She’s the best in the biz at putting films and celebrities on the media map. But in the last week, New York media maven Peggy Siegal has found herself in the spotlight.
The powerful PR woman built a lucrative career promoting films, filmmakers, and stars—helping many win Oscars—and became known for throwing frequent hot-ticket Manhattan film events, with powerful pals like Michael Douglas, Gay Talese, Vera Wang, and Barbara Walters. And thanks to a Rolodex full of Academy members, Siegal’s been the longtime go-to flack for film companies hoping to snag Oscars for their films and stars. It was Siegal who taught Leonardo DiCaprio how to work it after he scored his fourth Oscar nom—and sure enough, he snagged a statuette the fifth time around. Now, after five decades in the business, some journalists think the Epstein scandal is threatening to derail her long and vigorously honed career.
Siegal’s troubles began with a New York Times story that claimed that she’d quietly eased Epstein, convicted of procuring a prostitute under age 18, back into society after he first got out of jail, inviting him to events and even setting up celebrity-packed lunches at Epstein’s home. The Times piece was followed by an even harsher piece in The Hollywood Reporter. Amidst growing outrage, Variety reports she’s been dropped by some of the studios that employ her regularly: Annapurna, Netflix, and FX—all of which have no comment on the matter. However, one studio executive tells Los Angeles: “Don’t believe everything you read. Nobody’s fired her.”
Soon after the scandal broke, Siegal hired crisis PR consultant Matt McKenna and has largely stayed silent. In a written response to the Hollywood Reporter piece, she insisted that she’d had no idea of the depths of Epstein’s depravity: “Had I known that he had been accused of abusing underage girls, I would not have maintained a friendship with him…. I did not believe that the charges were very serious because I knew he was allowed to work from his office every day.”
But while some remain skeptical, others have stepped up to (quietly) defend the embattled publicist. “Lots of people love her,” insists one New York entertainment bigwig. “She’s great at what she does. What about the 30 publicists who worked for Harvey Weinstein? Nobody’s shunned them. Peggy’s worked very hard and has a lot of supporters in Hollywood. This is a blip.”
“Peggy has never been subtle—and that’s why people hire her,” adds one well-connected Academy member. “This industry has a very short memory. If you deliver results, one bad decision won’t keep people from using you. You just sit on the fence for a while. Look at Mel Gibson. The litmus test well be the Toronto Film Festival—that’s where all Oscar campaigns start. I can’t believe Peggy would sit that out. Everyone may ice her for a while, but I predict she’ll get her accounts back for the Oscars. Scott Rudin owes her so much. And Leo DiCaprio will probably have her working on the Tarantino film. No one’s going to say no to Leo.”
Filmmaker Paul Schrader (Patty Hearst, First Reformed) posted this (a bit abridged) on Facebook a few days ago: “I’ve known Peggy since American Gigolo in 1979. I have great affection for her and have always found her to be thoroughly unprincipled. That’s who a publicist is. There is nothing politically correct about the occupation. It’s the same job as a lobbyist. One cannot advocate or defend criminal activity but everything else is in the grey area we as a society have assigned to them. Of course some will say ‘she should have known better’- but what person is above their very job description? How many publicists are now working to promote anti-black, anti-homosexual, anti-woman policies? Netflix, FX, Disney, Annapurna, would you like to see a list of those PR consultants and lobbyists? I bet some of them are on your payroll.”
Columnist Roger Friedman of Showbiz411.com, a longtime Siegel pal, reported on Tuesday that Siegal’s A-list crowd turned out on Monday for a New York premier she’d organized for the upcoming CohenMedia movie Tel Aviv on Fire. Siegal herself was a no-show: but her friend, director Barry Levinson, played host to a crowd of producers, writers, and journalists, including Gay Talese and Nick Pileggi. But the most surprising guest at Siegel’s event was journalist Vicky Ward, who’s having her own media moment for damning reporting she did on Jeffrey Epstein for Vanity Fair back in 2002 that notoriously never made the light of day after then-editor Graydon Carter dropped it. Apparently Ward’s disdain for Epstein does not impact her regard for his longtime friend and employee. Ward told Friedman: “I think Peggy was conned by Jeffrey.”
Friedman ended his piece in full support, writing: “Peggy’s crowd is looking forward to an Oscar season full of these kinds of films.”
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