The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Somewhere between the seediness of a trucker-friendly diner in Florida and the glamour of Vegas, Lisa Ann Taylor watched a stage full of young, beautiful naked women.
She'd been on stages like this for 23 years — longer than half of the dancers twirling on the stripper poles had been alive. But it had been about a year since she had danced nude in public, and two since she had needed to take dancing seriously. The one-time Penthouse magazine Pet of the Month had retired from this kind of work, living a better life in a million-dollar country club home in Duluth.
Windsor Star-Tyler Brownbridge.
But here she was again Thursday night at the Toy Chest, near the Ford headquarters in Dearborn, preparing to walk back out on stage under her professional name — expanded because of recent notoriety — Melissa Wolf, the Mansion Madam.
At 42, Taylor is in trouble with the law in Gwinnett County and her legal bills are piling up. One by one, she said, charges against her of prostitution and racketeering have cut off her avenues to earn money by other means.
She discovered that she was nervous. "I have to remember how to walk in these," she said, referring to her cowboy boots set on impossibly high platforms. She wasn't sure where the stairs to the stage were. She wasn't even sure she would make enough money to pay the trip expenses — never mind her legal bills.
But she was sure she could dance some of her troubles away, at least for a while, one folded dollar bill at a time.
"She's got two or three months out of it," said Nancy Brun, 39, general manager of the Toy Chest. "She still looks great. There are girls in here who look 40 and are 22."
Some of those twenty-somethings wondered aloud whether business would be good enough for them to bring in a couple of hundred for their performances.
Taylor, born Lisa Ann Moore, grew up in the Vancouver area. She still owns a house near there – something less opulent than the country-club mansion drawing attention back to the model, she said.
She started dancing nude in Vancouver in 1983 after graduating from high school. Her contest winnings from stripping began to outstrip her salary at McDonald's. Not long after winning a Miss Nude Vancouver trophy, she sent pictures to Penthouse magazine at the urging of a friend.
Earl Miller photographed her as the Penthouse Pet for the June 1985 edition a few weeks later.
Miller, one of Penthouse's principal photographers, described her as high-energy with a positive attitude He photographed her several times over the years. "She was one of the most fun, interesting and talented models," he said.
She started getting regular adult magazine work. And she started touring as a feature performer – the main act on the stage. Her pictures in Penthouse and other magazines created a ready-made audience wherever she went. Club promoters could count on her to boost turnout.
The money was good enough for many feature performers to work on-and-off. But Taylor stayed on the road for 48 weeks out of the year through most of her career, returning to Los Angeles occasionally to keep her photo credits current.
The money started to add up. She bought a Corvette. She paid off the mortgage on one house.
She met her future husband Jerry Taylor while on tour in Florida. He followed her around the country for years before they married, she said. Taylor said she was good at making money, and he was good at managing it.
They started several businesses together. In 1995, she and Jerry started one of the Internet's first adult subscription Web sites, www.centerfolds.com. Taylor had gone from pin-up girl to publisher. They sold the business a few years later for about $60,000, she said.
Building their dream home in Sugarloaf Country Club in Duluth at this point was his idea, she said. "It was a good investment." They found a builder who could work inexpensively and piled their savings into the task.
Her house is worth more than $1 million now, according to Gwinnett County tax records. Half of it is paid off, she said. She has a $4,000 monthly mortgage payment, on an interest-only loan, she said.
In addition to appreciating in value, the house has bee a moneymaker in other ways. She has rented it to photographers for nude photo shoots for Playboy and other magazines. Rap artists have used it in music videos. She has even taken in boarders, she said.
All of her business ventures haven't been as successful, though. She and her first husband started two Baskin Robbins ice cream shops, one in Toccoa, Ga., the second in Lawrenceville. The ice cream business melted in a lawsuit and the Taylors ended up owing more than $80,000 to the company.
Taylor said the stress of the suit lead to their divorce, an acrimonious five-day jury trial in 2001.
After that, Taylor worked steadily in the clubs until 2004, when she turned 40, she said. Club owners started telling her how energetic and skilled she was, but that there was no market for her anymore.
"You're 40. This is a 20-year-old's business," she said they told her.
She started looking for work with her clothes on. At her first interview for a "legitimate" job, a potential employer said she was smart and professional, but that his firm was "a family-oriented business," she said.
An hour later, he called her back to tell her that a friend was coming in from out of town. "He asked if I could dance at a private party that night. That was how my first interview turned out."
She took real estate courses, then hunted for an open minded firm to sponsor her license. Just before her arrest, Taylor had earned her first real estate commission, she said.
On Jan. 3, police raided her house. They seized her computers, her Corvette and truck. They accused her of running a prostitution business from her home, advertising her services on Web sites. Her own Web site, Melissawolf.com, listed prices for photo shoots and phone sex. But other sites, such as The Erotic Review, had detailed profiles of Melissa Wolf as a paid sex escort. Other escort service sites had advertisements for Melissa Wolf with starting rates of $1,250 an hour.
Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said she and an alleged accomplice, Nicole A. Probert, 30, of Lawrenceville had charged clients from $5,000 to $10,000 for their services.
After the arrest on a felony racketeering charge, the real estate firm suspended her license. She can't collect her broker's fee without an active license, and said no one will offer to sponsor her with the charges over her head."I'm blackballed," she said. "No one will touch me."
With no transportation, her routine is limited. "It's like I'm 15 years old again. I can't go anywhere.
Drinking vodka screwdrivers at three in the afternoon — another new practice, she said — isn't helping.
On stage again at the Toy Chest this week, she showed she could still put her legs behind her head. Patrons lined up for autographs till early in the morning. At three, she sat in a diner lamenting what she gave up over the years for the money.
She never stopped to make time for more education. She had never been much of a partier, she said. And she never had children.
"I was so focused on my career," she said. "But I don't have anything to put on a resume."