There’s an old joke in Hollywood — and I remember how it circulated the year I was on the arm of my Oscar-nominated ex, at the Academy Awards: “If you win the Oscar, and you freeze during your acceptance speech, just thank Harvey Weinstein…” because there’s a good chance he’s the reason you’re up there in the first place.
That particular year, Colin Firth, who was guilty-as-charged for joking those very words to me, won the Oscar for the Weinstein film “The King’s Speech.” Helena Bonham Carter was nominated for it, too.
I last saw Harvey Weinstein in February, at Gabrielle’s, in New York, where I was dining with Leigh Haber, editor of O Magazine and an author friend, celebrating her new memoir.
At the next booth, because of my insistence to join us for a drink, was the cage-rattling filmmaker Michael Moore, waiting for his friend’s arrival and to discuss his forthcoming documentary, “Fahrenheit 11/9.” In walked Weinstein.
Anyone in Hollywood long enough knows there’s a casting couch for actresses.
Anyone in Hollywood long enough also knows that Weinstein is a charming, flirty, formidable and boorish force, who salivates words and berates employees. But, up until now, I can’t say anyone accused him of being a rapist.
How brave are those women to finally come forward. How commendable of the press not to turn-it-on these women with “why now?”
In the ’90s, when I first met Weinstein, it was because a male friend was working as his assistant. A few years later, Weinstein’s company, Miramax, produced David Brown’s film “Chocolat.”
Brown was from the iconic Hollywood producing team of Zanuck/Brown. David was also a surrogate father to me, since his wife, Helen Gurley Brown, stepped into the shoes as my second mother. David came with the package.
Just before “Chocolat” was released, I had been attending an event when I learned that my real mother, Marie, had dropped dead of a massive heart attack. I was in New York. My children were in Cape Cod. I needed to get home to tell them. Fast.
Weinstein’s team generously sent a car to gather me, under the code “Mrs. Green” named for the character from his film “Reservoir Dogs.” He was concerned I get to the airport safely. He was that kind of nice guy.
But there was another side of Weinstein. The one that two years later occupied the entire rooftop hot tub of the Peninsula hotel in Beverly Hills. He was devouring an issue of Vanity Fair — specifically, an article about himself.
I breezed by Weinstein in my bikini. He glanced up. “Hello, Harvey,” I said.
He squinted in the sun, trying to distinguish me. “You work for me?” he demeaned assumedly. “No,” I chuckled. “I don’t work for you.” He eyed me again. “Did you sleep with me?” No, I hadn’t slept with him either.
I pointed out my boyfriend, a man who had been offered gigs to write for Miramax, and reminded Weinstein that the Browns – David and Helen — were like my parents.
Weinstein’s tone changed instantly, and he realized who I was. He resumed reading Vanity Fair, so immersed in himself, that he neglected to notice he was dripping globs of oatmeal onto his belly, from the bowl that rested atop his chest. As I returned to my lounge chair, I watched Weinstein reach down with his tongue to sloppily lick the falling spoonfuls of grain off of his (call it) décolletage.
When the bowl was also finger-swiped clean, he lifted his backside to form some extra “bubbles” in the hot tub, then rose from the gurgling water, and put on a white robe.
He moved with purpose amid the celebrities – Judge Judy, MichaelJordan, etc. — gracing the lounge chairs.
Making his way to a mystery woman — who had just arrived across the other side of the Olympic-sized pool — he began screaming at the top of his lungs: “I told you not to answer the (expletive) phone in our room! In case it’s my wife!”
Weinstein had zero filter, shouting so loudly at her that every movie star and pool patron had suspended all action to witness this. It was how we all discovered his (then) mistress, Georgina Chapman. Not because she picked up the phone. Eventually, she became his second wife.
My 25-year theory has been you’re either a “Madonna” or a “whore” to Harvey Weinstein. Fortunately, and because I was surrounded by his powerful colleagues, I fell into the category of the former. Madonna. But, dear Lord, what if you’re a starlet? An actress trying to catch a break? What category then? What do you do with the Harveys of the world?
In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, we’ve seen every famous actress — from Angelina to Lupita – set themselves free of a long-kept secret. And we’ve seen Weinstein go off to his mega-expensive day spa in Arizona to “heal” from being a sexual predator. But he’ll be back. The Harveys of the world always are. (For your information: I can think of five Hollywood directors I know right now who could be accused, too — including the latest to be named, James Toback.)
The question remains: who knew and who didn’t? And who’s responsible to come forward on others’ behalf? Others?
If we simply blame Weinstein, we’re missing the point.
There’s a power and dominance factor at play in corporate offices and Silicon Valley, too.
There’s a disease to please us women have been indoctrinated with — stay quiet, be nice, look the other way and pretend it didn’t happen.
Women are taught to accept inappropriate groping, and verbal behavior, in order to get into higher places (or better acting roles that lead to Oscars).
At what point do we put our foot down and declare enough is enough?
It’s one thing to have a shortage of roles for women in Hollywood, but it’s another for those brilliant women to feel they must get the roles by sacrificing their craft to please a pig. And it’s not much different today than it was in the “Mad Men” 1950s.
What good is career advancement if the man at the top – and on top of you – never lets you forget how you “got there?”
Until this massive story broke, we’ve been forced to culturally turn the other way. This dominance over women shows us how much women have had to endure — and usually when they’re young and not secure enough in themselves to speak out.
Weinstein’s gotten away with this for three decades. This was yesterday. This was today. But what about tomorrow? Is it the naughty men we should be focused on? Or women uniting?
Jane Rosenthal, a producer at Miramax and co-creator of the Tribeca Film Festival with Robert DeNiro, seems to have the right approach and spoke of it in a recent interview. Three years ago she came up with “Through Her Lens” — a filmmakers program bringing together artistic development and financing for emerging U.S.-based female filmmakers.
“Women must come forward,” Rosenthal says. “We must encourage and support each other. We must understand that an assault on one of us is an assault on all of us. We must demand justice.”
So perhaps the focus moving forward is no longer the Harveys of the world.
I recall some years back when I was attending one of Weinstein’s annual premieres for Oscar consideration.
I wanted to take a shortcut to bypass his red carpet, thus avoiding the fans filling the sidelines, with press-flashing cameras. I had a headache. I knew he wouldn’t like it, but I didn’t care, so I threw my bare stiletto leg high over the gold rope to straddle it momentarily, exposing my lace panties.
Weinstein caught the solo glimpse. He clapped his hands and cheerleaded me on, “Way to go, Lo. Way to go….”
The wolf look on his face said it all. Dismissing him with a hand wave, I moved on. The movie that night was “The Fighter,” and maybe that’s what we women must keep doing. Fighting every day for our rights and our bodies. Because women must start calling the shots. Women must cure this disease to please.
Lois Cahall is an author, film critic and founder of the Palm Beach Book Festival. She lives in West Palm Beach.