We Weren’t Angels

A Memoir of Sex, Drugs and Crime in Boston’s Combat Zone


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About the Book

A hub of sex, crime, and drugs, Boston’s Combat Zone, the nation’s largest adult entertainment district during the last half of the 20th century, lured white- and blue-collar workers, lawyers, professors, judges and cops to watch and chat up its adult performers, many of whom earned more than white-collar professionals. By 1985, its multi-decade run was over. Why did it last so long, despite constant attempts to destroy it? What drew thousands of women to perform there, despite the potential for danger? And what became of them, after the lights dimmed and the music stopped?

This first comprehensive history of the Combat Zone authored by an active participant, is told through the gritty perspective of a Boston cab driver married to a star dancer. It introduces the district’s strippers, club owners, transgender performers, prostitutes and cops, depicting them as neither saints nor sinners as they fought for survival and success in a time of sexual revolution and political upheaval. This is their story, much of it told in their own words.

About the Author(s)

Geoff Alexander has authored two books on cinema and has written on musical subjects ranging from jazz history to flamenco. He is the founder and director of the Academic Film Archive of North America, in San Jose, California, the first archive solely dedicated to the history, preservation, and scholarship of the classroom educational film.

Bibliographic Details

Geoff Alexander

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 269
Bibliographic Info: 19 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9205-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4998-6
Imprint: Exposit

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1
One. Crashing into the Zone 9
Two. Claire at the Cat 11
Three. On the Firing Line 16
Four. Requiem for a Cabbie 19
Five. New Town, Old City 22
Six. No Breaks for the Famous 25
Seven. The Caribe Lounge 28
Eight. Stage Flight 30
Nine. Into the Combat Zone 32
Ten. Biting on the Lure of Glamour 40
Eleven. The Arrival and Disappearance of Debra Beckerman 45
Twelve. Princess in Paradise: The Cheyenne Story 49
Thirteen. Circus at the ­­­­Picc-a-dilly 52
Fourteen. The Combat Zone’s Miss Exotic Dance Contest of 1979 57
Fifteen. The Two O’Clock Lounge 61
Sixteen. The Girls Can’t Help It 65
Seventeen. Switching Tracks: Transsexual Exotics in the Zone 72
Eighteen. Shooting Stars: Photography in the Zone 83
Nineteen. Chasing Chesty and the Ghosts of Burlesque 87
Twenty. The Pilgrim Theatre, Chesty Morgan and the Final Days of Burlesque 91
Twenty-one. Family du Jour with All the Trimmings 97
Twenty-two. Paradise Calling 100
Twenty-three. Curious Customers, Humiliating Habits 102
Twenty-four. Suicides, Stiffed Fares and Beaten Women 105
Twenty-five. An Evening with the Bitch of Boston 111
Twenty-six. Grifters and Guam 117
Twenty-seven. Hedy Jo Star, Combat Zone Couturière 121
Twenty-eight. Scollay Square, Mother Church of the Combat Zone 125
Twenty-nine. Crime in the Clubs 130
Thirty. Andy and Robin 135
Thirty-one. Ups and Downs at the Penthouse 142
Thirty-two. Meeting Claire 145
Thirty-three. California to Boston: A Fateful Letter, a Barking Omen 149
Thirty-four. Slippery Seconds: Taxi Sex and Bookstore BJs 151
Thirty-five. Death Rides a Medallion 156
Thirty-six. Snowbunnies 159
Thirty-seven. Rock and a Hard Place 162
Thirty-eight. FNG: The Newbie Behind the Wheel 164
Thirty-nine. From Slowpokes to Retahds: A Maniac’s Boston Driving Manual 169
Forty. Boyfriends, Girlfriends, Sponsors 172
Forty-one. Cab for the Hab: New Hustles for an Old City 175
Forty-two. She Who Supplied It Denied It 180
Forty-three. Taxi in Black and White 182
Forty-four. The Trouble with Bubbles 187
Forty-five. Farewell to Arms 191
Forty-six. Hooker in a Hurry 192
Forty-seven. Unbottled Emotions 194
Forty-eight. Pandora’s End: Sammy Runbridge 195
Forty-nine. Back into the Future 197
Fifty. Last Days of the Combat Zone 199
Appendix I. A Roster of Combat Zone Clubs, Theaters, Bookstores 207
Appendix II. A Combat Zone Venue Owners Gazetteer 218
Chapter Notes 225
Bibliography 245
Index 251

Book Reviews & Awards

• “For a trip to a place and time like no other, accompany Geoff Alexander on a narrative journey through Boston’s notorious Combat Zone, a tour you won’t likely forget soon. Part memoir, part research paper, Alexander’s book takes you into the pounding, pulsating heart of erotic commerce, with salacious, humorous and yet compassionate portraits of the dancers, hookers, bartenders, street cops and others who kept the wheels of fantasy turning.”—Stephanie Schorow, author of Inside the Combat Zone: The Stripped Down Story of Boston’s Most Notorious Neighborhood

We Weren’t Angels is a remarkably vivid, detailed account of Boston’s infamous Combat Zone which proves to be a compelling, seductive reading experience. Although non-fiction, in the capable hands of Geoff Alexander, it is as riveting as the best of fiction. Mr. Alexander gives us an eyewitness account and writes with the power and insight of a fine novelist. An utterly gripping and often unnerving landscape rich in detail written by one who was there. In his unflinching portrait of people and events, he spares no one including himself. Highly recommended!”—Dean Barrett, author, Hangman’s Point, Skytrain to Murder and Kingdom of Make Believe

• “In this tour-de-force of memoir and research, Geoff Alexander offers a unique view of Boston’s famed Combat Zone at its raucous height in the late 1970s into the 80s. He incorporates little-explored perspectives: not only those of the female dancers and male customers at the Zone’s many strip clubs, but also those of the district’s cab drivers (of whom he was one, while married to a dancer), transgender performers, club owners, talent agents, costume designers, bartenders, police detectives, mobsters, musicians, photographers, drug dealers, petty thieves, pimps, urban planners, and politicians. Meticulously researched, this book offers a panoramic and often disturbing view of the history of commercialized sex work in one of the most storied Red Light districts in the U.S. Some of us made it out with tales to tell (perhaps not to the grandchildren). Others fared much worse. We all come to life in this riveting, unforgettable telling of a quintessentially American tale.”—Lauri Umansky (as Lauri Lewin), author, Naked is the Best Disguise: My Life As a Stripper