What’s Inside Jeffrey Epstein’s Little Black Book?

Andrew Rosen, the founder of Theory and owner of numerous racehorses, said he didn’t know him and had never met him. Mr. Rosen couldn’t recall ever attending an event he hosted or crossing his path.

Charles Finch, the film producer, brand builder and bon vivant, didn’t know him, either. Vanessa von Bismarck, the glamorous founder of a namesake fashion PR company? She had no idea why her name came up. Nor did Joan Juliet Buck, the former editor of French Vogue.

“As far as I know, I never met Epstein,” Ms. Buck said. “I never went to any of those famous parties at the biggest house in New York City.”

That’s Jeffrey Epstein, of course. Even though their names were in his notorious little black book, along with those of known associates like Prince Andrew, Donald Trump and Alan Dershowitz, these individuals said they were not sure why they appeared. They weren’t, they said, friends, or even passing acquaintances.

Because according to Mr. Rodriguez’s statement in the affidavit, the book was compiled by employees of Mr. Epstein, not by Mr. Epstein himself. Those contacted for this article acknowledged having met Ghislaine Maxwell, Mr. Epstein’s former girlfriend and “lady of the house,” and posited perhaps that was how their names ended up in the book. (It is unclear from the affidavit whether Ms. Maxwell is one of the “employees.” Ms. Buck said that she had met Ms. Maxwell at a boutique opening but that “she never phoned me.”)

Mr. Epstein’s book has become a symbol of the exclusive world of the very famous and very rich, and the secret life the financier lived.

That makes it the latest in a line of “little black books” that have played key roles in crime stories as far back as the mid-18th century, when Samuel Derrick conspired with Jack Harris, the “Pimp General of all England,” to create an annual guide to London’s prostitutes and their specialties. It ran hundreds of names long and was known as “Harris’s List of Covent-Garden Ladies.”

Ever since, the term “little black book” has come to represent something of a secret directory both in true crime tales and in the arts; a list passed along among insiders and conspirators; a source of illicit knowledge and a record of it that could be weaponized. The little black book has transcended mere notebook status to become a cultural trope, symbol and narrative device. (Also, on occasion, a gift item.)

The designation “black book” at one point referred to official records, most often the ledger of the British exchequer. It may have been borrowed for more prurient record keeping.

Hallie Rubenhold, the historian and author of the 2005 book “The Covent Garden Ladies,” said she thought that the proverbial book was a combination of two items popular with 18th-century gentlemen: the annual release of Harris’s list and the black leather-bound diaries that were available for purchase every year around Christmas.

“I suspect strongly that’s how the little black book evolved,” Ms. Rubenhold said. “It’s a conflation, I would think.”

Those dual phenomena help to explain the plot of the 2004 movie “Little Black Book,” in which a television producer decides to pry into the dating history of her boyfriend by looking at his PalmPilot.

The movie ends not with them together, but with the producer delivering a speech about the value of sharing the truth, and winning her dream job working for Diane Sawyer.

That film’s values (it was written by a woman, Melissa Carter) showed the little black book for what it was: a vestige of the age of the gentleman collector, a bygone fixture of male sexuality that was more about the number of women to whom one had access than the women themselves.

“In theory there is nothing wrong with a little black book,” Ms. Rubenhold said. “It’s just how you use it and how you treat the people who are inside that little black book.”

“That’s kind of toxic male sexuality in a nutshell,” she continued. “You are defined by your sexual prowess, yet that sexual prowess can get you in a lot of trouble,” Ms. Rubenhold said. “The little black book in many ways is kind of a manifestation of that.”

Elizabeth Paton contributed reporting.

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