I moved to Hollywood to work in the movie and TV business in the early 90’s. The first thing my agent said to me the day we became partners was this: “I’ll set up a meeting for you with anyone out here, except for Harvey Weinstein and Don Simpson. You’re never going anywhere near them. They’re screamers and liars and thieves. They’ll steal your pitch, set it up at a studio, and then turn around and sue you for stealing the idea from them. They’re pigs. We don’t do business with them.”
True to his word, he never sent me to see either man. But one day, he set up a meeting with a prominent producer and gave me an address in West Hollywood. When I walked up to the building, the sign read “Miramax,” the company founded and owned by Harvey Weinstein and his brother. I walked past the entrance and pulled out my cell phone and called my agent and asked him why he was sending me to Miramax.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “The producer you’re meeting is leaving the company. He’ll be over at Warner Brothers next week.”
I went in and took the meeting. It was a loft-like space, with offices that opened on a central area with high ceilings. I met the producer in his office and sat down and started my pitch. Then I heard someone screaming, quite literally yelling stuff like “you’ll never work in this town again!”
“That’s Harvey,” the producer said. “I’ll be out of here on Friday. Go ahead, I’m listening.”
I picked up where I’d left off, but it was hard, Weinstein’s screaming was so loud. He was on the phone, and now he was calling someone a “fucking asshole,” telling him he would trash his name all over town. He kept it up. I couldn’t believe a person would stay on the phone with the guy, his tirade was so nasty and profane. I gave up. I told the producer I’d come see him when he got his new office.
When I left, Weinstein was still screaming. There as a young woman at the reception desk looking at her computer monitor like nothing was happening. Two other women were sitting on sofas in the reception area. One of them was looking in her purse, the other was reading The Hollywood Reporter.
Just another day in Hollywood. But I was lucky. I was a guy.
I knew the movie and TV business was a snakepit, but who knew that just down the street from Miramax, maybe on that very day in the late 90’s, Les Moonves, then president of CBS Corporation, had actress Illeana Douglas pinned on couch with his tongue shoved down her throat. “In a millisecond, he’s got one arm over me, pinning me,” Douglas told The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow.
“Moonves was “violently kissing” her, holding her down on the couch with her arms above her head,” Farrow reported. Illeana Douglas told him, “What it feels like to have someone hold you down — you can’t breathe, you can’t move. The physicality of it was horrendous.”
Moonves, “aroused, pulled up her skirt and began to thrust against her,” Farrow reported in the New Yorker. “Moonves, in what Douglas assumed was an effort to be seductive, paused and asked, ‘So, what do you think?’”
Seeking to escape, Douglas tried to flatter him: “Yes, for the head of a network you’re some good kisser.” Moonves “frowned and got up,” according to Farrow’s reporting. Douglas seized the opportunity, grabbed her purse and started for the door. But Moonves wasn’t finished. He grabbed her before she reached the door, pushed her up against the wall, and with his face right in hers said, “We’re going to keep this between you and me, right?” Douglas tried reassuring him that she wouldn’t tell anyone what a “good kisser” he was. “Moonves released her and, without looking at her, walked away,” Farrow reported.
Outside the office, Moonves’ assistant asked her if she needed her parking validated. “I remember thinking, does she know? Does this happen all the time?” Douglas recalled.
As it turned out, yes, it did happen all the time. So did what happened next. Moonves called her at home and fired her from the CBS show she was working on. “It was, you know, ‘You make me fucking sick. You are not funny,’” she recalled to Farrow. “Moonves told her that she wouldn’t ‘get a fucking dime’ of the money she was owed, and that she would ‘never work at this network again.’”
Farrow reported in August that six women had accused Moonves of sexual assault and sexual harassment. He is back this week with another report of six more women accusing Moonves of sexual abuse, including retaliating against them when they refused his “advances.”
CBS has announced that Moonves has stepped down from his chairmanship of the network.
Don’t you just love that word, “advances?” That’s the way the press has been reporting the story, and the way Moonves, and Weinstein before him, have responded to the women’s charges. They “made advances” which turned out to be unwanted,and they’re sorry for them.
When the hell did holding a woman down on a couch and shoving your tongue down her throat become “making an advance” on her? When did walking around in a bathrobe and displaying your penis, like Weinstein was repeatedly accused of doing, become “making an advance?” When did jerking off in front of a woman in your office, as Louis CK has been charged with doing, become “making an advance?” When did locking your office door with a secret button on your desk and sexually assaulting a woman, as NBC’s Matt Lauer was accused of doing, become “making an advance?”
Television journalist Mark Halperin, who worked for MSNBC and made frequent appearances on shows like “Morning Joe,” was accused of grabbing women’s breasts and pressing his erection against them in his office, against their will. This is how Halperin explained his behavior: “During this period, I did pursue relationships with women that I worked with, including some junior to me," Halperin said in a statement.
All of the women assaulted by these men were “junior” to them. Every single one. And Halperin figured he was just “pursuing relationships?” These guys think they were just “making advances?”
Who behaves like that? Where did they learn this kind of behavior? Who are these men?
They’re pigs, that’s who they are. After allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault were made against them, further reporting revealed that almost to a man, they were verbally abusive to people who worked under them, screaming and sometimes throwing things. They go hand in hand, verbal abuse and sexual abuse. If these guys do one, they’ll do the other almost every time. There were dozens, if not hundreds of them in Hollywood. You’d hear stories about them all the time. This guy telling his assistant she was ugly, or that actress she was too fat, or that guy screaming at people on a set, or another guy screaming at parking attendant because he didn’t retrieve his car fast enough, or yelling at a waitress for getting his order wrong. Belittling women. Firing them when they didn’t give them sex, or when they simply didn’t kiss their asses enough.
I’ve spent hours trying to think of any man I’ve ever known in my life who treated a woman like these men did, or even anyone I ever came across who screamed at subordinates. The only one I could remember was Clay Felker, the editor of New York Magazine, who bought the Village Voice (where I then worked) in 1974. On the fourth floor, the “writers’ floor” at the Voice offices, we could hear him yelling at editorial employees above us on the fifth floor after he took over. But he was it. He was the only screamer I ever came across until I went to Hollywood. Then they were everywhere.
I’ve also wondered how they got away with it for so long. We now know Moonves and others committed sexual abuse and sexual harassment for decades before they were outed in the last year or so, largely due to the reporting of the New Yorker and The New York Times.
Then I remembered one morning when I was invited by a prominent producer to breakfast at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. It was 2001, and this guy had just won an Emmy for producing one of the many HBO shows that won that year. He was riding high, so he was eligible to get a table at the Peninsula, then the “power breakfast” spot in Hollywood.
I showed up, and virtually every table in the place was occupied by studio chiefs, major television executives, top agents and managers — in short, the foam at the very top of the Hollywood latte. Les Moonves was one of them. The heads of Paramount and Warner Brothers were there. The place was packed with power, Hollywood power, the only power that counted in L.A.
I was making my way through the room when a producer I had met at my daughter’s school, stopped me. “What are you doing here, Lucian?” she asked, a look of astonishment on her face.
I sat down and looked around. She was one of only a few women in the room. Everyone else was one of the male machers of Hollywood, and they were stopping at each other’s tables, leaning over to confer, patting each other on the back, waving at each other across the room. Almost every one of them stopped by Les’ table to say hello.
Looking back on that morning, I see two things. The first is the culture of mutual approbation that filled the room. It was a visible, audible thing, all the back slapping, and chuckling at each other’s jokes, congratulating each other. You could hear it as you walked by: I hear your new show is terrific, Mike! You got Scorsese? Congratulations! I saw the overnights on your show, Bob! Fantastic! The men at breakfast at the Peninsula were not all screamers, and certainly not all of them were committing sexual harassment in their offices and upstairs in the rooms at the Peninsula the way Harvey Weinstein did. But some of them were. And the way they stroked each other’s egos was at least in part how they got away with it. It wasn’t just a club, or a frat. It was a conspiracy of back-slapping camaraderie, and as we now realize, silence.
The second thing I noticed was the almost total absence of talent in the room. I may have been the only writer there. The men having breakfast that morning, and they were almost all of them men, were the dealmakers not the creators of the stuff you saw up there on the big screen or at home on the small screen. Take Moonves. He was the guy at CBS who said, yeah, put that show on at nine o’clock. He wasn’t one of the people who wrote the show, or produced the show, or starred in the show, or directed the show. If all of those people didn’t go to work in the morning and do their jobs, there wouldn’t be a fucking show to put on the air at nine o’clock. Les was just the guy who said “yes,” or far more frequently, “no.” For this, he was paid upwards of $60 million a year, he was such a fucking genius.
In between the times he said yes or no, he was forcing himself on women who worked for him, and then asking them how they liked it, and if he didn’t like their replies, killing their careers.
I came across only one guy in Hollywood who did anything even remotely in the same vicinity of the evil Les Moonves and Harvey Weinstein and the rest of them did. I knew a young woman from the east coast who came to Hollywood to work in the entertainment business whose mother had asked me to “keep an eye” on her. She got a job as the personal assistant to a mid-level TV producer, and one night over dinner at our house, she told my wife and me that the producer constantly screamed at her and had recently thrown a script at her, striking her in neck. We told her to quit, that we’d help her get a new job, and a few days later she did.
I thought about it for a day or so and decided to do something about that asshole. So I asked my agent to set up a meeting with the producer. His new assistant, another attractive young woman, led me into his office and closed the door. The producer reached out to shake my hand. I grabbed him by the shirt and shoved him up against the wall and told him I knew what he had done to my friend and told him if I ever heard of him throwing anything at someone again, I’d be back, and I wouldn’t be so polite next time.
I let him go and walked out the door. As I walked down the hall, he yelled out that he would get me. “You’ll never work in this town again,” he yelled. I kept walking.
I kept tabs on the producer. He kept yelling at people who worked for him, but I never heard that he threw a script at anyone again.
I managed to last ten more years in Hollywood. Moonves and Weinstein lasted longer, but because of some very brave women, they’ll never work in Hollywood again.
They’re pigs. Every single one of them. The screamers, the sexual abusers, the guy who threw the script, the whole lot of them. Pigs.