Once upon a time, there was a kid named Christian Curry, and he was humiliated in the worst possible way. It was 1998, and Curry, a 23-year-old junior analyst at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., had the misfortune of having nude photos of himself, aroused, appear in Playguy magazine -- "my naked ass for all the world to see," as he puts it. Though he claimed he had no knowledge that the shots would be published (they'd been taken in college, when he was pursuing a modeling career), he was fired, allegedly for padding expenses. He then filed suit, alleging discrimination on the basis of race and sexual orientation (he's straight, but the magazine that published the pics is for a gay audience); he was featured in hundreds of articles, on CNN and network TV, and even in a thinly veiled Law & Order episode. Finally, the announcement last fall: The Curry case had been settled. Morgan Stanley would donate $1 million to the National Urban League, a nonprofit devoted to the promotion of diversity. But the ex-financier himself wouldn't be compensated.
No one, of course, believed this.
"This is Morgan's statement: 'We paid Curry nothing! Nothing!' " says Curry, adopting a booming bass like Ed McMahon's. He snorts. "And who am I to argue?"
But try as Morgan Stanley might, its public claims have been belied by the recent transformation of Curry from social pariah to Richie Rich. The party started the week of the settlement, when Curry arrived at a victory dinner at Harry Cipriani in a limo strewn with rose petals; it built steam as he bought two Ferraris, a Porsche, a Range Rover, and a Mercedes; and it's still on in mid-January, when he arrives at Le Cirque 2000 with his 23-year-old assistant, Stephanie, and publicist, David Granoff, whose other famous client is Anna Nicole Smith. "The last time I came here was for a Morgan closing party," Curry says with a smirk.
After settling in a purple velvet banquette -- "best table in the house," Granoff observes -- Curry gazes around the fairy-tale room, smiling happily. He sips a kir royale, peruses the menu ("What's halibut?" he asks), and orders tub after tub of caviar. "I've never had caviar," confesses Stephanie. "It's one of those little-kid things -- I always said I wouldn't eat it."
"But it's awesome," says Curry. "You've got to try some!"
I went a little nuts at first, buying all those cars. Now I've got guys looking out for me so I don't turn into M.C. Hammer.
Finally, she nibbles a little, and pronounces it "awesome," too.
Holding court in the cozy, tony environs of Le Cirque, Curry seems every bit the upwardly mobile banker he was destined to become before what he calls the "tragedy." Raised in Chappaqua, the son of a surgeon, Curry resembles Tiger Woods in body type, skin color, and cocky carriage. As he tells cute anecdotes about his fiancée, a
Cardozo law student he's nicknamed "Snugglebear," Curry is funny, kind, and always upbeat, very much the popular athletic guy in the popular athletic frat that he was at Columbia University and, earlier, at Northfield Mount Hermon, where he played basketball, baseball, and football.
But there is one topic about which Curry loses his cool: "People are saying, 'This guy Curry, spoiled little bitch, never worked a day in his life, and now he's a multimillionaire,' '' he snarls. "Well, bullshit! I'd never go through that again, whether they paid me zero dollars" -- and now he speaks very, very slowly -- "or $52 million."
So -- hypothetically speaking, of course -- what, exactly, does a 26-year-old guy do with, say, $52 million in cash and stock?
For Curry, plans include (but are in no way limited to) corporate investing, venture capitalism, money management, movie production, magazine publishing, modeling, and buying a "bunch of stuff," like a Hamptons club, TriBeCa lofts, and a downtown restaurant. His only business venture so far, however, has been purchasing The Black Star News, a four-year-old weekly originally bankrolled by Bill Cosby and intended to compete with The Amsterdam News. In addition to paying the bills (Curry spent $2 million for 51 percent of the business), he's now writing a column as well, so, on a rainy February morning, Curry heads to the Puffy Combs trial, in a chauffeured black Mercedes with tinted windows.
His driver pulls up to the courthouse's media entrance. "Stop right in front," he commands. "The cameraguys will think we're Puffy!"
The driver does as told, and TV crews scramble to hoist their gear as Curry doubles over in laughter.
Afterward, he proceeds to the Reebok club -- while he works out, he insists on treating me to a pedicure -- but before this, he's got one more stop: "Miramax," he tells the driver.
"Check this out: A friend from prep school and I were at a Mobil in Mamaroneck, and in comes Harvey Weinstein. He's standing at the checkout with a six-pack of doughnuts, and I'm like, 'Harvey! Harvey Weinstein!' And he's like, 'How ya doing.' So we talk for a while, and then he goes -- exact words -- 'Gimme a call, I'll introduce you to Tina Brown at Talk.' "
So Curry is figuring that before the meeting he should drop off some copies of Black Star, to impress the guy. After he waits a half-hour in the lobby, Weinstein's assistant calls and says come on up. Edward Furlong sits nearby as Curry hands the underling his crumpled envelope.
"Harvey'll get that, right?" says Curry.
"Yup," says the assistant brightly. "Talking to me is like talking to him."
Back in the lobby, Curry passes Robert De Niro. "Hi, Mr. De Niro," he exclaims.
"Aaarrrrh," grunts De Niro.
For all the talk of what he is going to have, right now Curry doesn't seem to have much. Though he says he's negotiating a deal for a Trump Tower three-bedroom ("It makes you want to make love," he says), he's just moved into a very bare TriBeCa loft. The sum of his belongings are an unmade bed, a golden Lab puppy, a stack of men's magazines, and "a 1,000-watt stereo," he yelps. "Check it out!"
If there's little evidence of the high life here, it's because Curry doesn't actually control his money -- yet. It's in his lawyers' hands until he's 35. "I went a little nuts at first, with all these cars," he says. "Now I have people looking out for me, so I don't turn into M.C. Hammer."
Having someone else hold the purse strings makes some sense, because Curry has a habit of getting into trouble. Last October, for example, Spa club promoter Scott Sartiano says Curry violated a restraining order against Sartiano, whom Curry was convicted of harassing when he pushed him through a window three years ago. Sartiano is now suing for $4 million. "In some ways, Christian is an adult," says Benedict Morelli, Curry's civil lawyer, with whom he has a paternal relationship (Curry won't discuss his own parents). "In other ways, he's a boy."
It's hard to know if he really plays basketball with Jay-Z or hangs with Russell Simmons, as he says he does. Does he own five cars or one, as friends report? Does Weinstein really want to take a meeting? (Weinstein's office says a conversation with Talk was proffered, but not necessarily with Brown.) Leafing through a magazine, Curry points to a new Guess? model: "I'm taking her out," he boasts.
It's only fair to cut the kid some slack: After a two-year legal battle under intense media scrutiny, is it such a crime to enjoy the spoils of wealth and notoriety? Though Curry might appear confident, the responses he provokes are not always sympathetic, especially on one recent night at the meatpacking-district nightclub Lotus, where he earns stares from young guys in suits and loosened ties, including a couple of Morgan Stanley analysts who say that they're "repulsed by him," particularly by the idea that he "could've gotten more money than we'll see in our lifetimes." One can only imagine their reactions to the first issue of Gotham, a new city magazine for which Curry posed wearing nothing but a Morgan Stanley baseball cap over his privates.