Beauty and the Big Shots

The Sexcapades and Politics Behind New York’s Bogus Catholic Museum

Not all the sex charges, however, are so straight. Angela Marmo, a lesbian and convicted drug addict who worked as the museum's assistant registrar for two years, filed a State Human Rights Commission complaint in April alleging that Cox "suggested that I should approach potential patrons and contributors, mainly women, with the purpose of becoming sexually involved with them" to aid the museum. Marmo also charged that Cox reprimanded her for holding her girlfriend's hand while walking in the neighborhood on her own time, claiming she "was representing the museum 24 hours a day" and setting "a bad example." The complaint was dismissed 10 days later because there were "no witnesses" to corroborate the allegations, according to the commission.

A letter withdrawing the complaint was subsequently submitted to the agency, though Marmo says her signature on the document was forged. Marmo, who stated in her complaint that she "has feared for her personal safety" because of her conflict with the museum, talked to the Voice in on-the-record interviews in April. Among her charges, Marmo said Cox wrote $15,000 in museum expense checks to her that she cashed, turning most of the money over to Cox.

Confronted about her complaint and Voice conversations by Cox and others tied to the museum, Marmo called shortly before publication to declare, "You can quote me about everything I said to you, but I'm going to deny it." While Malloy ridicules Marmo's credibility now—calling her statements "blatant lies"—Cox once had so much confidence in her that she regularly trusted her and her sister to baby-sit Patrick.

Miss Liberty: National Museum of Catholic Art director Christina Cox
photo: courtesy of Angela Marmo
Miss Liberty: National Museum of Catholic Art director Christina Cox

Before Marmo's reversal, a museum board member affiliated with the East Harlem church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, hired her to clean the church and bingo hall and paid two months of back rent on her apartment. Having lived all her life on the same block as the church that is renting the school site to the museum with an option to buy, Marmo said she was acceding to relentless pressure from neighborhood supporters of the project.

When Christina Cox announced the launch of the museum on June 16, 1992, her public relations consultant, Don Softness, helped engineer a Periscope item in Newsweek heralding the supposed $50 million campaign "to create the first Catholic museum in the U.S." Just about everything in the story was spin.

Underneath a picture of Cox at Saint Patrick's was the caption "with the pope's blessing," a claim the Vatican's press office could find no record of (though a photo of her May 20, 1992, blessing shows her standing in a line of hundreds at Saint Peter's, clutching papers in her hand). The Vatican Museum supposedly pledged to loan art works for a special "pope's gallery"—an assertion, Cox would later say, that resulted in a commitment to make 72 sculptures available. But Vatican Museum administrator Francesco Riccardi told the Voice that all it has ever done is to make "modest" sales of "museum-related merchandise" to Cox, which it does to "many museum stores throughout the world." When Cox and company went to Rome this February, the Vatican Museum refused to meet with her and her staff.

Newsweek also pinned a medal of support on Cardinal O'Connor, saying that "because of Cox's vision," he now stood to "gain an unlikely new title: patron of the arts." In fact, O'Connor had written a letter to Cox saying he thought "such an institution would serve a valuable service." But the letter wasn't the "endorsement" Cox's press release said it was. O'Connor warned that it might be "difficult to finance such a project without severely impacting other works of the Church," a concern that the Voice has learned gnaws at church leaders to this day.

The press packet announcing the museum start-up contained Cox's ironic bio—calling her a "devoted Catholic" who had "attracted the attention of Robin Leach" at Cannes, modeled in London and Rome for the Jeffrey Wooten and International Models agencies, and had a bit part in Cannonball Run II. The release also celebrated the role Lee Iacocca was to play as honorary chairman of the museum's board. He was the first of several allegedly "intimate" Cox friends associated with the museum.

Iacocca had known Cox since at least 1986, when he was chairing the Statue of Liberty Foundation and his close friend Fugazy was heading up a similar state bicentennial committee. Cox was dubbed Miss Liberty by the bicentennial committees and parlayed it into a succession of scantily clad appearances she embellished into a mini-showbiz career that lasted years.

Cox's bio makes dubious claims about her marching as "queen" of the Saint Patrick's Day Parade and doing a world tour for the U.S. Information Agency. What she clearly did during her Miss Liberty reign was get to know Iacocca. Consultant Softness recalls his own conversations with Cox at the time of the museum launch: "Christina said she knew Iacocca very well for a long period of time and that he wanted to marry her, but she rejected him. He courted her. She is very, very beautiful, so it was not hard to believe. I believed her." Another Cox friend in the early '90s, a retired salesman named Mac Johnson, who baby-sat for her and volunteered for the museum, says, "She claimed she had dated Iacocca and balked at the condition that he didn't want any more kids."

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