For two weeks now, I haven’t been able to get the image of a potted plant out of my head. You know, that potted plant. The one Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood mogul and legendary producer of more than 300 films, allegedly masturbated into during a 2007 incident involving Fox News reporter Lauren Sivan.
Last Wednesday saw Samantha Bee, on her hit TBS show Full Frontal, present a biting but hilarious segment on Weinstein. About that potted plant she joked that it “bore fruit the following spring,” but let’s be honest: Despite Bee’s skillful quip, that potted plant is ultimately not hilarious, and what happened that night at New York’s Socialista restaurant is more along the lines of horrifying.
For what it’s worth, the former owner of Socialista, Armin Amiri, has since corroborated Sivan’s story of being cornered and then forced to watch Weinstein ejaculate in front of her, though Amiri says — based on the account of his then-sous chef — it was actually a cooking pot, which his staff member later discovered. (Can you imagine?) That alteration of the night’s events of course makes it no less disturbing.
Before Harvey Weinstein was unveiled as an inside-the-industry predator — a misogynistic sexual harasser, alleged rapist and all-around creator of toxic environments for seemingly every woman who encountered him in a span of 30 years — there was the Fox News duo of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. Before them, it was Bill Cosby. Even our orange commander-in-chief has been documented bragging about sexual assault against women. And the list goes on.
Which brings us to the question at hand: When will Hollywood’s other shoe drop, that “shoe” being worn by one of the industry’s leading pedophile moneymakers? Or a gay version of Harvey Weinstein, for that matter? Who will be next?
Much like the ‘open secrecy’ that characterized three consistent decades of abuse at the hands of the Miramax and The Weinstein Company head, it’s no secret that Hollywood is rife with many a child abuser and many a gay sleazebag — producers, directors, entertainment attorneys, studio heads, agents and the like who employ casting couches, stage elaborate parties in the Hollywood Hills to lure underage boys and engage in sexual harassment and abuse both on and off set.
(It should be acknowledged here that a link between male pedophiles — even those who commit their crimes against young boys — and homosexuality is a false one. As scientists, psychologists and therapists have long argued, pedophiles are aroused by youth, not gender.)
As the nonstop coverage of Weinstein’s misdeeds has proven, commonly held Hollywood secrets eventually burst into the open. It’s a question of when, really, not if.
The most shocking thing about Hollywood’s current debacle isn’t the long list of alleged harassment and abuse leveled at actresses and female employees, which is nothing short of horrifying. More disturbing is the fact that three decades of allegations (that is, in the case of Weinstein; more than a half-century for Cosby) were allowed to accumulate, each incident featuring the same or similar modus operandi, before the abuse was ultimately exposed.
We cannot be so naïve as to think the ‘Harvey Weinsteins of Hollywood’ do not come in every shape, age and sexuality. Kit Williamson, an L.A.-based actor, producer and independent filmmaker who appeared on the final two seasons of Mad Men and created and starred in the LGBT Emmy-nominated series EastSiders, offers up his own personal story to us.
“I was 18 years old on my first trip to Los Angeles in college,” he says. “I went to a party with a friend of mine that was held at the house of a pretty big agent at one of the top five agencies. One of those big ones that has three letters in the name, if that narrows it down a little bit. The guy tried to put his hand down my pants while telling me that I would never make it as an actor if I was openly gay. It was kind of a one-two punch of harassment and homophobia, and I think the two things do kind of go hand in hand. One of the reasons why we haven’t had a gay Harvey Weinstein yet, I think, is that a lot of people don’t want to speak out because of homophobia.”
The world has watched similar accusations pile up against Hollywood movers and shakers for years. Some men have been named; many have not.
Corey Feldman has long clamored for justice against what he calls Hollywood’s rampant pedophilia. Four years ago the former child actor and current musician appeared on The View and alleged both he and his best friend, fellow child actor Corey Haim, were sexually abused in their pre-teens and teenage years. “There are people that were the people that did this to both me and Corey [Haim] that are still working,” he said to the show’s panel in 2013. “They’re still out there, and [they] are some of the richest, most powerful people in this business.”
Many child sex predators of Hollywood aren’t necessarily rich or powerful, though; they, too, have left a stain on the industry. Bob Villard was a well-known manager of child stars, representing teenage boys including Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio. Having been charged with possession of child porn in 1987, before he ever represented DiCaprio, proved no barrier to his work with young industry stars. He was ultimately not charged in ’87, though in 2001 he was again tried — this time convicted — of possessing sexually explicit photography of young boys. After his stint in jail, he returned to managing child actors until he was placed behind bars yet again in 2005. The district attorney reportedly told the press, “This is all normal in the industry.”
James Murphy, the man who cast the films Super 8 and School of Rock, is a convicted pedophile who in 1996 kidnapped a child in Seattle and flew with him to New York City. Though he was eventually arrested, convicted, served five years and was forced to register as a sex offender, a simple name change kept his conviction a secret from the industry. “To think that someone like this was among us is unthinkable,” JJ Abrams, the director of Super 8, said at the time.
Additional stories of child predators working within the industry abound, from Nickelodeon and Disney talent scout Martin Weiss (who pled guilty to child sex abuse but was released upon his conviction due to time served) to Nickelodeon production assistant Jason Michael Handy (sentenced to six years after pleading no contest).
Feldman has said he’s dissuaded from ‘naming names’ and seeking justice for his own experiences because California’s statute of limitations would prevent actual charges from being filed, and he’d be left with hefty attorney’s fees from defending himself against the defamation suits that would most assuredly follow.
Video of Feldman’s appearance on The View has gone viral following the Weinstein scandal, as both a reminder that accusations of abuse are nothing new, but also because of the disgustingly deafening response by host Barbara Walters. “You’re damaging an entire industry!” she exclaimed in response to his charges, as if the innocence of young Hollywood stars — or actors of any age — should be considered less valuable than the safety and security of sex criminals.
But is Walters’ exclamation accurate? Has the industry truly been damaged by claims of pedophilia and sex abuse? We’re discussing it now following one of the industry’s most prominent modern-day sex scandals, but will the conversation simply fade away into obscurity once again? Even despite certain industry pedophiles and assaulters being charged and convicted for sex crimes, a culture of silence has kept this ‘open secret’ away from mainstream consumption.
Walters’ seemingly disgusted response to Feldman’s claims of what still happens in Hollywood gets to the heart of sex scandal silence. What keeps people from speaking up against sexual predators in the industry is often a few rather obvious considerations.
Foremost, many victims of big Hollywood names are paid off. Out-of-court settlements offer them large sums of money under the condition of strict nondisclosure agreements. Even without a settlement, the fear of legal action against an accuser is an obvious barrier to speaking out.
A job under Harvey Weinstein — and under many a Hollywood mover-and-shaker — comes with the possibility of riches. As The New York Times points out in its original exposé, many of the well-known producer’s former assistants have since “risen high in Hollywood.” The flip-side of an actress’s in-person meeting with Weinstein at L.A.’s Peninsula Hotel could be a script, a role in a film, an award campaign or a magazine profile. That same flip-side exists for uncomfortable encounters by minors and gay actors with Hollywood’s abusive elite.
In addition, retribution by the accused — who typically hold more power if not all the power in a typical Hollywood situation — is a fear large enough to prevent most victims from coming forward. The more powerful and well-resourced a Hollywood figure, the more potential exists for an inner-industry smear campaign.
Retribution can even take the form of an accused abuser’s family and friends coming out of the woodwork to place blame on victims. We saw that most recently via the statements of Weinstein confidants Oliver Stone, Woody Allen and Donna Karan. (It should be noted that Stone and Allen face allegations of their own.)
“I think oftentimes abusers are very tactical in the ways in which they target people, in circumstances that would be very difficult to prove in a court of law,” says Williamson. “So it’s easy to understand, for me, why somebody — particularly somebody for whom the harassment or assault was barely averted, or that got out of the situation without it progressing further — I understand why people stay silent for so long, and I think it is amazing that all of these women are coming forward now and sharing their stories. Because I’m sure that feeling that they had to stay silent was as damaging as the actual incident.”
Male actors — and even more so gay actors — face an additional hurdle as vocal victims of sexual harassment or abuse in Hollywood. The phenomenon of an actor staying closeted due to a fear of not working is rather commonplace, and it’s something that has been discussed at length by a wide range of industry talent. For a gay actor, the additional stigma that a same-sex scandal would bring — making him not only a man who sleeps with other men off-camera but a “victim” as well — has a ring to the tune of ‘permanent unemployment.’
Westworld actress Evan Rachel Wood is the latest Hollywood insider to publicly decry the industry’s seeming comfortability with its ‘pedophilia problem,’ tweeting that it “will be the next damn to break.” She followed up that statement on Sunday morning with another tweet — one that rehashes what is perhaps the most public of all Hollywood child sex scandal allegations: “Yeah lets not forget Brian [sic] Singer either.”
Singer, the director of beloved Hollywood projects including The Usual Suspects and multiple X-Men movies, has long had accusations of child sex abuse hover over him — though, it should be said, much fewer formal accusations under the law. The director, who once told Out magazine that he is “quite bisexual,” was the subject of a lawsuit in 1997 alleging the film forced three minors to shower nude for Apt Pupil. The Los Angeles district attorney declined to file criminal charges, and the civil lawsuit was dismissed for lack of evidence.
In 2014, Singer was one of four Hollywood insiders accused of involvement in a child sex ring. Michael Egan accused Singer, network exec Garth Ancier, former DisneyTV president and Digital Entertainment Network exec David Neuman and TV writer Gary Goddard of several charges, including drugging, groping and raping him. Egan claimed the men preyed on young actors and capitalized on their hopes of one day making it big. Singer and the other accused have long denied any wrongdoing; Singer’s attorney referred to the claims as “completely without merit.”
Mentioned in Egan’s allegations were parties held in Encino, California, at which he claims the four accused men plied boys with drugs and alcohol, encouraged skinny dipping and naked hot tub time and forced young aspiring actors into sex acts.
Egan’s scandalous lawsuit never went forward. He dropped his case against Goddard, and Egan’s claims against Neuman and Ancier were ultimately called “fabricated” by Egan’s own attorneys. Egan was offered a settlement of $100,000 by Singer, but when he rejected that offer and refused to sign the deal, Egan’s attorneys refused to litigate their client’s case any further.
In 2015, Michael Egan was himself sentenced to two years in prison for charges of conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud, to which he pleaded guilty.
Between Singer’s 1997 and 2014 lawsuits, rumors of an openly secret child sex ring and the blowout parties alleged by Egan had swirled through the industry town of Los Angeles. “The wild parties were hardly a secret,” claims The Hollywood Reporter in a 2014 article, and “the idea that underage boys were drugged and raped at the Encino estate … is hardly new.” In the 2014 documentary An Open Secret, directed by Amy Berg, multiple former chid actors claimed Singer was a regular face at those parties.
The Real O’Neals star Noah Galvin made headlines last June when he said in an interview to Vulture, “Bryan Singer likes to invite little boys over to his pool and diddle them in the fucking dark of night. I want nothing to do with that. I think there are enough boys in L.A. that are questionably homosexual who are willing to do things with the right person who can get them in the door.” But Galvin’s statement was eventually removed from the interview altogether, after which the 22-year-old actor delivered the following statement via Twitter: “I sincerely apologize to Bryan Singer for the horrible statement I made. My comments were false and unwarranted. It was irresponsible and stupid of me to make those allegations against Bryan, and I deeply regret doing so.”
“I came to the industry when I was already over 18,” Williamson tells us, “but it’s kind of an open secret that there are, or were, let’s call them ‘industry parties’ that were largely populated with a very young crowd, a teenage crowd. I do know people who went to those parties, and I do recall being invited to those parties and not attending. It honestly made me a little grateful that I spent my teenage years doing theater in New York, because I heard a lot of rumors of things that happened to friends and friends of friends. I think it’s an open secret that not everybody in that scene was 18, but I can’t speak from personal experience; I didn’t go to those parties.”
One man who was most assuredly a regular at the Encino parties in question: the man who called the 12,000-square-foot mansion home, Marc Collins-Rector, also the head of Digital Entertainment Network (of which Singer was reportedly an investor).
Collins-Rector was among three men sued in 2000 under charges of sexual and physical abuse, coerced and forced drug use and threats of physical injury and economic harm. His accusers claim they regularly had the drugs Valium, Vicodin and Rufinol pushed on them, and at least one victim claimed Collins-Rector intimidated his teenage guests by pointing a gun at them.
The Digital Entertainment Network head was indicted in 2000, after which Collins-Rector packed up his Encino house and promptly hightailed it to Europe. Authorities discovered him in Spain (along with guns, machetes and child porn in his house). After serving time in Spain, he was ultimately extradited to the United States, where he spent more time in prison for nine counts of sex abuse. In 2006 he was granted permission to head to the UK for treatment of a brain tumor. There he entered into a civil union with his 18-year-old assistant (which the U.S. Attorney’s Office claims was him attempting to circumvent British immigration law), and his whereabouts are currently unknown. He was last believed to reside in the Dominican Republic.
To date, Collins-Rector is the only individual convicted based on events that took place at his legendary Encino parties. The end credits of An Open Secret claim that as of 2014 Collins-Rector had paid none of the $4.5 million in default judgments against him for the abuse of the three former teen actors who took him to court.
In the words of Ashley Judd, one of many Weinstein accusers, to The New York Times, “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”
The key will be removal of the bubble-wrap seemingly worn by industry elites, armor that keeps their misdeeds hidden and the aftermath of those misdeeds inconsequential.
“We need to make [public conversation] universal in the hopes of amplifying women’s voices,” says Williamson. “Because every woman I know in Hollywood has been propositioned for a role, or forcibly groped, or in some other ways had her agency taken away at some point while working. Every woman I know. It’s an outlier story for gay men. Because my story — I have that experience, but it’s not the same.”
So without downplaying the endemic sexism faced by all women today, particularly among the archaic gender dynamics and power structures of Hollywood, that conversation must also include exposing the gay and pedophile versions of industry moneymakers.
“I would hope that this situation empowers and emboldens people who have had bad experiences, especially those who were underage at the time, to speak up and share them, knowing that people will support them,” Williamson says.
Perhaps the most we can hope for in a post-Weinstein Hollywood is a cooling-off period birthed out of the mogul’s very public excoriation. And perhaps the ridicule currently being faced by the abusive Hollywood producer is enough to make other powerful men of Hollywood — gay, straight and pedophile alike — keep their pants zipped and their hands to themselves.
“I think it’s amazing that [the current scandal] has brought these conversations out into the open, and we all need to be vigilant in working towards keeping them out in the open,” Williamson continues. “I think we are ultimately going to backslide, like we always do, in terms of people’s vigilance, in terms of respecting and believing and taking seriously accusations of abuse. But I am hopeful that this is a spark that can hopefully move towards ending the ‘Old Boys Club’ once and for all.”
Seeing victims of all genders and experiences come out of the woodwork with their jaw-dropping tales of harassment and abuse is a huge leap forward, and one necessary for solidarity. In addition to the more than 40 women who have publicly accused Weinstein of impropriety, male actors including Terry Crews and James Van Der Beek have gone public with experiences of their own. Many more actors are likely to have stories as well.
The pedophile and gay versions of Harvey Weinstein, who have for so long wreaked havoc on America’s most consumed industry, will eventually be uncovered. And when they are, here’s hoping the mainstream media is willing to treat those disgraces with the number of headlines and day-by-day coverage they deserve.
Those sins of Hollywood’s most powerful will also be true Hollywood scandals.