Lee Israel – Estée Lauder – Beyond the Magic & Can You Ever Forgive Me

Episode 1 – July 21, 2019

The podcast is found on – Anchor, Apple Podcast, Breaker, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Radio Public, & Spotify


Featured Writer Reviewers:

  • Kristen Kindoll – Host & Moderator
  • Kelly Brown – Kelly Brown loves to write, read and listen to podcasts.  She is a mom to two adult sons and a retired law enforcement officer who is excited about having more time to explore life’s possibilities.
  • Keisha Card – Keisha is a writer, nurse, winemaker, and software developer in Nashville, Tennessee.


About – Lee Israel was the toast of the 1970 and 1980 New York Literary scene. In 1985, Lee’s worry-free existence vanished with the failure of the unauthorized biography: Estée Lauder – Beyond the Magic. By 1992, Lee was desperate for money and began forging letters from famous literary icons. In 2008, Lee published her criminal exploits in the autobiography, Can You Ever Forgive Me. In 2018, Can You Ever Forgive Me was made into a movie that received high critical recognition and multiple award nominations.


Can one book’s lackluster sales bring about the ruin of a writer and turn her into a one-woman literary letter forger? Or did Lee’s abrasive personality lead her astray? Did Estée Lauder’s lies make her a target for the unauthorized biography?



  • Lee Israel –
    • “The Lauder biography was the beginning and end for me as a hotshot writer. I’d left the cake out in the rain…And I blame Gregory Peck.”
  • Jack Hock –
    • “Jack was a tall, wheaten-haired gay man, then in his early forties, though he lied about his age all the time.”
  • Estée Lauder –
    • “She’s a big woman, and I tried to dance her around the room, but I wasn’t able to make her turn. She was keeping my back to the important tables so that she could wave at everybody.”
  • Jersey the Cat –
    • “My twenty-one-year-old cat, Jersey, infirm and addled with age..the Darling spent almost all her time under my bed; nothing interested anymore–not catnip, not even mousey.”



  1. Would Lee have found herself in the same situation, or was it Estée Lauder who brought about Israel’s downfall?
  • Estée Lauder – Beyond the Magic –
    • “The list would double were I authorized to reveal the names of all my sources, many of whom made extremely significant contributions to the book. For a variety of understandable reasons, however, they chose to talk without attribution.”
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me –
    • “Just as I was down to my last five hundred in my remaining IRA, along came Estée Lauder. I accepted the offer though I didn’t give a shit about her warts. I needed money badly.”
  1. How did creating an identity make and break these two women?
  • Estée Lauder – Beyond the Magic –
    • “Estée’s name must have derived from her middle name, Esther. No one remembers that she was ever called Josephine.”
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me –
    • “And my success as a forger was somehow in sync with my erstwhile success as a biographer: I had for decades practiced merged identity with my subjects; to say I ‘channeled’ is only a slight exaggeration.”
  1. Is copying a product and forging a letter the same or different?
  • Estée Lauder – Beyond the Magic –
    • “Estée would not be stilled. ‘I don’t want to talk to you. You’re stealing my people away. You’re copying my products’.”
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me –
    • “The line ‘Can you ever forgive me?’ is mine. As I wrote it, I imagined the waiflike Dorothy Parker apologizing…with no intention whatsoever of mending her wayward ways.”
  1. Do people really care about a backstory?
  • Estée Lauder – Beyond the Magic – 
    • “Estée would eventually spin out a lollapalooza of a yarn explaining her introduction to skin-care products.”
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me – 
    • “The ambitious backstory I had made up about Sidney Brozen…turned out to be a waste of creativity. Nobody asked me about Sidney.”
  1. 5. Did these women feel sorry about their lies?
  • Estée Lauder – Beyond the Magic –
    • Estée called her new cream Re-Nutriv. And, typically, the thrust of the claim would be in the name, a name that said nothing and everything, and remained well outside the purview of the FDA.”
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me –
    • “I was a better writer as a forger than I had ever been as a writer.”
  1. Does a writer need a system to be successful or is each ‘job’ different?
  • Estée Lauder – Beyond the Magic – 
    • “Leonard Lauder in his ten-point success program: Listen to your mother. Listen to your customer. And stick to what you’re good at.”
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me – 
    • “It continued to be our modus of operandi. Jack would make a sale and then meet me at an appointed restaurant or bar, and then to my house to count money.”


Listen to the whole podcast to learn the featured writers’ responses and whether they would recommend these books as companion reads.