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Posted at 11:00 PM ET, 08/10/2011

New memoir showcases messy private (cheap, tyrannical, sometimes charming) side of former Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke

Cat Crozier and Jack Kent Cooke at Redskins training camp in 1992. (Courtesy Cat Crozier )

If you’re patient, the truth — at least a pretty good version of it — eventually comes out. Biographers and historians know that it takes years, sometimes decades, to flesh out the lives of the rich and powerful.

But come out it does. In June, Catherine “Cat” Crozier quietly released “Dancing with the Devil,” her memoir about working for Jack Kent Cooke. Crozier worked as executive assistant for the legendary owner of the Washington Redskins two decades ago and is just now revealing details of her turbulent 22 months at his side. And kids, it isn’t pretty.

Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke and his wife, Marlene, in 1992. (Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press )
“It’s kind of like ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ — NFL style,” she told us Wednesday. “Couldn't you just see Jack Nicholson play Jack Kent Cooke?”

Like many memoirs, Crozier’s suffers from self-absorption and a limited perspective on her billionaire boss. The self-published book is little more than journal notes, pounded into a typewriter at end of each frustrating day with Cooke. ”It’s not an expose,” she said. “It’s just my story and I wanted to tell it.”

But Crozier had a front row seat during a particularly colorful period of Cooke’s life: The Redskins won their third Superbowl, he was planning a new, state-of-the-art stadium, and embroiled in a passionate, doomed marriage to his exotic fourth wife, Marlene Chalmers Cooke, who was 40 years his junior and a magnet for all sorts of trouble.

In 1991, Crozier responded to a classified ad in The Washington Post: “Private individual seeks executive secretary.” It turned out to be Cooke, who paid her $35,000 annually to handle his personal affairs.

She worked at Marbella, his D.C. home, and — like all the servants — was required to remove her shoes and wear slippers so not to damage the marble floors. According to Crozier, Cooke was a tyrant and bully who daily abused his employees and micro-managed the tiniest details: He went ballistic when a staffer accidentally spent $62 on eight filets of red snapper instead of four.

He was cheap: Crozier received just a $250 Christmas bonus after working for him more than a year. For a friend’s birthday, he retrieved a Hermes tie from his bedroom (with a stain), dug out an empty orange Hermes box, and ordered her to wrap the gift and deliver it that afternoon.

Cooke, then 80 years old, was only extravagant when it came to Marlene. who reduced him to a love-sick schoolboy. She had free rein with his credit cards; he once presented her with a pair of $40,000 diamond and ruby Redskins earrings.

Marlene Chalmers Cooke during her arrest by D.C. police in 1993. (Brian Mooar/The Washington Post )
But the two fought furiously (she shot herself in the hand during one fracas — at least, that was the official version of events), often in front of Crozier and the rest of the staff. Marlene left Cooke many times, only to reconcile days later. “She driving me crazy, you know that,” he once sadly confided to Crozier. Shortly after, Marlene was arrested for drunk driving after a late-night drive through Georgetown — with a young lover hanging on the hood of her Jaguar.

“There are people in the world who never get into any sort of trouble,” writes Crozier. “And there are people in this world who are accidents looking for places to happen. Mr. and Mrs. Cooke were those kind of people.”

Why not leave? Crozier said she promised herself that she would stay two years: Her resume “was a disaster” and she needed stability. Plus, she thought she could appeal to his good side. “That mischievous, charming curmudgeon was always lurking there. I wanted to bring it out. When he wanted to, he would just win you over immediately. And he knew how to use that charm.” All told, she lasted 22 months.

Cooke died in 1997, and Crozier went on to work for Ethel Kennedy and a Herndon telecommunications company. Her journal notes sat in a box until recently, when she finally decided it was time to publish her story.

“I’m getting ready to retire,” said Crozier, 60. “I’m tying up loose ends. I felt like it was now or never.“ Didn’t Cooke ask her to sign a confidentially agreement?. “I can’t comment on that,” she told us.

The book, only available online, came out six weeks ago; no reaction from anyone in the Cooke family so far.

By  |  11:00 PM ET, 08/10/2011

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