In a 2016 New York Times profile of A-list event wrangler Peggy Siegal, Alex Williams wrote, “On her way to meet an old friend, John Travolta, at her party for his new FX mini-series, ‘The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story,’ at Monkey Bar, it seemed clear that Ms. Siegal is in no hurry to leave the social pinnacle she spent a lifetime clawing to reach.” Now, after three decades, her association with accused sexual abuser Jeffrey Epstein has pushed the 72-year-old social hostess off that peak: Variety reports that Annapurna, Netflix, and FX have pulled their accounts.
Siegal has singular skills when it comes to mixing and matching the lists of New York’s elite movers and shakers across all social sectors — literary, media, art, finance, and entertainment. She works hard to set up lunches, dinners, screenings, and parties attended by some 800 New York-area Academy members.
However, somehow Siegal failed to perceive that continuing to associate with the registered sex offender could bring her down. (She has stated that she did not know the extent of his crimes, and confirmed that she received funds for travel from him.)
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I’ve known Siegal since the late ’70s in New York. We worked together (briefly) at PMK in New York before I joined the staff of Film Comment. She was envious of me at that moment, as I was of her when she went to work (briefly) for Steven Spielberg in Los Angeles.
About five years ago, we sat next to each other waiting for the annual DGA symposium to begin, and I told her I was thinking about launching my new book, “The $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to the Oscars, an Inside Look at the Changing Hollywood System,” with a New York party. Of course I was soliciting some smart advice, but I watched the cogs turn, and in a moment she turned to me and said she might have a way to throw my book party. I was gobsmacked.
And so she did, and it was fascinating to watch her process. She put me together with documentary producer Katharina Otto-Bernstein (“Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures”), who graciously offered up her well-appointed, art-decked, East Side townhouse. Siegal’s magic involved mixing my list of New York friends and influencers with her culled list of about 30,000.
Not only would I get press, buzz, and people like Bob Weinstein anxiously flipping through the index of the book to see what I had written about him and his brother Harvey (I had no idea what he was so worried about), but it gave Otto-Bernstein a chance to hang out with critics like Dave Kehr and Owen Gleiberman, and fellow documentarians like Alex Gibney. It was a wonderful evening, it didn’t cost Harper Collins very much, and everybody came out ahead.
Many people are similarly grateful to Siegal — among them, Epstein. As the accusations mounted against the disgraced financier, Siegal tried to distance herself. “Over the years I invited him to attend a handful of my events. I did not know at the time — and did not learn until recently — that he had been abusing underage girls,” Siegal responded to Variety in a statement. “That just wasn’t common knowledge. Had I known that he had been accused of abusing underage girls, I would not have maintained a friendship with him. I am horrified as each of these women come forward and the accusations mount. I am deeply embarrassed by my relationship with him and that I allowed him to use me.”
Hollywood has leaned on Siegal’s social graces for decades. Her New York lists are legendary: Who else could turn out the likes of Billie Jean King, Vera Wang, David Koch, Barbara Walters, Martha Stewart, Gay Talese, Agnes Gund, Charles Cohen, and William Bratton to mix with her Academy lists?
However, Epstein is a line the studios will not cross; they will turn to the various upstarts who now play Siegal’s game. Even if they wanted to work with her, the bottom line is this: Booking a party with Siegal all but guarantees that its press coverage will mention Epstein in the same breath. That’s an association no amount of loyalty can touch.