allowed her to slip unnoticed into Park Avenue hotels. Her clients were in the upper echelons of society but she says she never flew first-class or collected diamonds.

A butler was her one concession to the luxury lifestyle. "I would go out with my butler - because he was carrying all the bags - at least once a week to the beauty counters of the department stores. I've lived quite thriftily with my money," she continues. "Mind you, I've made millions, maybe $5m, but it took me 40 years to go through it."

I wonder if she'd ever consider opening another brothel - she lives in Amsterdam after all. "No, not in this day and age, what with Aids," she answers. "We didn't even hardly use condoms."

Xaviera married her third husband, a Dutch man named Philip de Haan, in 2007. Her first ever question to him was, "Can you cook?" Philip, who is 10 years her junior, is now the resident chef at The Happy House B&B and her right-hand man for all other business. Her first husband was a postman, and for her the marriage had more to do with a green card than red hot passion. Her second husband was a Canadian antique dealer.

Did she ever fall in love with clients? "Of course. There was a banker who turned out to be married to the daughter of the bank. He wanted me to give it all up, so I did. But then he'd come by and watch like a hawk if I was doing anything other than him."

Her brothel had many A-list clients including Frank Sinatra - "cheap, crude and made the girls sign a document so that he couldn't be sued for paternity" - and Alfred Hitchcock, whose partiality at least proved that he was dedicated to the horror genre. "He got his kicks out of dressing up as a corpse, lying in a coffin heavily made up beyond recognition. He would terrify the girls by sitting bolt upright when they entered the room."

What about her Irish clients? Were they any use? "If they could hold their liquor better," she says. In The Happy Hooker she wrote that the Irish held the title of her most-high-spirited customers. She also found them to be quarrelsome and "not particularly selective about their girls".

The English, she says, "are not the best lovers . . . and, my God, usually they are so pale." She also notes that they "practise a kind of class consciousness, even in a brothel". Italians, Spanish and Latin Americans are "beasts in the bedroom", but she adds that Italians are very vain. "Italian women tell me that they have to wear their make-up day and night because their husbands never want to see them without it."

Jewish men were her favourite clients. She liked their sense of humour, even if their mother issues made them especially submissive. "Many of them seem to be in psychoanalysis with problems arising from a domineering mother or a Jewish American Princess wife who walks all over them."

Xaviera is as fascinated by sex as she is with the human psyche. The Happy Hooker wasn't all cheap thrills and titillation. There were shades of social anthropology too. It helps that she is relentlessly, almost sadistically, honest.

In one chapter she ponders the reasons for her nymphomaniacal behaviour when she travelled to South Africa in her early twenties. "Like any colonial situation where you belong to an over-indulged white ruling minority, pampered by servants indentured from the indigenous majority, boredom and irresponsibility inevitably set in."

She speaks seven languages and was named the best multilingual secretary in Holland while still in her teens. Was she really a Happy Hooker? Well, she's certainly smart enough to have known better.

Xaviera was born in Indonesia to Dutch Jewish parents. When the Japanese invaded the island, the "schweinhund Jews", including her parents and a newborn Xaviera, were imprisoned in an internment camp for the first two years of her life. Her father, who she adored, was a doctor, and Xaviera says his medical skills saved him from death. He wasn't exempt from torture, however, and was sometimes hung by his wrists from a tree.

She says she was 11 when she realised that "sex and love could mean two different things". She recognised that her parents were deeply in love, but remembers her father having a fling with one of his 24-year-old "sexpot" patients who was christened "the mustard girl" by her mother because she worked in a mustard factory.

Her father had a stroke in 1965 and he died shortly before she was deported from the US. He never found out about his daughter's career choice. Xaviera went on to form deep friendships and love affairs with "surrogate father figures" while her mother went on to live with a woman, although she preferred to use the term 'lady of companionship' rather than 'lesbian'.

Her upbringing is unravelled with a psychiatrist's eye in her last book, Child No More, a Jungian family drama that explores mother-daughter jealousy and the hero status of fathers. It's her proudest work but "it didn't sell because it hardly had any sex".

Xaviera never had children. She had two abortions and suffered an almost fatal ectopic pregnancy when she tried to conceive with her second husband. "I thought 'I'm the most sexual woman in the world and I can't have children!'"

Ovarian cancer followed and she had a total hysterectomy when she was 50. She'd like to lose some of the weight she gained after the hysterectomy, but she looks imposing rather than portly. The imperious get-up of black silk kaftan, kaleidoscopic scarf and a veil of gold eyeshadow helps.

"A psychiatrist once said 'you're the type of Second World War survivor who becomes a winner'," she reveals. "I survived and now I want to be a queen." She's had her dark days, though. "Financially, my whole world fell to pieces two years ago," she tells me. "I was suicidal and wanted to jump off a bridge."

This survival instinct has helped her reap every last cent out of her ventures. She's currently working on a triple omnibus called Wall Talk, which details the 40 years that she has lived in Holland and all the weird and wonderful characters that have worked and stayed at The Happy House B&B.

"I picked up someone from a poetry session, cleaned him up, scrubbed his toes and washed his hair. He turned out to be a chess genius, as well as a terrific poet."

Later, I notice a magnet on her filing cabinet that reads 'Normal People Worry Me'.

A documentary on Xaviera's life won awards on the film festival circuit in 2009, and she's currently working on a musical with a composer. A film adaptation of The Happy Hooker was released a few years after the book, with Lynn Redgrave playing the titular role. "She had my accent right, but she had the sex appeal of a toothpick." She would have preferred Julie Christie.

Xaviera was a theatre producer for 14 years, and travelled to Edinburgh every year to choose plays on everything from homophobic bullying to the life and times of Tallulah Bankhead. "I don't do it anymore - it's too tiring."

I'm not surprised that she opted to produce boundary-breaking works. She doesn't confront taboos so much as decimate them. She has been described as a sexual revolutionary and, judging by the fanmail that I read when I visited, she certainly helped many women overcome their sexual inhibitions. However, her book perpetuated, if not created, the Happy Hooker trope, although her story is the exception rather than the rule.

She has also been described as a radical feminist. She strikes me more as a radical anthropologist. Her entire existence is her field of study. She laughs when I put this to her. "Well, I sure did a lot of penetrating research."

Xaviera Hollander's Happy House B&B includes a loft and a garden chalet. It is close to the Rai conference centre and Museumplein. Rates from €110 to €200 and more information at xavierahollander.com/sleeper

Sunday Indo Living

Read More

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in this section