I spoke with Natalie McLennan, formerly Manhattan’s priciest prostitute (aside from David Gest) and most recently the author of The Price: My Rise And Fall As Natalia, New York’s #1 Escort, from her home in Montreal.
McLennan’s book is a picture of that era in New York following 9/11 that saw a resurgence in conspicuous consumption that today seems ripe for the backlash that eventually came. In McLennan’s case, the life she led as the female face of the escort agency New York Confidential (a name that would prove misleading) was so public that it’s hard to understand how it went on so long. After all, offering sex for money is illegal in New York, right?
“It was a time of real excess,” McLennan said. Her book doesn’t go into why post 9/11 New York was such a profligate place, where NY Confidential’s owner, Jason Itzler, would brag about his pimpitude on Page Six of the New York Post, but maybe we can draw a parallel to Depression-era Chicago, where celebrities were made of high-rolling criminals like Al Capone.
I liked The Price. McLennan goes from broke Canadian expatriate and out of work actress to coke-snorting, expensive shoe-buying, retired NFL quarterback-servicing high-priced hooker. Though the drugs get out of control eventually, McLennan’s real downfall seems to come due to the boastfulness of Itzler, who invited scrutiny.
Along the way, McLennan met and briefly worked with a woman named Ashley, who would later find fame as the favorite prostitute of disgraced former New York Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer. [In related news, prosecutors last month decided not to pursue Spitzer in court.]
A fun airplane read (provided you hide the cover from the person sitting next to you), The Price never gives the reader the impression that McLennan would do things differently (she eventually pleaded guilty to reduced charges of money laundering) if she could do it all again.
Natalie McLennan: I was an intelligent girl. I had ambition – which might sound crazy from someone coming from Canada – and I was lusting for something. I just didn’t know what it was until I got it.
Gram Ponante: You talk about wondering where your rent was going to come from and three weeks later having thousands of dollars of disposable income. But that’s how I read the story. Was money ever a real issue for you?
NM: Well, I was always very sexual. I always liked attention. And I knew I could be good at what I set my mind to. So I made the leap of faith to escorting when the opportunity came up.
GP: So it could have just as easily been anything else, like being the drummer for Rush?
NM: That job was taken, but yes, I think so. Escorting was something I set my mind on.
GP: 20 years ago this book would be all about your self-doubt and the judgment of others and what it meant to sell your body, but you write as if it is just a job with perks.
NM: I remember the job really fondly. Everybody talks about eras in New York City, and I really think that if you weren’t there between 2003 and 2007 or so, you missed the party. It was a free party for me. Maybe I choose to be so optimistic about it because I’m Canadian.
GP: But toward the end, you were facing jail time, deportation, overdoses, not to mention the disapproval of your family…
NM: Well, my family can not read this book…
(McLennan’s family know all about what she did in New York, but she feels that she can spare them the specifics.)
GP: … was there a “rock bottom” in any of that?
NM: Oh, I went through a succession of rock bottoms.
GP: You describe your clientele as mostly handsome, always rich, always successful, often married. Why pay your hourly rate – which at the peak of your fame reached $2,000 – when they could get the same basic release from a lap dance or a $50 street hooker?
NM: These guys saw me – us – as both a girlfriend and a porn star. What you’re left with at the end, considering that money really isn’t an issue, is that you could walk away from it feeling like a million bucks having only spent six grand.
GP: That’s a million bucks American?
NM: Yes. It was all good karma shit. I like to think I left people feeling better than when I walked in.
GP: Sex Worker Advocacy is a growing field in the United States, but I get the feeling that the issues common to high-end prostitutes are not in the case files of the street-level sex worker advocate/educator. Do you see yourself dispensing advice to women thinking of this profession?
NM: Oh yes. I was at such a level that street-level things didn’t really affect me, but I feel strongly that women should have a place to go for legal advice. And it can be a lonely industry without a real support system.
NM: It can be a very rewarding lifestyle, yes. Still, it’s a huge responsibility to guide a girl toward it. I think about giving that kind of advice to someone and then picturing me smoking freebase while masturbating in my big mirror.
GP: That’s what I’m doing now!
NM: So you’re writing a think-piece, Gram?
GP: You know it! So now you’re managing a spa in Montreal but promoting – I won’t say “pimping” – The Price around North America. What’s next?
NM: I have a fearless gene. We’ll see where that takes me.
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: The Delivery Man; The Voluptuous Feet of Ed Fox; Christa Faust’s “The Money Shot” (with Tina Tyler)