Oct 21, 2020
Elite Models boss Gérald Marie was one of the most powerful men in fashion. Was he also a sexual predator? As French prosecutors investigate, four women tell their stories for the first time
It is three years since the news broke about Harvey Weinstein and #metoo trended. Now former models, many of whom were just teenagers at the time, are telling their stories about sexual abuse at the hands of a Paris model agency head. What follows is a lengthy and in-depth article from the UK’s Guardian newspaper, containing disturbing revelations. We share it here because we believe it is important that predators such as Weinstein and Marie are exposed, as we continue to stand against gender-based violence, sexual abuse and exploitation of any kind.
In the spring of 1980, Wendy Walsh and her mother flew to Paris from their home in a suburb of Toronto, Canada. Walsh was 17, a straight-A student who excelled at maths. She was also an aspiring model whose blond, blue-eyed, girl-next-door look had already got her noticed; at a local hairdressing event, a couple of stylists from a Paris salon had offered to send her headshots to a leading model agency, Paris Planning. Letters and phone calls had been exchanged, and Walsh was invited to Paris.
At the agency’s offices, Walsh and her mother, Ellen, were introduced to the charismatic 30-year-old boss, Gérald Marie. Marie offered to take them to lunch. “So we went to a little outdoor bistro in the Place de la Madeleine, around the corner from the agency,” says Walsh, speaking on the phone from her home in Los Angeles. “It was the first time I ever had a croque monsieur, and he was explaining what it was. I realise now it’s a fancy grilled cheese sandwich. And I remember distinctly him fawning over my mother, and this was surprising to me. She had been an extremely beautiful woman in her youth, but lupus had left scars on her face.
“He reached over and was stroking her hand, and something in my 17-year-old stomach was like, this is weird.” Later, in their hotel room, Walsh remembers her mother saying: “‘Oh, that man is lovely, he’s going to take care of you.’ I look back on it with adult eyes, and I believe this is the way that he groomed families. He lured girls in by convincing them that somehow he would be this very safe guardian of their teenage daughter.”
Two months later, in June 1980, Walsh moved to Paris. “I was young, I was naive, and I had stars in my eyes,” she says now. “I was not scared one little bit, because I trusted all the adults who were going to take care of me and make me a famous model.”
Walsh, who is now 58 and a respected US radio host, was one of dozens of hopefuls from across North America and Europe who made the journey to Paris in the summer of 1980. Over the following decades, thousands of young women went to work for Marie and other agencies there, desperate to make it as a model. But few became stars, and many were not taken care of in the way Walsh’s mother would have expected.
Within weeks of arriving in Paris, Walsh says, she was raped by Gérald Marie. A Guardian special investigation has found that she is one of eight women who allege they were sexually assaulted by Marie between 1980 and 1998. Four are speaking for the first time.
Like Walsh, Dodd spent the spring of 1980 navigating the Paris Métro, and attending “go-sees” set up by Paris Planning. But after several weeks, she started to rack up debts to the agency, who were not only charging her fees, but also billing her for a dingy hotel and her flight from California. After one long day of rejections, Dodd recalls crying on a street corner as it got dark, feeling exhausted.
On 23 April 1980, Marie asked Dodd, then 20, and her roommate out dancing. She felt hopeful: time spent with her boss could be good for her career. She had seen Marie send the girls he liked “straight to Vogue without even an interview”. At the club, she recalls dancing awkwardly, watching her boss in his black leather jacket. He was a confident dancer and she thought he looked sexy – a different person from the “moody” manager she’d encountered at the office. In the early hours, Dodd and her roommate went back to Marie’s apartment. When her friend left, she stayed on. Dodd says Marie kissed her and she remembers relishing the attention. “I’d only had one serious boyfriend at that time.” When Marie offered to run her a bubble bath in his marble tub, she agreed, and afterwards joined him in his bedroom to watch a John Wayne film. But “all of a sudden”, she says, Marie raped her. “It happened so fast,” she says. She shouted, “Stop”, but he did not.
In the days that followed, Marie told Dodd he wanted to be her boyfriend, and scribbled her a note (seen by the Guardian) saying: “I want you to behave when I’m away… don’t forget! Love, Gérald”. “I was so immature, and even though it was rape, I was confused,” she says now. “I was like, ‘Oh, he does like me! He’s so powerful.’”
Soon afterwards, Dodd says, she discovered that Marie had tried to have sex with her roommate; the former roommate, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, confirms this. She added that, months later, Marie tried again. This time, she alleges, he tricked her into being alone in a room with him; she felt the only way out was to perform oral sex. “This man had control of your life. So you make him think you’re enjoying it – then you get the hell out.”
When Dodd was invited to Monte Carlo that summer, she jumped at the opportunity to take a break from go-sees. On her first night, she went to a party where she was introduced by her Paris Planning booker to Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi billionaire arms dealer, then said to be the richest man in the world. The following day, Dodd says, she and the booker were invited to stay the night on his yacht, and offered their pick from a closet full of couture gowns for the evening. That was the start of a “relationship” between Dodd and Khashoggi: “I was basically one of his harem wives for almost two years,” she says now.
But it was a more transactional relationship than she knew. “It wasn’t until the end of our relationship that I found out that he had paid to meet me,” Dodd says. “I was chosen out of a bunch of pictures by Adnan.” She says she realised this when one of Khashoggi’s assistants came into their hotel room one evening with a portfolio of pictures of women. She says the assistant openly went through the photographs, asking whom he would like to meet, and discussing fees between $35,000 and $50,000. She says Khashoggi, who died in 2017, later admitted that he had paid Paris Planning to be introduced to her. “It was all a front. I had been manipulated and used.”
Ann Maguire was on her first modelling shoot, in Rome, when she was scouted by Marie. Maguire, from Virginia, was 5ft 11in, with striking blue-green eyes, high cheekbones and thick eyebrows; she was often likened to Brooke Shields. She had just turned 18, and was new to the world of fashion. “I was the jock, always sporty. I’d never even worn mascara before,” she tells me now. She says Marie showered her with compliments and made her feel “a million dollars”. He invited her to Paris and promised to get her work straight away. Maguire signed up to Paris Planning, and on 31 January 1980 moved into Marie’s spare room: she is one of several former models the Guardian has spoken to who were put up in his apartment. (While Maguire, Walsh and Dodd all worked for Paris Planning in 1980, they have never met or heard each other’s stories.)
Maguire, now 60, has decided to speak for the first time about what happened next. Initially, she says, Marie was charming. “He would play great music and fix great meals, all this kind of stuff… Then, as it grew into a friendship, he proceeded to abuse that.” She alleges she was raped several times by Marie while living in his apartment, and that at night he would ignore her pleas for him to stop and “crawl into bed with me”. She remembers him “flaunting” other models he was romantically involved with, kissing them in front of her, or joking that their toothbrush was in his bathroom. In her notebook at the time, which she still has, she scribbled: “Fight with Gérald” and “Too fat!”
Eventually, Maguire snapped. “I said, ‘Screw you, I’m going to get my own apartment.’” But after moving into an apartment with other models, she says her work stopped. She began busking with her guitar, and one day returned home to find a note from Paris Planning telling her she could no longer live there. She says all her shoes and her passport were missing, which she believes Marie took: “He wanted to control me completely.” She began sleeping on a bench in front of the Louvre.
A booker at the agency arranged for her to stay with another man, who she says also sexually abused her. Maguire wishes now that she had reported the assaults to the police, but didn’t consider it at the time “because I was afraid of not working again”. She explains: “I thought they would laugh at me. ‘You’re living in his house, what do you expect?’ I also didn’t speak French well enough to explain.”
On one of several phone calls with me, Maguire breaks down in tears; she tells me it is a time of her life she would rather forget. She returned home to Virginia and didn’t model again for at least another year.
Another former model, EJ Moran, says that when she was in her 20s, she was raped so violently by Marie that she feared for her life. Now 61 and an author, she is still scared of him, 40 years on. One evening in the summer of 1981, when she was turning 22, she was phoned by a booker at Paris Planning to say she had to attend a dinner with Marie right away. “I really didn’t want to go,” she recalls. “But I felt coerced into it [by the booker].” Dodd and Walsh say the same woman arranged their evening meetings with Marie, and sent them to parties they didn’t want to go to.
The booker “disappeared abruptly right after dinner”, Moran recalls, and Marie persuaded her to go up to his apartment, which was across the street, so he could show her promotional videos for the agency’s most famous models. “VCRs were a new thing in the 80s,” she explains. Moran remembers she was wearing “lavender-coloured pumps, a white blouse and a forest-green sweater”, as well as “mom jeans”. Suddenly, she says, Marie raped her. “Before I know it, I was thrown on the bed. He took his open palm and smashed my face into the bed.” He verbally abused her, in what she describes as “a terrible low voice”.
Afterwards, Moran says, the “debonair and charming” Marie returned, asking her to stay the night. She made an excuse about needing to change her contact lenses; she was scared that if she wasn’t polite, he would hurt her again. In the following days, she received a call from the booker telling her she had a well-paid catalogue job in Belgium and needed to get on a train. Moran says now that she believes this was “a message”: that if you “play this game and stay quiet, you’ll get all this work”. Other women who told the Guardian they were sexually assaulted by Marie remember being offered lucrative jobs in the days that followed.
Ten years later, by 1991, the modelling industry had hit its golden years, and Marie was firmly at its helm. The original supermodels, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford, had signed with Elite Model Management, then run by Marie alongside Elite US president John Casablancas. Elite had offices around the world, from Tokyo to London; Marie now reportedly owned homes in Manhattan, Saint-Tropez, Ibiza and Paris. He had also been married to Evangelista for more than four years, telling an interviewer that he had left his previous girlfriend, American model Christine Bolster, “within the hour” of meeting Evangelista.
In 1991, the couple were among the celebrity guests at the final of Look of the Year, Elite’s annual international modelling contest, in New York. Evangelista wore her hair in a striking red bob with a heavy fringe, and towered over Marie, who wore a black suit and tie, his hair slicked back. Evangelista joined Naomi Campbell to present a prize, while Marie sat with fellow judges Casablancas and Donald Trump in the audience.
Canadian schoolgirl Shawna Lee was a 15-year-old Look of the Year finalist the following year. In the weeks leading up to the 1992 contest, she was sent by Elite to Paris from her hometown outside Toronto to build up her portfolio. She had already visited in the spring, staying in Marie and Evangelista’s flat while they were on holiday. “She was my idol,” Lee says now. “I was walking around her apartment and seeing these shoots she’d done with [Vogue photographer] Peter Lindbergh, so it was obviously pretty exciting.” This time, she was put up in an apartment with other models; but after an evening out at the nightclub Les Bains Douches, Lee ended up back at Marie’s apartment where, she says, he raped her – an allegation published as part of a Guardian investigation into Look of the Year in March. Speaking more recently from her home in Toronto, where she works as a makeup artist, Lee adds: “What is grossest is him asking me to put Linda’s T-shirt on to sleep in, then pouncing on me.”
Evangelista divorced Marie in 1993, after separating from him the year before. Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, she said: “During my relationship with Gérald Marie, I knew nothing of these sexual allegations against him, so I was unable to help these women. Hearing them now, and based on my own experiences, I believe that they are telling the truth. It breaks my heart, because these are wounds that may never heal, and I admire their courage and strength for speaking up today.”
At the time, Lee confided in a fellow model, and this got back to Marie. She says he took her into his office and berated her for “going around saying I raped you”, suggesting her career would be on the line. She says he told her: “What else are you going to do? Go back home and flip burgers?” Other staff at the agency found out: “It was just understood that it was in my best interests to brush it under the rug.”
At least five women the Guardian spoke to say they experienced sexual misconduct from other men who worked with or for Marie. Lee says that after Marie raped her, a Paris Elite scout and friend of Marie told her that the two men had been competing over “who was going to get your virginity”. She says the scout was “kind of mad that he [Marie] got it first.”
Lee, then 15, went on to have a sexual relationship with the scout, which at the time she thought was consensual. As an adult, she’s not so sure: “It was definitely an abuse of power.” The Guardian has spoken to two other former Elite models, then 15 and 17, who allege they were sexually assaulted by the same scout, and one, then 19, who says he raped her.
Swedish model Ebba Karlsson, who was 20 in 1990, alleges she was raped that year by a different Elite scout, and that, days later, she was introduced to Marie. Karlsson says that when she arrived at his office, the first thing he did was lower the blinds. “There was a window between his office and other people in the agency,” she explains. She says Marie then took her through the portfolios of famous models he represented and asked her if she knew what they did to become successful. Then, she says, “Suddenly, his hand was inside my vagina. It was so quick and abrupt, I totally froze.” After the meeting, she sat down on the “first available bench” and cried, feeling “ashamed and in shock”.
On another occasion, Karlsson agreed to go to a “casting” at Marie’s apartment. He had told her she had a lot of film potential because she spoke several languages. The other models there looked younger than her, she says, perhaps 16 or 17, and some were living in his apartment. “Some were sick, they had colds or something, and did not look great.” She and the others were told to take off their clothes, don high heels, then walk and pose for Marie and two other men. “They wanted to see our boobs. And I don’t know if that was the common practice, but it was like a meat market. It was horrible.”
A movie never materialised, and Karlsson went back to Sweden as soon as she was able, returning to her job at the Body Shop. “Marie took my power away,” Karlsson says now. “I was powerful before, I could protect myself. But after that, I was just a shaking leaf.”
In 2011, the supermodel Carré Otis published a memoir, Beauty, Disrupted, which included claims that she was repeatedly raped by Marie when she was 17. In an interview with the Guardian, Otis says it started around 1986, the year Paris Planning merged with Elite. She was staying in Marie and Evangelista’s apartment; it was the early days of his relationship with the supermodel. “Linda was maybe a little bit older than me,” Otis recalls. “She was soaring, she was already a star in the sky.” But when Evangelista was out of town, “he attacked me in the middle of the night”, she says. “I was sick and I had a fever. That was the beginning of many such attacks.”
Otis went on to become an enormously successful model, and was married to the actor Mickey Rourke, her co-star in the 1989 film Wild Orchid. But in the mid-1980s, like the other women interviewed for this investigation, she was still pounding the pavements looking for work. In her book, Otis writes that Marie told her she needed to drop more weight, giving her “a small brown glass vial of cocaine every day… this was the key to model weight management”. She says now: “It was made very clear that, if I wanted to make it, I would have to deal with his advances. That continued until I actually did say no, and then my work stopped.” Otis is one of the four women whose complaints triggered the French investigation, along with Karlsson, Dodd and journalist Lisa Brinkworth.
Otis says she was also abused by others connected to Marie or his agency. She alleges she was raped in her hotel room by a hairdresser on a shoot arranged by Elite. She believes that Marie and other Elite agents were making money by sending models on trips where there was “no actual work”, or to parties with wealthy men who had no connection to the industry. “I was definitely pimped out,” she says. For Dodd – who says she was sexually assaulted at a party she was sent to by Paris Planning, and by another man on a shoot arranged by the agency – this was “out in the open” in 1980. “There were all these offers of, ‘If you go on this trip, you have to sleep with the photographer,’” she says. “It was talked about out loud.”
It was just such a trip – to Monte Carlo – that Wendy Walsh had refused to make, back in the summer of 1980. Instead, the 18-year-old Canadian wrote to her parents from Paris, a letter they kept and which she now has. Reading it now, her disillusionment is clear: “I refuse to hang around in their social circles, and act like a prostitute to get work,” she wrote in what Walsh describes as her “swirly, little-girl handwriting”. “Unfortunately, as much as I wish it weren’t so, I have discovered that this business operates on a totally social level. If you don’t cooperate, you get stepped on.”
Marie Anderson, who worked for Elite between 1983 and 1990, says that to understand how Marie was able to get away with his alleged behaviour, one has to grasp the “complete control” model agencies had during this era. “It was like a cult mentality,” she says. Anderson, who worked for Elite Chicago, first as a booker and later as vice-president, says she remembers at least six different models telling her that Marie had been sexually inappropriate with them, but they swore her to secrecy, “terrified” that they would stop getting work if they complained.
She recalls overhearing Trudi Tapscott, an executive at Elite in New York from 1984 to 1991, and another agent, tearfully pleading with Marie and Casablancas to stop sleeping with underage models, some time in the late 80s. Anderson says she could only warn others against working in Paris: “I wish I could have done more.”
Tapscott, who is still a model scout, began working for Elite at the age of 23. She says: “I was only a little bit older than the models, and also taken in by the glamour. We didn’t have the language then to know that this was wrong, and even if we did, who would we report it to? We were like a family and there was no HR department; this was the culture that protected these men. I have tremendous regret about not doing more at the time.”
Most of the models who spoke to the Guardian did not tell their agents about their alleged abuse, for fear it would get back to Marie. Walsh talks in terms of “psychological shackles”. “I was trapped by the fact that they’d gotten me into debt right away,” she says. “And then you had your parents at home with stars in their eyes going, ‘Send us pictures, honey, tell us how it’s going, we want to tell everybody about our famous little girl!’ And you just didn’t want to let down your parents. You didn’t want to be a failure. What a horrible catch-22 to put a teenager in.”
In 1999, it looked as if Marie’s alleged behaviour had caught up with him when a BBC investigation reportedly filmed him saying he hoped to seduce the contestants at Elite Model Look (the new name for Look of the Year), as well as offering an undercover journalist money for sex. In the wake of the allegations, he was suspended from Elite; in an interview at the time, he said: “I’m destroyed… I’m finished.”
But Elite launched a libel action against the BBC, arguing that the report was “dishonestly edited”; the agency successfully made the case that Marie had been set up by the crew. The case was settled, the BBC apologised and conceded that its portrayal was unfair. The film disappeared and Marie was reinstated, continuing to run Elite Model Look for many more years.
After years of financial mismanagement, Elite was forced into bankruptcy in 2004, splitting into two separate agencies, owned by different corporate entities, which still operate today. Marie is believed to have continued working with the New York division of Elite, Creative World Management, until as recently as 2011. The company declined to comment, but a spokesperson told the Guardian in March that it condemns the kinds of “deplorable behaviour” alleged to have taken place at Elite in the past.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Elite World Group said: “We find these alleged criminal acts egregious and abhorrent. Gérald Marie’s contract with Elite Model Management ended in December 2010, and the company was sold in 2011 to its current owners Elite World Group, for whom Marie has never worked. Elite World Group is committed to providing a safe environment for our models, and does not tolerate any form of abuse, harassment, discrimination and/or gender bias.”
In 2012, Marie joined Oui Management, a prestigious Paris agency whose models front Louis Vuitton campaigns and Vogue magazine covers. He remains an investor in Oui, which is registered in the UK: company documents filed in August this year state that Marie continues to be a “person with significant control” over Oui Management Ltd.
Although Marie has claimed he is retired, industry insiders who work with Oui Management say that until recently he had a “hands-on” role. One source has shown the Guardian emails that indicate Marie was accompanying models on castings with photographers as recently as last year. Marie’s LinkedIn page, which he recently deleted, had listed his responsibilities at the “thriving newcomer” agency as scouting for and managing talent. Oui Management has told the Guardian that Marie is not currently an employee.
Now married to a Russian model, Marie splits his time between Paris and his home in Ibiza, which according to a local paper has “the best French wine cellar on the island”. Responding to the new allegations put to him by the Guardian, his lawyers said that he was “extremely affected by the accusations made against him, which he contests with the utmost firmness… He intends to actively participate in the manifestation of the truth within the scope of the opened criminal investigation.”
Is the predatory culture of the modelling industry in the 1980s and 1990s a thing of the past? Both Anderson and Tapscott say that there is still a pressure to “stay silent” – one that applies to agents, too. Anderson says: “I can’t get a job in the modelling business any more, because I’ve been ostracised for talking out about this stuff.” She adds that it “speaks volumes” that Marie is still involved with an agency today. “It is living proof that the cult-like mentality still exists, and the code of silence remains.”
Meanwhile, the eight women who spoke to the Guardian say that, even 30 to 40 years after their alleged abuse, the impact on their lives has been lasting. Walsh, Dodd, Lee and Otis all battled eating disorders as a result, and several accusers went on to experience problems with alcohol or drugs.
Otis left Paris in 1987, moving to a farm in northern California for several months to get as “far away from [modelling] as possible”. But when her money started to run out, she approached a small agency in San Francisco and got a few jobs. “It felt safe and stable and normal,” she says. “You knew you were going to get off at five.” From there, her career took off. In 1988, she did an American Vogue cover shoot with Evangelista, the first ever to feature two models, in which they posed together on a Greek beach in matching jumpers and black caps, smiling and laughing. (There is no suggestion that Evangelista was aware of the allegations against her husband at the time.) In 1991, Otis became the face of Calvin Klein and joined Evangelista as one of the world’s most recognisable models; unlike many other women the Guardian has spoken to for this investigation, she found success without Gérald Marie.
Dodd, who is now 60, became a successful businesswoman (she is the founder of the surf brand Roxy) and lives with her husband and three children in the north Californian countryside. “I made it out,” she says, although she stresses that the years that followed weren’t easy.
Walsh remembers crying down the phone to her parents in 1980, asking them to get her home for the summer, and then back to school. “I was sitting in my mother’s basement, suffering from depression, not knowing what that was at the time,” she says. “I was just eating and crying.” She says she is coming forward now, “because I believe this is still a problem for girls in the industry today, and it needs to stop.”
After gaining a degree in journalism and later a PhD in clinical psychology, Walsh became a successful broadcaster. In 2017, she was the first woman to go public with sexual harassment allegations against Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. Walsh told a New York Times investigation that, when she was a regular guest on The O’Reilly Factor in 2013, he reneged on a verbal offer to secure her a lucrative position after she declined an invitation to his hotel suite. He was later sacked by Fox after it emerged he had paid five women tens of millions of dollars to settle various sexual harassment lawsuits. At the time, O’Reilly said there was no merit to the allegations. “I never mistreated anyone,” he said, adding that he had resolved matters privately to protect his children from publicity.
Walsh is now a qualified psychotherapist and hosts the Dr Wendy Walsh radio show. “People say, ‘How were you so brave to just go, “No”, to this powerful man who offered you a major job on television in America?’” she says. “And what I said in all the press conferences is that I’m a woman of a certain age, I’ve had some life experience. But what I really meant is, I learned the hard way. What happened with Gérald Marie prepared me for what happened with Bill O’Reilly, 30 years later. What I learned when I was 18 was to never go to the private quarters of any powerful man, whether he held your paycheck or not.”
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If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, family attorneys SD Law have deep experience of helping women escape abusive relationships. If you have suffered sexual assault, and have been too scared to bring charges, we will support you through the process and help keep you safe. If you experience intimate partner violence, we can serve a protection order on your partner and help you initiate divorce proceedings, if appropriate. We will connect you to relevant support services. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a confidential discussion. We can call you back on a safe number.