Chelly Wilson in “Queen of the Deuce.” Submitted photo

Put the kids to bed and meet Chelly Wilson, a tough, little Jewish Greek immigrant who clearly was born smart and got smarter in her 20s, when the smell of war reached her home in Thessaloniki, Greece. While others in the city paid little attention, Chelly smelled danger and got busy.

Chelly was locked into a marriage in Greece that she wanted out of from the day it started.

She was born in Thessaloniki, Greece, as Rachel Serrero, to David and Gracia Serrero, members of the local Sephardic Jewish community. Chelly married Moise Bourla against her will.

Finally, this lovely, young vixen left her son with her husband Moise, who took the boy to Israel, left her daughter with gentile friends and with other smart Greeks, and got herself on a boat to America with one suitcase and five bucks in her pocket.

In what must have been the biggest wide open city in America, Chelly took to Manhattan with an hungry passion, and lots of Jewish- Greek guts.

Chelly set up a stand on street corners and started selling snacks and soda from early dawn to nightfall, and slowly made, with Greek, Jewish charm, friends with other immigrants.


The young, fearless hustler conned her way with the few bucks she had into the Greek Community, rented an old movie theater on grainy, dangerous 42nd Street and ran cheap movies and made a few shekels. Who would do such a thing? Chelly would.

Then one day someone rented the movie house downstairs and started showing “skin flicks,” a venue that filled the seats with men, history tells us, carrying umbrellas and raincoats to hide their manicured hands.

“Queen of the Deuce” tells a great story, with animated sequences by artist Abhilasha Dewan making Chelly’s life unfold for the camera like a comic book.

“Queen” is about how Chelly stayed alive, got older and richer, raised a whole new family who never knew she had always been gay.

She made many friends, including two women who moved in with her in the cold water apartment building she finally owned.

Her first theater purchase was the “Adonis” with roaches and rats, below where she lived in opulence with a growing family going in and out dodging the men in raincoats and umbrellas.


Over the years Chelly bought out six such decaying movie houses.

By the 1970s, she was the owner of a group of porn theaters, both straight and gay, on New York’s old gritty, gum-on-the-floor 42nd Street.

Director Valerie Kontakos gives us the biography of an unforgettable woman who walked through the rain of survival and ended up dry, beloved and wealthy.

All of this ended for Chelly and folks like her in the mid ’90s when pornographic theaters were closed, and “undesirable” low-rent residents were pressured to move on.

“Queen of the Deuce” is Chelly’s story, with an 11-minute short titled “Pickup/Delivery.”

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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