The Ghost in the Gulfstream

Tapped by the late billionaire entrepreneur Theodore Forstmann to ghostwrite his autobiography, the author found himself jetting off to Paris and London while Forstmann told tales of his legendary career as private-equity pioneer, philanthropist, and playboy. It was only when Rich Cohen sat down to actually write the book that the trouble began.

  1. A few years ago, for reasons I won’t go into deeply, I ran out of money. It had something to do with the birth of my third child in five years and the way my old lazy life gave way to a terrible need to earn. Had money not been such a concern, I might have written a novel about high school or a book of sonnets, but it was such a concern, and that’s how I came to know Teddy Forstmann.

    Teddy was what Tom Wolfe described as a Master of the Universe, a pioneer of the private-equity industry, a legend in the buyout trade. Over the course of his career, he became one of the richest men in America.

    The first time I met Teddy, in the spring of 2010, he said he wanted to dedicate the upcoming year to “the three B’s: Business, Book, Body.” That was at Cipriani on Fifth Avenue between 59th and 60th, across from Central Park, where, for several minutes before the meeting, I sat on a bench thinking, What do I want with this rich man? The lunch had been arranged by my agent—a new agent. I’d gone to her office carrying a book I’d written with Jerry Weintraub called When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead. I worked on this book not because I needed money but because there’s no one like Jerry. It was an act of love that put me, without quite realizing it, into the ghostwriting business, which is rife with temptation. My agent grabbed the book, looked it over, then said something like, I’ve got someone for you to meet. She meant Teddy, of course, who had been working on a memoir with a g...