In Roaring Twenties New York City, when the nightclubs closed down, the in-crowd didn’t go home. Everyone went to Polly’s place, the “speakeasy with a harem” run by “The Female Al Capone,” as the newspapers dubbed her. Polly “Pearl” Adler (1900-1962) was a diminutive dynamo whose Manhattan brothels were more than oases of illicit sex, where men paid top-dollar for the company of her girls, they were also swinging salons where the culturati and high society partied with the elite of showbiz, politics and organized crime. Polly’s pals — luminaries like Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, Lucky Luciano, Duke Ellington, Dorothy Parker, Bugsy Siegel and Desi Arnaz – made the Jazz Age roar.
No one would’ve guessed that Pearl would become “the First Lady of the Underworld” when she arrived in America as a 13-year old Russian Jewish immigrant. But Polly’s life became a topsy-turvy Horatio Alger tale – a childhood that could be a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, a wild ghetto adolescence out of a Henry Roth novel, blossoming into a glittering epic of parties and power worthy of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Then Polly wrote her own ending, penning a memoir that shocked the squares of the 1950s and sold over two million copies.
Applegate immerses the reader in Polly’s world and uses her rip-roaring life to unpack what made this era so corrupt, so glamorous and so transformational, showing how this riotous collision of high and low gave birth to modern American culture.