Lisa Maria Falcone’s life story sounds like something out of a movie, specifically a Lifetime tearjerker with a happy ending. Raised in Spanish Harlem by an alcoholic mother on welfare, Falcone was discovered in her late teens by a Wilhelmina agent on the street and began modeling. In her early 20s she met her Prince Charming at a restaurant, married him and moved into a studio apartment, where the couple slept atop an air mattress on the floor. Before long, said prince, a former hockey player from Minnesota named Philip Falcone, started to make a little money on Wall Street. Eventually a little money turned into a lot, and then, a few years ago, Philip made a well-timed bet against the subprime mortgage market and—poof!—they were billionaires. Now the Falcones are living happily ever after with their five-year-old twins in a $50 million 27-room mansion off Fifth Avenue.
Pay a visit to that mansion, however, and it quickly becomes clear that life chez Falcone is more like a sitcom than a Cinderella remake. On a snowy day in February, Lisa Maria, whose olive green cargo pants and cardigan are neatly color coordinated with a hefty heart-shaped emerald ring, is nuzzling her pet pig, Wilbur, while a cat purrs in the corner and a veritable flock of tiny dogs yaps away behind a baby gate. “I just love animals, I can’t help it!” she shouts over the delighted squeals of the pig, who is being fed a carrot by the cook. Wilbur, Falcone says, can play the piano and will perform spins if prompted with a Cheerio. “I used to walk him to the park until one day I had somebody taking a picture of me and the pig,” she says. “I thought, Oh, my God! I can see it now. My husband will lose his whole business, and it will be me, the pig, five dogs, a cat and my daughters out on the street, no place to live!”
Falcone, who has been making a name for herself on the New York philanthropy scene and recently launched a film production company, Everest Entertainment, is not afraid to laugh at her over-the-top quirks. A friend of two decades, fashion designer Zaldy, says she has been known to play soccer with her daughters in Central Park decked out in a Lanvin dress and an opera-length strand of South Sea pearls. “No one would think they’re real because it’s too outrageous, but she doesn’t care as long as it works for her,” he says. “That’s just Lisa. Same girl I met 20 years ago.”
Falcone’s lack of a Park Avenue pedigree isn’t something she tries to hide. She speaks openly of her father, a busboy who never lived with her. When she was a child, the two spent their weekly visits in a bar. “Nowadays that would be a no-no, but then it was just nice guys playing dominoes,” she says with a shrug. Her mother, she offers, was the type to hit first, ask questions later: “If somebody else did drugs and I just happened to have said hello to them, I got beat up.”