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Laws, who is now 78, will be at After-Words bookstore (23 E. Illinois) from 6 to 7:30 PM on Thursday to read from her new memoir. In order to capitalize on Laws's tabloid fame—she received her nickname after an FBI raid and subsequent arrest in 2002, and served 22 months in prison—the publisher titled the book Gold Coast Madam. But Laws herself prefers Storms and Rainbows. To her mind, her story is less about sex work than about a woman who had to make her own way in the world with the tools she had: a substandard education, a head of naturally red hair, and a pair of 34DDDs.
"I don't regret doing the business I did," Laws says now by phone from her home in Sarasota, Florida, where she retired with her children after she got out of prison in 2005. "I tried so hard to do other businesses, but I couldn't make them last."
Gold Coast Madam chronicles Laws's improbable life in its entirety, starting from her hardscrabble beginnings on a remote Tennessee farm, where she was the youngest of nine children. Her mother was loving, but her father was abusive, and her siblings were involved in various sexual scandals and troubles with the law. Laws herself had little interest in school. By the time she hit puberty, she writes, "the guys started comin' down off the mountain to take a look at me, this full-busted, teensy-waisted young woman."
Laws's early encounters with men weren't pleasant: she lost her virginity to the town sheriff's son, who knocked her out, raped her, and then left her lying in a ditch. (Strangely, in her book she dispatches this episode in a few short paragraphs.) When she was 21, her beloved mother fell fatally ill and told young Rose that she just wanted to see her married with a baby. "I wasn't in love with anyone," Laws wrote, "so I decided to date one guy each month. The first month I missed my period, that guy would be the one I would marry." And thus she ended up with Eddie Lawcewicz, a serviceman from Cicero.
In short order, they moved north and had five kids. Eddie was jealous and abusive. "I regret marrying a man I didn't love," Laws says now. "I stayed eight years because I was always pregnant. I hated to leave when I was pregnant. Now I would tell any woman who's abused in any way that she should leave."
Laws claims she accidentally fell into agenting, but she proved to be wildly successful. By the 80s, she had moved her operation to downtown Chicago and her clients included millionaires, gangsters, members of the 1985 "Super Bowl Shuffle" Bears, and Dennis Rodman. (Rodman is the only client Laws will mention by name; she's still bitter he never paid his tab.) Many of her girls were working their way through college, a strategy Laws fully approved of. "They could make in one hour what would have taken eight hours in another job," she reasons. "It left them more time to study. A lot of people think it's a horrible business, but it's better than going on the street. The call girls loved me."
The business went into a slow decline in the 90s, but it finally collapsed when Laws was arrested at her Lake Point Tower apartment in 2002. The FBI claimed she was part of a national prostitution ring that serviced Middle Eastern terrorists. Laws claims that was patently untrue. Whatever the case, she served 22 months in prison and, when she got out, found herself unable to get any sort of legitimate job.
So she wrote a book. After a long search for a coauthor, she found Dianna Harris, who happens to be married to one of her son's closest friends. Laws recorded her stories onto tapes and Harris shaped them into a manuscript. "I remember everything," Laws says. "I remember my good lovers—and I had plenty of good lovers. But I'm past all that now."
Her family has been supportive of her new career. Her children can't bear to read the book, Laws says—it brings back too many painful memories—but her grandchildren have been very enthusiastic.
"They say, 'Grandma! You didn't do all that stuff!'" Laws says, laughing. "I say, 'No, I only wrote about it.' They say, 'Oh, Grandma, so sweet and innocent.' One of my nephews in Tennessee is an attorney. He said, 'I'm glad you didn't do all that here. I would've hated to prosecute you.'"
These days, Laws reads a lot. "I read Fifty Shades," she says. "I'm so glad it paved the way for my book."
Except that hers is a far better read.