"People taking what they wanted."
Intelligence, and Jeffrey Epstein, at the Dalton School
The kind of leverage that gets you the money to purchase an NBA overlaps with … stuff that never came up in high school U.S. History. The series began in February, which is a good place to start if you’re new here. Thank you for coming along on this journey as I learn, and for supporting TrueHoop in this work. (This can’t happen without subscriptions. Links to the entire series so far at the bottom.) Where we left off key leaders of World War II-era American intelligence had alarming business ties to Hitler’s regime. One former agent came to run a ritzy private school in Manhattan.
BY HENRY ABBOTT
In the Boston Globe in 1971, Pulitzer-prize winner William A. Henry III called Donald Barr “a tweedy, genial, mass of a man, a chortler with a welcoming smile, the image of a favorite uncle.”
That was generous, for two reasons. First, Barr—the headmaster of the Upper East Side’s Dalton School—started fights. Much about the school, from its Manhattan setting to its celebrity parents, was liberal. Barr’s house, on the other hand, had a poster of arch-conservative Barry Goldwater. Through Vietnam, the Nixon administration, and Watergate, Barr courted the derision of liberals, often in the media, including columns and books.
In his book Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty Barr expressed concern that “black militants” were corrupting children “to take a big share of Whitey’s good life and education.” Barr was furious when Dalton students protested for civil rights or against the Vietnam War against his orders. A theme of his writing is upset that children control their lives much at all. “An adolescent in his round of joyless promiscuity,” he writes about teen sex, “is merely taking adult prerogatives without taking adult responsibility,” he writes. “What youngsters, even adolescents, need to see is not a system grinding out decisions but a man making moral choices.”
The second thing to know was that Barr had been a creature of American intelligence. The characters who founded American intelligence had deep ties to America’s deepest pockets—and to Hitler. When intelligence people from that era espouse right-wing views, it’s hard to know the chicken and egg. Is Barr being loyal to himself, the political right, the Agency, or something else?
Barr spent World War II in the OSS, mostly stationed in Europe. The OSS was run by ardently Catholic “Wild Bill” Donovan, who had his own business ties to Hitler’s partners. It was a time and place many hid their Judaism, for obvious reasons. Donald Barr was raised Jewish, but became, in the words of his famous son Attorney General Bill Barr, more Catholic than the Catholics.
A couple of decades after the war, Donald Barr published a science-fiction book starring a once-liberal man who, in the strife of war, was co-opted into serving the evil rich and powerful. How did they rope him in? By forcing him to have sex with a teen sex slave as part of a mind control program.
The OSS did engage in mind control experiments starting in the 1940s. At least in some later iterations the projects involved sex in coercion. Some became part of the controversial MK-Ultra and related programs, which later included Nazi scientists the CIA kept from the Nuremberg trials.
When Donald Barr’s son became a lawyer at the CIA, he worked to keep the CIA from having meaningful oversight, or from its records being shared with Congress or the public. His boss ordered all the MK Ultra files destroyed.
Donald Barr didn’t enroll his own children at the Dalton School. The boys went to Horace Mann, where the most famous graduate was famous Communist-fighter Roy Cohn. “We need more Roy Cohns in the world,” said one of Horace Mann’s best-known teachers of the time, who was reportedly inspiring to Donald Barr’s son Bill Barr.
Cohn is a fascinating figure in Barr’s story. Both grew up Jewish. Both had proximity to intelligence and titans of Wall Street. Both made names for themselves by catering to right-wing America’s voracious appetites.
Cohn’s motivation was hard to discern, and may have had something to do with a rich banker uncle who went to prison. Bernard K. Marcus went to Columbia, like so many people in this story, and eventually took over and greatly expanded the bank his father started. By 1930, it was one of the biggest banks in New York, but, in the words of Cohn’s cousin David Marcus, writing for The Wrap:
Other bankers wouldn’t help the Jewish executive, and he became the scapegoat for the financial turmoil. He was sentenced to Sing Sing, the only banker who went to prison over the financial collapse. As an elementary school kid, Cohn visited his Uncle Bernie in Sing Sing: That left Cohn determined to beat the Establishment.
However that affected Cohn, there’s no arguing he found a way to work with the extreme right wing. He became the ultimate lion of traditional Americana—the most ruthless of the lawyers working in Senator Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt. Harry Truman later called McCarthyism “the abandonment of our historical devotion to fair play.”
Donald Barr taught for a time at Columbia University, while Columbia became a major feeder school to the CIA. Three of his kids attended. In a New York Times profile of Donald’s son Bill Barr, the then-Attorney General brags about scuffles against leftist student protestors. They were protesting many things including CIA funding for student groups. After getting his degree Bill went straight to work for the Agency.
As headmaster of the Dalton School, the parents Donald Barr served included many of the same people—Rockefellers, Whitneys, a who’s who of bankers—who influenced the agenda at the OSS where Barr had once worked. He also oversaw the children of Robert Redford, Neil Simon, and Richard Avedon.
At times, Donald Barr did other things that seemed more in keeping with the intelligence world than running a school. An anti-Castro Cuban dissident became a teacher at Dalton, even though one student thought he had no interest or experience in teaching. When dissident Soviet physicist Alexander Litvinov tangled with the KGB and fled the USSR, Donald offered his children a free ride at Dalton. (At Donald’s next job, running the Hackley School, Litvinov became a teacher.)
Barr had a habit of sexualizing conversations. He said it was “masturbatory” that female students wanted to wear slacks to school. A student considered going to a rival boarding school, Barr said he would be preyed on by homosexuals.
One of the students who most upset Barr by being political was Jonathan Friedan, son of feminist writer and advocate Betty Freidan. Barr made a veiled threat to write Jonathan a bad recommendation when he applied to colleges. Jonathan, with perfect grades, was shocked not to get into any of the eight schools where he applied. Marie Brenner tells the story in Vanity Fair:
“A Harvard trustee somehow was able to penetrate the admissions office—at least this is what my mother told me,” Friedan said. (Betty Friedan died in 2006.) And what he discovered was shocking. “There was a long letter Barr had written accusing me of being a rabble-rouser and a troublemaker. He said I was ‘a latent homosexual’ and ‘could be a danger to the school.’ ”
Tiny Dalton—with a graduating class of around 100—inspires strong emotions. It’s intimate. Like everything in Manhattan, it’s cramped. The main school is on 89th street, the youngest kids are on 91st, and the business office is way over on Park Avenue. Even though there’s a special PE center on 87th, there isn’t room for an outdoor sports complex. The cross country team runs in Central Park.
One former student credits the school with admirably steering a surprising number of children away from their parents’ career paths and into the arts. For such a small school, Dalton graduated all kinds of actors: Tracee Ellis Ross, Chevy Chase, Jennifer Grey, Christian Slater, Claire Danes, Mary Stuart Masterson, Wallace Shawn, Jennifer O’Neill, Tracy Pollan ...
But it’s on the Upper East Side, home to many of the richest people on earth. Dalton parents run things: multinational corporations, movie studios, nations. LinkedIn data says Goldman Sachs is the most likely employer of a Dalton alum, followed by Google. The most common college major is economics. Secretary of State Antony Blinken went to Dalton, as did Anderson Cooper, Matt Yglesias, and any number of investors, judges, and a few people with intelligence ties.
In all the reporting on that time, there doesn’t seem to be a perfect answer to who hired Jeffrey Epstein to teach at Dalton. It may have been Donald Barr, who left about then. What’s unquestioned: a guy from Queens with no college degree and a habit of partying with teenagers was an odd pick.
The New York Times’ Mike Baker and Amy Julia Harris found that Epstein was “willing to violate norms” like being the only adult at a party of drinking teenagers. Former Dalton student Eve Scheuer Lubin told NPR the girls “all hung out around him because he was handsome in his sleazy polyester pants.” Cat Schuknecht’s report continues:
In a 2009 deposition, an attorney asked Epstein if he ever had any "sexual contact" with female students he was teaching at Dalton. Epstein returned the question with his own: "While I was a teacher?"
When Epstein answered 'No,' the prosecutor asked if he'd had any sexual encounters with students after he left the school. Epstein responded, "Not that I remember." Then he was asked if he had dated anyone who was previously his student at Dalton. Epstein invoked the Fifth, Sixth and 14th Amendments and declined to answer.
When Epstein turned 40, Ghislaine Maxwell hired a man named Christopher Mason to write and perform a satirical song about him. Julie Miller in Vanity Fair:
“She wanted me to mention that when Epstein was teaching at the Dalton School, he was the subject of many schoolgirl crushes.” At the time Mason thought it was “kind of an odd thing to want in a song about a man who appears to be your boyfriend. But she clearly thought that that was something that was going to amuse him. Another odd thing that she wanted me to say was that he had 24-hour erections.”
The exterior scenes of the movie were filmed at Dalton. “That on-screen affair, however shocking to some, did not put a dent in applications,” writes Alessandra Stanley in The New York Times. “‘I've heard it did wonders for Dalton,’ said Eric Lax, who wrote a biography of Mr. Allen.’”
Journalist Sean Elder talked to Dalton students talking about Manhattan, the movie.
Betsy Gitelle was senior at Dalton that year, and few on campus were shocked by Manhattan’s spring-fall romance: She recalls at least two students who were dating teachers when she graduated, and no one raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know if I thought it was weird at the time,” says Gitelle. “It’s really hard to not superimpose today’s thinking on what the experience was really like as a kid at Dalton in the ’70s. You were in a milieu that was about power and wealth and people taking what they wanted.”
Epstein became a close friend of Allen’s. They were practically neighbors, a short walk from Dalton. There are photos of Allen and Epstein strolling around Manhattan with Allen’s controversially younger wife, Soon-Yi Previn—the adoptive daughter of Allen’s former partner, Mia Farrow. (One of Farrow’s other children later attended Dalton.)
Engelhardt, who did not attend Dalton, says that after she was Allen’s teenaged lover, she became Epstein’s assistant in the early 1980s.
Epstein’s next big break came from a Dalton parent-teacher conference. Julie Brown in the Miami Herald:
Epstein launched his financier career during a parent-teacher conference at Dalton in 1976 when he dazzled a student’s father with his intelligence. Epstein confided that he wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. He envisioned himself on Wall Street.
“This parent was so wowed by the conversation he told my father, ‘You’ve got to hire this guy,’” recalled Lynne Koeppel, daughter of the late Alan “Ace” Greenberg, an executive at Bear Stearns investment bank. “Give Jeff credit. He was brilliant.”
Later there were reports Epstein got into trouble while at Bear Stearns—but got out of it thanks to dirt he had on colleagues.
The lawyer who represented Epstein’s victims found “startling” testimony connecting Epstein to intelligence. His former prosecutor Alexander Acosta reportedly said that he had heard Epstein “belonged to intelligence.” A 2003 report from England notes that Epstein once told people he had been in the CIA—but later came to deny it.
If Epstein was on a mission involving intelligence, when did that begin?
Jeffrey Epstein, the Barrs, Roy Cohn, Woody Allen, Donald Trump, Alan Greenberg … it can seem like practically every powerbroker fits in one tiny group that all crossed paths at Dalton, in an environment that sexualized students—even in a major motion picture.
I called people who went to Dalton and asked about Epstein. One pointed out that the very powerful are also doing questionable things around Horace Mann, the Trinity School, Columbia Grammar, and just about everywhere the rich and powerful congregate, from health clubs to Harvard.
Another Dalton parent in the 1970s: Rupert Murdoch. The Guardian’s Lucia Graves writes that, like Epstein, Murdoch was engineering his own Manhattan ascent. “Murdoch came in from the outside,” said [former Clinton aide Sidney] Blumenthal. “[Roy] Cohn was his Virgil who guided him through the netherworlds of New York influence.”
One of the stories around Dalton: As part of an investigation into the Trump Tower-based Russian mob gambling ring portrayed in the movie “Molly’s Game,” the FBI raided Dalton alum Helly Nahmad’s art gallery, a few blocks from the school.
Before the people at Columbia Grammar get holier-than-thou about it, they should note that Helly Nahmad’s sister Marielle Safra is, right now, on the Columbia board with Marjorie Harris, the wife of 76ers billionaire and Apollo co-founder Joshua Harris. Meanwhile, Trinity School is where the children of Apollo founder Leon Black mingled with the children of Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump.
A Horace Mann graduate had the best response: oh great, it’s systemic.
The NBA has Dalton ties, too. After he left the league, NBA commissioner David Stern worked for his friend Alan Patricof. According to the Dechert report, Patricof invested in offshore entities with Apollo co-founders and Epstein. Patricof was both in Epstein’s black book, and had family at Dalton.
But one Dalton NBA connection seems especially interesting to the NBA. The chair of the Dalton school’s board, Richard Ravitch, played a role in Donald Barr’s eventual ouster.
Richard’s son Joe Ravitch was a Dalton student at the time. I first met Joe Ravitch when the NBA introduced me to him as the man who devised the league’s China strategy. Ravitch has become one of the most important bankers in the world of the NBA and entertainment. Ravitch is a lynch pin of money in sports.
Most importantly: Ravitch has done big deals with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (MBZ) of the United Arab Emirates. MBZ’s Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is one of the biggest investors in Apollo Global, which we’ll explore more next time.
Thank you for reading TrueHoop. Keep reading the next episode in the series.
PART 1: Apollo Global, deep pockets with ties to the NBA, Jeffrey Epstein, and Buzzy
PART 2: The earliest days of Sears Roebuck, the CIA, and United Fruit
PART 3: 1950s and 60s: Buzzy at Princeton, the CIA messes with mind control, Leon Black’s dad
PART 4: Beverly Hills in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s
PART 5: Buzzy the banker.
PART 6: In business with criminals
PART 7: Everyone in this story owns planes
PART 8: “The biggest crime in American history”
PART 9: “A stealth invasion of the U.S. banking industry”
PART 10: Jeffrey Epstein’s tutor
PART 11: Richard Nixon and Adnan Khashoggi
PART 12: The Dechert Report
PART 13: Nazis at the Waldorf Astoria
PART 14: Hitler’s American business friends
PART 15: Epstein teaches at private school
PART 16: The Emirates and the NBA
PART 17: Pablo Escobar in a Celtics hat
PART 18: A new kind of superrich
PART 19: The NBA goes to Abu Dhabi
PART 20: Steve Bannon and Jeffrey Epstein
PART 21: A Robert Ludlum spy thriller