My memories of Harvey Weinstein from my brief employ at Miramax were first, eating delicious cookies and rugalach brought by his mother from a bakery in Queens. These were on tap in the hip building where the higher level folks worked. I would occasionally sneak over to see a friend, nab dessert and listen to the screams. Not really…but the tension in that office was palpable. One time I did procure a meeting with a lower chieftain to discuss my desire to move from the print shipping department to something a little more creative in that building. I recall an employee with a more interesting job than mine sitting at the booth next to me talking to a somewhat higher chieftain. Her skirt was hiked up almost like hot pants; he seemed intrigued and I briefly considered dressing more inappropriately for future interviews. I didn’t get them.
In the time there, I only had one conversation with Harvey. Both of us grew up in movie theatres, my grandfather and father’s in Pennsylvania; his upstate New York. I had hoped that we’d share memories of this bizarre type of babysitter, but he was too busy building an empire.
When all of the news broke out, I was surprised as I had never heard anything about the sexual issues, only the crudeness and tantrums. It is very sad indeed and brought to mind my innocent days of auditioning as an actress. Once while going to a reading for a horror film, I was asked to pull my pants down so that the producer could see how I ‘shaped’ up. I thought fast, and told him I had my period and would prefer to stay dressed. He accepted that excuse but insisted that I read the scene while stretched out on a couch and directed me to ‘move sensually’ while he fed me the lines, sitting behind a big desk. Of course, afterwards, I felt like a first class shmuck…but I wasn’t union and all of us actors wanted to build credits.
Then there was the time I went for a ‘pay for singing classes’ waitress job. The place was a very fancy hotel with promises of big tips. The big boss, who made Harvey Weinstein look like George Clooney, wanted to see how I looked in a tighter blouse. I wasn’t born yesterday and thought it was fishy, but like the good girl I was trained to be, went back to his office wearing a stretchy tight shirt that was almost see-through. It was only then that I was informed that the job included after hour work with the male diners and that a practice session with the boss was required.
Sometimes these guys worked in packs. I showed up for a play audition and when told it had already been cast, was sent up to another floor where the man was looking for people for print work. I found myself in a fancy office apartment with a producer who was in a rush for his meeting with Dolly Parton, but had enough time to consider me for a hands commercial. After showing him my paws, he realized that I could be better for something else and insisted I try on a kimono while reading some copy about frozen food. For this, I studied with Shelley Winters?
But it’s not only actresses who are tortured in this way. I was fired from a job at NBC after only three days. I had been hired to work as an assistant to a unit manager in the news department. I recall that the man was balding and not funny. He kept calling me short stuff and it just didn’t feel right. I had quit another job for this job and had just applied for my dream apartment using NBC as my proof of employment. In only three days I was fired; suddenly unemployed and looking like a liar to the new landlord. My then boyfriend, heroic and as shocked as myself, marched up to the HR Department to inquire as to what I could have done so wrong in only three days. He was told outright, as the HR lady read my file, “that the boss said I wasn’t bouncy enough.’ Now I know what that means in terms of body language, but I also think he felt I didn’t bounce back and laugh each time he tried to put me down. Many years later, my name was part of the massive lawsuit female employees had against NBC.
Mr. Weinstein is part of a long history of rude men who misuse power. It is hard to understand them without understanding their childhoods and even then, there may be no answers. Perhaps Harvey never got bathed or was warmly touched as a child. Perhaps he grew up like me, seeing life projected so large that normal life seems a bit unreal and he chose the role of the last tycoon. Or maybe he’s simply a sociopath who can’t be redeemed.
Luckily, there are courageous women who recognize that the shame is not theirs to own, but that of the predator. Lucky, that there are men who are as appalled by this type of behavior as women. It doesn’t matter whether these incidents happen in a movie studio or a war torn country; they dehumanize all the participants. It is up to all of us to recognize how quickly a power imbalance can erode our higher instincts and stop it in its tracks, shout about it to each other and seek help if the impulse doesn’t stop.