Hollywood was built by Bullies. The caricature of the fat-cat movie mogul, chomping on a cigar and bossing around film crews before returning to his gilded office’s casting couch to “audition” the latest round of aspiring starlets has long been spoofed by the industry itself. The Power Players in Tinseltown from its earliest days were renowned misogynists, abusers, pill-pushers or worse. Most victims of these actions remained silent out of shame, coercion, fear of repercussion or in exchange for payoffs. Business as usual in La-La Land.
But the Harvey Weinstein Sexual Harassment Allegations and his subsequent firing from his own mega-studio may be the beginning of significant change. We now live in a world with a ceaseless 24 hour news cycle and technology that makes secrets harder to keep. Reputations can be made or unmade in 140 characters or less. Politicians who were pleased to accept his donations have been quick to move those dollars to charitable coffers. Celebrities have been slower to distance themselves and even the venerable “Saturday Night Live” wimped out of addressing the controversy through its usual use of Lampoon (There’s always next week…) Filmdom’s Grande Dame Meryl Streep, who once famously referred to Weinstein as “God” in an Awards speech, released a thoughtfully prepared statement today, pointing out that “not everybody knew.” You can read the full statement here:
Meryl Streep Condemns Harvey Weinstein Over Sexual Harassment Allegations
When famous folks, especially those we perceive as “lovable,” become embroiled in a scandal, tragedy or controversy (there are plenty!) we are shocked and disappointed…sometimes outraged. But when abuses of power/privilege are executed by people “behind the scenes,” it usually remains relegated there: Out of sight. Star-makers like Jack Warner, Howard Hughes and William Randolph Hearst were known for lascivious behavior, while simultaneously being publicly loved and lauded by the very stars they created. My cousin, Darryl F. Zanuck, co-founded the 20th Century Fox studios and is credited with not only making some of the finest films of his time, but by being as much of a showman as any of his stars (such as Gregory Peck, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple and Henry Fonda). A biography on his life, “Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking” tells you a lot about his personality. The roly-poly papa of MGM during its Golden Years, Louis B. Mayer, may have espoused family values and wholesomeness on-screen, but worked children in ways that would be illegal today and, in some cases (read any reputable biography of Judy Garland) exercised psychological and pharmaceutical abuse. Over the decades, it has trickled down into a pervasive pattern in Entertainment where it’s deemed “perfectly acceptable” for those in positions of power (male or female) to demean, belittle or berate their “underlings.”
Of course, nepotism and “office-politics” exist almost everywhere from Wall Street to Washington DC to the Vatican. But nowhere else does “climbing the corporate ladder” or “paying one’s dues” manifest itself the way it does in Hollywood. I think that is because the perception of its product is Creative…Artistic…almost Altruistic. I always remind people that “showbiz” is defined as TWO things: SHOW and BUSINESS. “It’s Not Creative Unless It Sells,” as I so vividly recall from my very first TV job in the 1980s; would you believe that was the company motto literally printed on our paychecks!?
So while the Weinstein story plays out and more sordid details emerge, let’s aspire to make it an example of how NOT to go forward. With the issue of gun violence so pervasive in America, I’d like to see Hollywood exercise some leadership by ceasing to glorify it for dramatic/box-office purpose. So, too, would I like to see restraint exercised behind the scenes: using respect, diversity and fairness to lead the future of the industry. “That’s Entertainment!”
Note: For an excellent new read on the early days of the Movie Business, I highly recommend “Warner Bros” by David Thomson. Interesting and thoughtfully researched.