Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fleiss Tries Charity Work on for Size

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fleiss Tries Charity Work on for Size

Article excerpt

BEFORE Tonya and Lorena, there was Heidi. Her 15 minutes may be almost over, but the reputed Hollywood madam refuses to disappear.

At a recent boxer-short signing intended to promote her new line of intimate apparel, she was sighted in the most un-Hollywood of places: a homeless encampment in downtown Los Angeles.

The appearance shouldn't be confused with the more typical celebrity book signing. Still awaiting trial on drug and pandering charges, Heidi Fleiss long ago rescinded her threat to tell all to the highest bidder.

Perhaps more suited to her talents, the improbable underwear autograph session was the kind of real-life (using the term loosely) event that makes satire irrelevant.

But Fleiss, her well-groomed publicist, her 6-foot-2-inch bodyguard and her newest friend - a flamboyant activist for the homeless - took it all deadly seriously; in her first stab ever at charity work, Fleiss planned to donate half the proceeds from the day's sales to the homeless village, called Genesis I.

"If anybody can help the homeless, it's Heidi Fleiss," the activist, Ted Hayes, announced before the signing.

Setting off his mop of dreadlocks, the lanky Hayes wore a green terry-cloth bathrobe from the Heidi Wear line. Complementing her trademark deep tan, Fleiss wore white terry.

She is hardly the first woman to try to make the most of scandal. Donna Rice and Marla Maples shilled for No Excuses jeans. Jessica Hahn ran a 900 dating line. The Home Shopping Network and QVC declined to sell Heidi Wear, deeming her image inappropriate for their television sales networks.

In a press release, Fleiss claims that three major department store chains want to carry her line, though she refuses to name them. Forging ahead without a major distributor, she's selling directly through an 800-HEIDIPJ mail-order telephone number. On a separate 900-PRO-VICE chat number, callers can leave messages for Fleiss for $2 a minute (which works out to $120 an hour, a considerable discount from her usual fee).

Business was painfully slow at the encampment. Customers seeking autographs were so sparse that Fleiss spent most of the afternoon inside one of the dwellings waiting for a line to form at the table outside.

One woman, DeAnn Jennings, enthusiastically snapped photos of her 5-year-old boy sitting on Fleiss' lap. After taking her three children, ages 5 to 13, to a movie, Jennings brought them to the village for a taste of what she called "American Kitsch."

"Only in LA can you have Heidi Fleiss doing a benefit for the homeless," said Jennings, an artist. "It's so LA. That's why we're here."

Like others in the scant crowd made up mostly of teen-agers, Jennings bought only the $10 T-shirts bearing the Heidi Wear logo, eschewing the rest of Fleiss' basic and comfy-looking but expensive apparel. …

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