Anything Goes In Amsterdam

Xaviera Hollander, the Best-selling Author Of ‘The Happy Hooker,’ Has Found A New Pleasure: Producing Theater

By Eric Marx

Published April 09, 2004, issue of April 09, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

As Xaviera Hollander spoke to an admiring crowd of fans, friends and former lovers at New York’s Museum of Sex recently, it was clear she hadn’t lost her ardor for spinning titillating tales of sexual dalliance and decadence.

These days, however, the former Penthouse columnist and author of the best-selling tell-all book about her life as a madam — “The Happy Hooker” — is just as likely to be found playing the role of Happy Booker, having redirected her talent for entertaining into a burgeoning production company specializing in Jewish theater.

“I’m the main Jewish producer in Holland,” said Hollander, rattling off some of the productions she’s brought to Amsterdam, including “Sholom Aleichem — Now You’re Talking!” by Saul Reichlin, author Lisa Lipkin’s concentration camp stories, “What Mother Never Told Me,” and George Kreisler’s “Tonight: Lola Blau.”

“We had a group of people from Indonesia and the Jewish community in Amsterdam together when Lisa Lipkin first began presenting her shows in my house, and that’s when I knew I could do this,” Hollander said.

Now 60, Hollander is no stranger to transformation — having followed a career path that’s led her from secretary to madam to writer-lecturer — but just how did she find herself behind the scenes of her own Jewish theater? Now that’s a story.

Visiting from her home of 22 years- in Amsterdam’s Gold Coast neighborhood, Hollander took a break from cruising the Big Apple for financing and promising productions long enough to sit down with the Forward. Over drinks at a friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side, she spoke of her theater company, her childhood, her new love interest (a retired schoolteacher in White Plains, N.Y.), growing older, changing sexual norms and the recent revelation of Janet Jackson’s breast (“Americans need to grow up”).

With 18 books under her belt —“Fiesta of the Flesh,” “Xaviera Goes Wild!” and “Xaviera’s Supersex” among them — Hollander doesn’t lack confidence or shy away from self-promotion. A frequent guest on television talk shows in Europe and here in America — Larry King, Sally Jessy Raphael and Selina Scott have all welcomed her — she has given lectures for the World Congress of Sexology in locales as far-flung as Jerusalem and Mexico City.

The night before her chat with the Forward, she said, she cornered one of the producers of “I Am My Own Wife,” the Broadway play about an East German transvestite, backstage at the Lyceum Theatre. “It’s a haunting play, and I want it,” Hollander said, spinning with excitement and insisting that nothing would stop her from bringing the production to Amsterdam.

As unfettered as she is today — jokes aside — Hollander was born in captivity, spending her first three years in a Japanese prison camp in Indonesia, where her father, a Jewish psychiatrist, had run a hospital before the war.

Hollander’s mother was not Jewish, which left the young girl caught between two worlds. “We suffered for being considered Jews, but if we wanted compensation after the war they said, ‘Oh no, you’re not Jewish,’” Hollander told the Forward.

Yet she holds no grudges. Hollander, who is nonobservant yet identifies with Judaism through her father and a network of Jewish friends and lovers, said she feels connected and at home in the Jewish community.

After the war, the family moved to Amsterdam, where Hollander was raised in what she described in “Child No More,” her autobiographical ode to her parents, as a “loving” middle-class home. At 21, she fled to South Africa in order to escape what she described as an overbearing mother with whom she competed for her father’s affections.

She followed her fiance to New York at 25. When he dumped her shortly thereafter, Hollander decided to stay and make a life for herself. By day she worked as a respectable assistant to the Dutch consul and, by night, as a prostitute and, later, as a madam on Manhattan’s East Side. “After all, I enjoyed sex, so why not get paid for it?” Hollander reasoned.

But persecuted by police and mafia alike, Hollander was pressured to leave the country, which she did in 1971, first taking refuge in Toronto, where she married a Jewish antique dealer.

Yet Hollander’s restlessness led her into affairs with a variety of men and women, and, after being deported from Canada for using indecent language in “The Happy Hooker,” she returned — sans husband — to Amsterdam, a city known for its open attitude toward prostitution.

Hollander was quick to attribute much of her libidinous longing to the guilt she feels for deserting her father during his illness before his death in the late 1960s. She said her father was her ideal man, and that many of her friendships and love affairs have been part of her search for “surrogate father figures.”

Still, it was her father’s Jewish roots — his penchant for Jewish literature, poetry and song — that encouraged her to open up her home in Amsterdam to artists and musicians, out of which grew the productions she is now beginning to present at some of Amsterdam’s larger venues, Hollander said.

As for turnout, well, the deck seems stacked in Hollander’s favor.

“I went to the Jewish Historical Museum [in Amsterdam], and I printed my cards and distributed them everywhere…. There was this little schmuck who looked uncultured and about 45, who saw me and said, ‘I never go to plays.’ He was telling me off, and I said, ‘I want you and your wife and your mother and anybody you know to come, and I’ll even give you free tickets if you want. You ought to see this play because this could have been your bubele; because the play is about concentration camp survivors.

“He showed up with six people,” said Hollander, “and he cried and he laughed.”

Eric Marx is a writer living in New York City.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.