interview with a monster
Updated: Aug 1, 2019
When I graduated college, a boyfriend and a bank job awaited me in Manhattan. But I didn’t want to go down the path of safety and security (read: financial stability). Nope, I wanted to do something in film, media or journalism. I had attended a performing arts high school, worked in TV as a kid and fashioned a life that followed a Hollywood script. I was young and idealistic.
I arrived in New York a week shy of my 21st birthday. My boyfriend had tickets for Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum. Walking around Times Square was electrifying and the air reeked with infinite possibilities. Right away, through a friend, I found a job as an assistant for Milcho Manchevski, a Macedonian director who had won an Oscar. When he didn’t pay me for my second week of script reading, I said adios in a New York minute. The gig economy was plentiful and I would surely find another job.
I circulated my resume to a few head hunters. Ah, my resume. While I'd written for my college newspaper, one of my better writing clips was actually my resume. It had jobs at sea and on land, in Corsica and in Grand Cayman. I listed internships with media moguls and congressmen. Five languages, it said I spoke. Yes, I was fluent in Italian and Spanish, but my French was remedial and limited me to ordering a charcuterie plate. Catalan? Who the hell speaks Catalan except a bunch of separatists? (And my lovely grandparents.)
"I have a job interview at a boutique, global financial firm that caters to celebrities and moguls,” said one head hunter who had my curriculum vitae in her possession.
It sounded promising.
“Do you know the Helmsley Hotel? Leona Helmsley?” she asked.
“Yes,” I lied. I’d skimmed Page Six.
“This could be an incredible opportunity utilizing your business and art skills. It will involve a lot of travel,” continued the head hunter.
Clearly, I was all about world traveling.
“You will be meeting a woman named Ghislaine Maxwell. She’s an heiress, the daughter of Robert Maxwell—you do know who that is …”
I didn’t, but I was taking notes.
“If she likes you, then you will have a second meeting with her boss, Jeffrey Epstein.”
I entered through the courtyard of the Helmsley Hotel, past wrought iron gates with imposing gold tips. It was a crisp Manhattan afternoon. His office was on the ground floor, perpendicular to the hotel. I was ushered into a cozy room that looked like an estate library. There was Ghislaine sitting on a couch. She was not a classic beauty, but slender, sported a smart hair cut and had an air of regality. While the details and words of our meeting are hazy, I clearly recall her badass British accent.
We talked about my background, I asked her a little bit about hers. It was like two school girls suddenly stumbling upon a new friendship. We talked a lot about Europe, where our families were from, though clearly we mixed in different circles. She seemed more interested in learning about me than going over my responsibilities. I didn’t care, because who doesn’t appreciate a chatty, breezy interview?
She mentioned needing someone to work alongside her purchasing art work and antiques—someone that would be much more than her assistant. I tried to sound artsy by talking about the few Spanish modernists I was up on. “We are going to get on well,” she purred, something to that effect. "Have you ever attended an art auction?"
I shook my head no. But I had seen many on TV.
“They're a lot of fun,” said Ghislaine.
I’m sure that so much more was said, but this was almost 20 years ago.
I do remember being excited as I took the subway home and waited by the phone to see if I’d make it to round two: An interview with Mr. Epstein.
“If you impress him, the job will be yours … just make sure to impress Jeffrey,” whispered Ghislaine as I left the building.
I was nervous that he'd quiz me on my art knowledge. Little was I to know that the only art work Jeffrey was concerned with involved nude models. Preferably Victoria’s Secret models.
Back at my apartment, I looked up this Ghislaine Maxwell and her late father, Robert Maxwell. This was pre-Google. Research consisted of going to the library near my Upper East Side studio apartment, checking out a biography about the publishing baron. Publishing? That was the world I longed to break into. Robert Maxwell had been one of the more famous British media moguls of his era, owning both print and television properties. I must have skipped the part about him starting a Ponzi scheme and cheating his employees out of their pensions. It was a long book. But I do remember getting to the end where he disappears off the coast of Spain on his yacht, aptly named the Ghislaine, or my new mentor.
A week later, I returned to the Helmsley Hotel courtyard and walked into the offices of J. Epstein determined to get this job. I sat across from him, a grand, book-cluttered wooden desk separating us. He was sun tanned, charming and wore a long, muppet face. His teeth were light reflecting.
Years later, while skimming New York magazine, I would see that face again. He'd been charged in Palm Beach with procuring prostitution with girls under 18. Palm Beach? Wasn't he in NY? That face, I said to myself. Could it be? I googled "Leona Helmsley Hotel" and "Jeffrey Epstein." Indeed, it was him. His offices shared the courtyard on my google map.
At our “interview” he went line by line through my resume and relished asking me about each of my classes and experiences. What was it like working as a US Page with all those Congressmen?
“Did you learn a lot about how Washington works?”he smirked.
I regaled him with a few stories. I think he was looking for more Lewinsky style moments. He did bring up Bill Clinton, but I can't remember the details. (I think he was showing off and of course I was impressed.)
He asked me what it was like interning for Peter Jennings and if Jennings was nice to me.
“Well, I didn’t interact with him much,” I said, honestly. “He was always polite.”
Then Jeffrey asked about my study abroad in the Galapagos. He said he was planning a trip on so-and-so’s yacht. (He name dropped a lot, but most of the names were lost on me.) I tried to impress him with my knowledge of the mating dances of the blue-footed boobies. I knew more about boobies than Bansky; I'd written a thesis on their mating habits. Little did I know this was a mating dance at the Helmsley manse and Jeffrey had entirely different boobies on his mind. To his dismay, nowhere on my resume did it list experience in Swedish or hot stone massage techniques.
Suddenly, the phone rang. It must have been important because Jeffrey seemed eager to wrap up our interview. “Well, it’s clear from your resume that you really like to have fun.” He smiled in a condescending way, stood up and looked me up and down.
How dare he? Fun? I had worked my ass off in college. I graduated Duke with honors in two and a half years.
Now I know that he wasn't trying to access my academic aptitude, but my aptitude for loose morals. But back then, I took it to mean that he didn't think I was serious.
I remember my face getting hot and feeling embarrassed about my silly resume. But I tried to hold my composure, searching for a quick comeback.
“Well Jeff,” I said, taking a deep breath, standing up and meeting him eye to eye as my father had taught me to do. “You clearly don’t know the Duke motto. We work hard, but play hard. And I definitely worked hard while at Duke,” I said with conviction. "I have an unshakable work ethic."
He chuckled, entertained by my response.
"Talk to Ghislaine,” he said, dismissing me. "Start next week.”
At some point I was back in Ghislaine’ cozy web of a room.
She asked me what I thought of Jeffrey. I was surely defensive.
“It’s you that has to decide if you really want to work here. This is not going to be a traditional job.”
“Can you give me an example of a typical week?” I asked. “And salary? Benefits?"
“What would you like to do?” she asked. “I mean, really like to do.”
“Honestly? I would like to pursue making films or documentaries. Writing, producing. Something artistic. I want to be a writer, but right now I'm just open to possibilities.”
“Pursue that, all that,” said Ghislaine. “Don't work here. This is not the place for you. Call Jane Rosenthal. Do you know who she is?”
“No,” I said. I wasn’t even going to pretend. I was out of my league in her Manhattan social scene. But was she firing me before I was even hired?
“She’s Robert DeNiro’s partner. And a very good friend of mine. She and DeNiro have a production company. You need to call her and tell her that I sent you. I’ll let her know that you’re going to be calling and that she needs to get you a job.”
“So I’m not hired?” I asked.
“This is not the place for you,” she repeated. "Trust me."
She was throwing me a life preserver. She was not going to bring me down with her.
She handed me a yellow paper with Jane's name and number scribbled on it.
I went home. I let a day or two go by and then called Jane. I left a message with her secretary. I called again and explained on her voice mail that Ghislaine recommended we speak about a potential job. No answer.
I thought about calling Ghislaine to remind her to help me. But I never reached out to her. Jane never called. Maybe Ghislaine wasn’t really such good friends with Jane.
I tossed the number in the trash and returned the Robert Maxwell biography to the library. Better jobs and opportunities would follow and I’d soon forget this odd encounter. Except years later, after I'd become a mother of three girls and toiled at a journalism career, Jeff’s face kept popping up in the headlines.
A girlfriend of mine—a CNN news anchor, whom I won’t name— decided to go on a first and second date with him. (Are you crazy?) He'd just completed his house arrest in Palm Beach and had moved back up to Manhattan. He had the anchor convinced that he was innocent and that he had been set up.
As more news stories, allegations and charges piled on, I wondered about Ghislaine.
Where was she?
Had she disappeared like her father? Lost in the background?
Until now. The papers are painting her as a woman by his side procuring art and underage girls. She was the one allegedly making the introductions for Jeffrey to meet with Presidents and Princes and the post-pubescent girls from Royal Palm Beach High. He, the college drop-out, the Dalton Professor, the professed Bear Stearns wunderkid and the Limited Brands svengali. She was his Girl Friday. His girlfriend, his geisha, his groomer. It has been speculated that she is hiding somewhere in the UK.
I escaped my Epstein sex education unscathed, but Ghislaine never did. The idea that she—a woman, who for a split second seemed to care about my future—allegedly lured younger versions of herself for a monster to discard and destroy, disgusts me. And yet, I also pity her. After all, she showed me the door. Was she trying to help me? I'll never know.
But I do know that if Jane and Robert DeNiro need new material for their production company, or for a classic tragedy of epic proportions, I can tell them where to set their next film: On the steps of the former Helmsley Hotel.