Imagine this: For nearly 30 years your psychiatrist takes over your life, claims your Southampton estate and your family business, as well as your Swiss bank account as his own. He buys tables at big Jewish fundraising dinners with your money. He convinces you to become estranged from your only sister and persuades you that anyone you date is after you only for your money.
It is a story almost unimaginably bizarre. But it happened, and now the saga of the relationship between patient Martin Markowitz and psychiatrist Isaac Herschkopf has been made into an eight-episode limited series starring Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd.
Markowitz’s life today is radically different than it was when he was Herschkopf’s patient.
Back then, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars a year paying his psychiatrist (in addition to the money Herschkopf allegedly took control of) and did his doctor’s bidding. That included writing and printing the invitations to the summer parties Herschkopf held at the Southampton property. At the parties, attended by many of Herschkopf’s patients —– including Gwyneth Paltrow — as well as the ‘who’s who’ of Manhattan Orthodox Jews, Markowitz served drinks, grilled kosher meat for guests and was believed by those in attendance to be hired help rather than the property’s true owner.
At Herschkopf’s instruction, Markowitz also typed up a dozen book manuscripts the psychiatrist wrote out in long hand. Most have not been published.
In all, starting in June 1981, after he had been referred to the psychiatrist by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Markowitz paid Herschkopf more than $3 million in fees, he said. Two years later, under Herschkopf’s guidance, Markowitz disinherited his sister.
The following year, at the psychiatrist’s direction, Markowitz created a private foundation. According to the Department of Health, Herschkopf kept the foundation checkbook and directed most of its donations. The psychiatrist used the money for donations to, among others, the Ramaz School, an elite Jewish school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan which his three daughters attended.Multiple messages left for Herschkopf at his office and home phone numbers were not returned. Neither was a message left for one of his daughters, Dr. Marta Hershkopf, who is also a psychiatrist and expert in psychiatric ethics.
In 1985, again at the psychiatrist’s direction, Markowitz re-wrote his will to leave his entire multi-million-dollar estate to the foundation. Herschkopf was named the executor and his wife, the successor co-executor. Around the same time, Markowitz made his shrink the co-owner of his Swiss bank account, which contained about $900,000. In 1991 Markowitz again re-did his will, this time leaving his entire estate to Rebecca Herschkopf, the psychiatrist’s wife, and appointing his doctor with power of attorney.
In a recent interview from a New York City hospital, where Markowitz was coping with a bout of extreme vertigo, he told the Forward, “I was living a lie when I was with Ike. Ike sucked me into this cult of Ike and I was spending six or seven hours a week with him, he kept me constantly busy transcribing his handwritten books, throwing these parties, and I didn’t appreciate what was going on. He didn’t let me have a girlfriend. I would go on a date, and he’d call her a gold digger. He would say, ‘Everyone is out to get you, I’m going to protect you.’ And I was stupid enough to buy it.”
Markowitz finally broke off the relationship in 2010 after he had a hernia operation and Herschkopf did not visit or check in on him. He soon reconnected with his sister, from whom he had been estranged for 27 years. In 2012 Markowitz filed his first complaint with the New York State Department of Health. It took them seven years to begin examining Markowitz’s claims.
After a two-year investigation, New York State’s Department of Health this April took the rare step of stripping Herschkopf of his license to practice medicine.
New York State’s Department of Health, in its decision, found 16 specifications of professional misconduct – from fraudulence to gross negligence and gross incompetence as well as exercising undue influence and moral unfitness. The decision was based on records and testimony from three of Herschkopf’s patients. Markowitz is “Patient A.”
From true-crime to Hollywood
The riveting story was made into a 2019 podcast by Bloomberg journalist Joe Nocera, which Rudd heard, Nocera said in an interview, and developed into the forthcoming series.
Before production began Rudd, Ferrell and director Michael Showalter spent a day with Markowitz at his Southampton, NY home – which includes a main house and separate guest house, tennis courts, basketball court, a miniature golf course, koi ponds and contemporary sculptures throughout the wooded grounds. And, of course, a swimming pool.
“They came by themselves, no entourage, there wasn’t any joking around. It was just them asking me question after question,” said Markowitz. “After filming, Will Ferrell sent me an email saying, ‘I don’t know if you’ll like the series, but hopefully you’ll like the arc.’”
Other than that, Markowitz said, he has had nothing to do with the series, which is set to debut on Apple TV+ on November 12. He was paid $100,000 by series producers for his life rights, meaning he can’t write a book or play about his experiences, he said.
“I don’t know if they’re going to have a Hollywood premiere. I hope they invite me, but it remains to be seen,” Markowitz told the Forward. “Over 1.5 million people downloaded the trailer in the first week. The one disappointment in the trailer is that the house is nowhere near as nice as my house is.”
Prominent Jews still supporting the psychiatrist
Now, at 79, Markowitz is closing the theatrical fabrics business started by his father in 1928 and retiring. He plans to spend half the year in Thailand, where he met his current girlfriend, who he is soon meeting in Phuket.
“All I want is a nice quiet life,” Markowitz said. “I am going to retire and travel the world with my girlfriend.”
Despite the allegations and the state’s findings, Herschkopf’s friends — many of them prominent men — are sticking by him.
Richard Joel, president emeritus of Yeshiva University, testified before the Department of Health as a character reference for Herschkopf.
“Ike is a friend for 40 years,” said Joel in a brief interview. Joel currently teaches a class on the ethical and philosophical underpinnings of social work at Yeshiva University’s graduate school of social work. He declined to say more.
Another close friend of Ike’s for decades told the Forward, on condition of anonymity, that he is not aware of all the allegations against Herschkopf and doesn’t want to be. “He’s larger than life and there are eccentricities there,” acknowledged the friend. “I do know that there isn’t a malicious bone in his body. He’s my friend, he says he didn’t do anything intentionally to harm another person. I leave it at that.”
Markowitz says that he is “much happier now” than when he was under Herschkopf’s care. “It’s my 40-year ordeal. It was 29 years under his power and 11 years seeking justice. I finally got it.” What matters most is that “I got justice. That’s what I wanted.”
Debra Nussbaum Cohen is an award-winning journalist who covers philanthropy, religion, gender and other contemporary issues. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and New York magazine, among many other publications. She authored the book “Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter: Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls into the Covenant.”
His psychiatrist took control of his house, his bank account and his life. Now Will Ferrell is portraying him in a true-crime TV series