Hers is the kind of exciting and rewarding life most people not
only admire but dream of. But for Jillian Manus, the path to creating
this life hasn’t always been easy. A few decades earlier, Manus
found herself in a much darker place: homeless, and a victim of
domestic abuse. Yet rather than defeating her, the circumstances
ultimately empowered her and made a huge impact on who she
46 South Bay Accent
“When life breaks you into bits, it can be an opportunity to
reassemble yourself into a better version of you,” she says.
Manus’ journey began with a host of early successes, starting
with the development and sale of her first TV treatment (blueprint
for a screenplay) at age 16. After graduating from college, she
quickly scored a coveted position as a talent agent, later moving
on to executive roles at Warner Brothers and Universal Studios.
Her turbo-boosted career path led her to
Switzerland, where she became a director
for Credit Suisse. And Manus achieved
all of this before reaching age 30.
While in Switzerland, she also began a
storybook romance with a Swiss baron,
and the two of them got engaged. But
one morning during breakfast, the
people serving the couple accidentally
switched their glasses of orange juice.
Manus took a sip of juice and found it
was about 90 percent alcohol.
“I looked at him, and said, ‘What the
heck! This is total vodka!’”
Realizing her fiancé was an alcoholic,
Manus started to monitor the drinking.
Eventually, she told him she wanted to
call off the engagement. This so enraged
the baron that he came home drunk and,
she says, “beat me to a pulp.” He also
took all her money and her possessions,
burning up the latter in a bonfire on the
lawn of their house.
Talent, Street Smarts Put to Use
Shocked, humiliated and broken,
Manus was found unconscious by the
baron’s bodyguard, who brought her to
a hospital. From there, she was quickly
transported out of Switzerland and back
to New York, where she was hospitalized
in critical condition.
Once she recovered, Manus didn’t tell
anyone what had happened. She simply
decided to “disappear.”
Manus was homeless for about a year,
wandering the Bowery and streets of
New York, completely dispirited and
ashamed. “I blamed myself,” she recalls.
“I was hugely embarrassed.”
One day, while waiting to eat in the
soup kitchen of her 16th shelter facility,
she had an epiphany. She noticed that
the system for feeding homeless people
was inefficient, resulting in quite a lot
of wasted food. After observing the situation,
Manus proposed a revamped system
that would ensure more people were
fed, reduce the amount of food wasted
and Jillian Manus
at the San Francico
opening night gala