Foreign News: The King Is Dead

  • Share
  • Read Later

Nachat Martini, 50, kissed his wife goodbye, waddled from the door of his chateau in suburban Servon, and got behind the wheel of his Buick. The horn began to sound insistently, and his statuesque wife Helene rushed out to find her 5-ft. 5-in., 220-lb. husband sprawled over the steering wheel, his body quivering from a massive heart attack. In a few moments, the uncrowned "King of the Place Pigalle" was dead.

Within hours, the Corsican and North African hoods who control Parisian prostitution and crime began oiling their revolvers as they eyed the tempting spoils. Lodged high on the shoulder of Montmartre, just below the soaring domes of the Cathédrale du Sacré-Coeur, the Place Pigalle by day is a dreary, working-class square crowded with Algerians. At night, the square and the nearby alleys blossom into neon brilliance, offer to any passer-by probably the tawdriest and most expansive display of nude female flesh the world has seen since the passing of the Babylonian slave market. Prostitutes prowl its sidewalks; vendors of "feelthy movies" pluck at every passing sleeve. Martini's kingdom ranged from the velvet-lined, expensive Shéhérazade to the Moulin Rouge, mecca of U.S. tourists. Up for grabs are such deviate haunts as Madame Arthur's, where a pretty girl is whipped nightly onstage, the Carrousel, with its all boy chorus line, and the Drap d Or, which had the novel distinction this year of being closed by the Parisian police for operating "an obscene revue." New Capers. The dead king was no lowbrow thug. Born in Syria in 1910.

Nachat Martini graduated from Cairo University and practiced and taught law in Damascus before emigrating to France during World War II. Fascinated by the sleazy world of the Place Pigalle, Martini tried to carve himself a slice at war's end but was scared off by the swaggering Corsican gangsters of Pierre Cue, then King of the Place Pigalle. Martini tried his luck in the U.S. in 1947, opening a nightclub off Times Square called the French Casino.

Two years later he was back in Paris, complaining that he had been chased from New York by "the Syndicate." But Martini had apparently learned a caper or two during his U.S. stay. While gangsters like Pierre Cue were shot dead, Businessman Martini secured the backing of Vietnamese and Arab moneylenders and bought up nightclub real estate.

He also had ideas, introducing such novelties as all-day striptease joints which charged only a 50¢ admission, "taxi-boys" who offered their services as gigolos to lonely lady tourists. He married Helene de Cressac, a Polish-born stripteaser with managerial and artistic talents, and put her in charge of the staging, costuming and choreography of all his clubs.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2