As told to Robert B. Griffith. Guaranteed good read. Not your usual story about a prostitute of fame or a street hooker. Vickie Star grew up on a Missouri farm during the Great Depression and at the ripe age of sixteen
moved to San Francisco where her life change inexorably. She grew to become a well-known madam who went through her own hell on this one involved machine guns on the SFO Bay Bridge and rattlesnakes in the Nevada desert.
The DEATH VALLEY MADAM
As Told To
Robert B. Griffith
When Vickie Star contacted me to help her write her life's story she had already retired to northern California, where she lived in a comfortable house that she declared, "Is the first house I ever owned that wasn't a brothel." She also had money in the bank and her retirement pretty well set in place.
I had never "visited" a prostitute nor had I any intentions of doing so. But there I was, heading out to visit a well-known madam who started her career in the California Bay Area. By career end she was recognized as The Death Valley Madam, in of all places, Death Valley. Needless to say, I didn't know what to expect.
Vickie, who's given name was Goldie, was older than I was by about eleven years. When she answered her door I was stunned by her outgoing and accepting personality. I hadn't even gotten through the door when I felt we'd been friends for years. In that regard she was amazing.
She lived alone but quickly introduced two friends who were visiting her for the week. Each of them had spent lifetimes as prostitutes and all three appeared to be as happy as the ladies I'd ever met at any country club.
Before getting further along here, let me explain that during my Hollywood writing and filming career, I had worked on a documentary about the dirty side of life in Hollywood. The show was directed and produced by a very good friend. We were each a former Marine and that alone brings some men together as brothers even if they didn't know each other before. But Pat and I did know each other and when he called and said his documentary was to be about child hookers, I hesitated until he explained why the film "had to be done." We all knew where those children came from, and how they'd dropped out of sight and into their dark world along Santa Monica, and Hollywood boulevards. Now, we had a chance to expose the problem.
I nearly got killed doing it and not by a random accident. Instead, some of the subjects were themselves violent. The subjects we filmed weren't always young people who'd been kidnapped into prostitution or dealing with drugs, but more often the pimps and drug lords themselves and they weren't exactly friendly. The young people were the documentary's subjects, but the perverted criminals continually upstaged them.
West Los Angeles and Hollywood were, and still are a hotbed of nightstalkers who prey on others like wild animals in search of lower beings for their food. Young people from around the country who hop a bus to L.A. looking to fit into the motion picture world are their targets. The pimps meet them at the bus or train station (most can't afford to fly), and lead them away. In other words they kidnap them, drug them, then put them into a nightstalker life of male or female prostitution that would horrify you.
Prostitution is rampant in Los Angeles. The L.A. police can barely keep tabs of it simply because there are more gangs and drug dealers and prostitutes - and other street criminals than they have officers or budget to conrol or stop them. You can easily learn more about the rampant dangers on Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood with a search on Google. Additionally, more than 50,000 hispanic gang members alone roam the streets of L.A. with thousands of Asians, blacks, Russians, white gangs, and others joining in on the violence. Think about that? Multicultural bad guys actually control night-life in Los Angeles. L.A. has as many cultures running the streets as the world seems to have trying to take over whole countries.
Santa Monica and Hollywood boulevards segue into complete character changes around sunset every evening. The conversion from day time shoppers and business types to nightstalkers is startling and we filmed it all.
So, when I traveled to visit with Vickie Star, I was picturing one of those street hookers we'd recorded on tape.
That was not at all the case. Vickie appeared more like the ubiquitous lady next door than the human debris we'd witnessed in L.A.
Her story doesn't "name names," nor does it fracture the fiber of society she worked in. For her, prostitution was a job and one she steadfastly claims she liked. When I met her she had definite socio-political viewpoints, spoken freely as any other attentive citizen might, and she was adamantly straightforward and honest.
After we conversed that first day she wasn't sure she wanted me to write her tale. "You're a man," she exclaimed. "And you ain't ever been in a whorehouse. What are you going to know about all this?"
I explained as succinctly and straightforward as I could that it was her story that I came to write about and not a how-to book concerning prostitution or being a madam. She fell silent for a few moments until her friend Ginger said, "He sounds fine to me."
So, I spent the next six months interviewing Vickie and recording every session. During that time we had discovered that indeed we had met many years before. We met in her brothel in Ash Meadows, which was in Death Valley on the Nevada side of the border.
I had not gone there seeking a prostitute. It's a lot funnier than any fiction could be since nobody would believe a fiction writer who'd come up with this one.
I was stationed with the Marines at Barstow, California and got to know some of the locals. I was also a licensed pilot at that time. One of the locals, who I won't name here, wanted to know if I'd fly with him in his small Stinson aircraft to Ash Meadows and back. I'd fly it back after his meeting, which is how he described his upcoming session. He claimed that such "meetings" wore him out and that he might not fly back safely without help. For me, any break on a weekend from my duties at the base, which started at 0400 every morning and went through 1700 hours in the afternoon, was accepted.
So, on a bright and typically hot day we took off from the small Barstow airstrip (where a school now sits) and headed for a place I'd never heard of before.
Death Valley didn't earn its name from being the friendliest place in the world to humankind. It is truly desolate and defintely without human life support. The scorpions, lizards and snakes seem to do well, but after that, forget it. Except of course for Vickie Star who thrived there for a long time.
We flew over a small uninhabited old west town called Shoshone, and then started down for the gravel runway at Ash Meadows Sky Ranch. Sounds big doesn't it? Not a chance. No other aircraft were at this dot on the map and neither did I yet see the Ash Meadows brothel owned by none other than our Vickie Star. She called the Ash Meadows brothel, Vickie Star's Ranch.
Soon after stopping the engine an old Ford stationwagon showed up. We got into it and met our driver who I quickly realized was a salty desert rat with an immense knowledge of desert life, but not much else. I don't think he'd owned a razorblade in years and certainly the area was short on bath water.
He pulled up in front of the "lodge." There was one small sign over the front door that was so weathered by the rays of the never-ending blazing sun that I wasn't able to read it or possibly, I just disregarded it.
When we walked into the place I immediately spotted the cafe type counterop with stools in front of it and a sign over the cooktop on the other side. Hamburger twenty-five cents, fries fifteen and a Coke for a dime. Good, I was hungry. When we sat at the stools the redhead behind the counter came over and asked, "What'll you have?"
I glanced to my friend, shrugged and said, "Burger, fries and a Coke."
Laughter came from behind me. I whirled around to see five women, each in a bikini, each sitting in a posed sort of way. I still hadn't caught on that I was sitting in the "lounge" area of a Nevada brothel.
My friend pointed to one of the women and said, "Her."
The young lady stood, came over, grabbed him by his hand and led him out of the place through a back door to what turned out to be a shed or "cottage" that stood in a line with a few others.
"Rare or well done," the redhead asked with a deep voice that carried a bit of laughter with it. She was teasing me the way she teased everyone.
"Oh my God," I muttered. I was very young and in their minds probably very innocent. I begged off, bowed out of there and walked back to the airstrip hoping things would move quickly so I could get into the air and far away.
When Vickie and I chatted about that event during our interviews many years later, she howled with laughter. She claimed that she remembered it because that was the only time in her long career anything like that ever happened. I believed her.
Vickie's career began in a small Missouri farm town. Everything was as we understand it for farmers during the Great Depression. Grow your own food, cut your own firewood, use the outhouse. As to getting to school she had to take a bus.
And that bus ride would eventually change her whole life. The schoolbus driver Otto, would set her on a course she couldhn't imagine at the age of sixteen. Only a year later her "professional" turning-out took place in northern California.
This is a story of that career as told by Vickie. No fiction exists in this story, it's all very real. As we know, our lives aren't always pieced together as well as a good novel might be, or even that of a great historic work, but I think we put this one together quite well. Vickie's professional life began in San Francisco and ended in Death Valley. She started without a dime and ended with enough money to live on in retirement through her eighties.
At this writing, she is still alive. Considering that she was born in 1923, and that she worked exclusively as a prostitute, that's an impressive record.
- Robert B. Griffith
Arrowhead Classics has been online nearly since there's been an Internet. Our bookstore was an offshoot of our graphics house, which was founded in 1965 and is still in business. Arrowhead was created in 1992, first went online in 1993 and since 1995 has operated as an independent wholly-owned company. Our basic business has always been book publishing. However, since the introduction of print on demand (POD) and eBooks, we've added the ability to market books at lower prices than found in brick and mortar stores and we try to beat the prices of Amazon.com. When we can't, we link to them for you. Most of our books are published in lithographic printshops, a few are print on demand and all are printed in the USA.