After supremely powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was questioned by the NYPD this week about whether he groped the breasts and crotch of a 22-year-old model, the attitude among journalists and film industry insiders seemed to be that accusations that once existed only as loud whispers were finally being dragged into the light.
New York magazine writer Jennifer Senior and conservative commenter John Podhoretz, to name two, took to Twitter to briefly discuss what Senior called the "despicable open secret" of Weinstein's behavior with women:
At some pt, all the women who've been afraid to speak out abt Harvey Weinstein are gonna have to hold hands and jump: http://t.co/cYRZxE7HZV
— Jennifer Senior (@JenSeniorNY) March 30, 2015
@jpodhoretz It's a despicable open secret.
— Jennifer Senior (@JenSeniorNY) March 30, 2015
Senior and Podhoretz aren't the only people to have heard stories of despicable behavior from Weinstein. A New York-based tabloid journalist told me recently that a model friend of his encountered Weinstein at a North American film festival a few years ago. According to her story, Weinstein told her that if she wanted to act, she should come to his office—at which point he proposed a threesome between the two of them and Olivia Wilde. (The model declined both the threesome and the meeting, and, fearing retribution from the famously vindictive Weinstein, has so far declined to go on the record with the story.)
Another journalist we spoke with had heard similar stories, all secondhand—an indie film producer had told her that stories of Weinstein's behavior will "make Bill Cosby look like a monk." People in the film industry, she said, understand Weinstein's M.O. to be the following: he holds "casting sessions" at his office on Friday evenings when he can be alone, and that he greets women in his bathrobe.
But while stories of Harvey's manipulative bullying and violent aggression are widespread (here's a quick bullet-pointed rundown), rumors of the powerful producer leveraging his industry power for sexual satisfaction—consensual or otherwise—have tended to remain unaired, confined to hushed conversation and seedier gossip-blog comment threads.
Much of that gossip centers on circumstances eerily similar to those recounted by Ambra Battilana, the model whose accusations put Weinstein in the NYPD's sights. Here's The New York Times' version of Battliana's account:
"They did not know each other," said one of the law enforcement officials, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. "She didn't know him and he didn't know her; there is no indication she knew who he was."
The two exchanged emails, and on Friday the woman went to meet Mr. Weinstein at his offices at the Tribeca Film Center, at 375 Greenwich Street in Lower Manhattan, the official said.
It appears the two met in private, according to the official, and it was during that meeting that she claims he touched her inappropriately.
After the meeting, the official said, the woman immediately went to the police.
Though neither the Times nor its police source is explicit about it, the situation being described here appears to be an informal "casting" session between Weinstein and Battilana, with the producer inviting the model over to his office to size, and feel, her up in private. A Daily News report that police set up a phone call between Battilana and Weinstein in which the producer did not refute the accusations would seem to indicate that the characterization provided by the Times is indeed true.
A Weinstein spokesperson, for their part, has said that the producer is "cooperating fully with the authorities" and will be "fully vindicated." Someone described as a "movie industry source" told Page Six that "we"—perhaps referring to Weinstein's friends, or maybe the film industry at-large—"believe this is a blackmail attempt, and that he did nothing wrong."
Surely, that source would say the same about years-old rumors that Weinstein likes to get inappropriately close with aspiring actresses, but those rumors persist nonetheless. It's widely believed around the internet's sleazier entertainment gossip blogs that Weinstein spends a lot of time on the casting couch. Here's a portion of a 2009 blind item from Lainey Gossip that has been popularly attributed to Weinstein:
LaineyGossip – It was mystifying several years ago why she was hyped the way she was hyped. Just another starlet with no real significant starring vehicles somehow ending up with a prestigious magazine cover proclaiming her as the next It. Well It never happened. And after all this time and a string of failures, she's been trying to change the course. So she's gone back to the major player who tried to make it happen for her the first time. There was an arrangement back then – her sexual services for his professional services – and apparently the same arrangement was resurrected recently in the hopes that she'll finally confirm a juicy role to kickstart a stagnant career.
Never mind that he's married. His wife benefits handsomely from his generosity and while he may not fulfill her with fidelity, he certainly makes up for it through client exchange. Probably better that way. And given what he looks like, it totally makes sense. But he is a legend in the business both for his accomplishments and for the way he leads these ladies to their accomplishments, counting a couple of award winners and a few box office heavyweights on his resumé…which is why he quickly tired of our poor girl and discarded her.
In the comments of that post, Weinstein is a nearly unanimous guess as the "major player" in that story, and Gretchen Mol, onetime cover star of Vanity Far, as the initial starlet.
But just as popular as a guess was Blake Lively in the role of the younger actress displacing the original "starlet." The story that, level of talent aside, Weinstein pushed Lively as a budding superstar simply because she would sleep with him has followed her across the internet for years. A 2010 post on a pop culture site called Pajiba titled "Harvey's Girls" used Lively's arguably puzzling buzz as a way of noting that a score of Hollywood actresses seemed to be of particular interest to Weinstein. The writer, Courtney Enlow, observed:
The Harvey Girls are easily spotted. They are all very pretty, often in a rather generic sense. Their instant fame and the push behind them comes seemingly out of nowhere and without any justification in terms of resume or skill set. Most obviously, at least as of 2007, they are clothed exclusively in Marchesa on the red carpet (the fashion line of Weinstein's wife, Georgina Chapman).
Rumors of Harvey's casting couch ways are legendary. As a minor Midwestern blogger, I can't know their validity. But I do know for each of these girls, there was an enormous PR push, proclamations of "it-girl" and "the next big thing" and then a fairly daunting silence that had to be devastating to these young women who really believed this was their "it."
The rumors about Weinstein's "casting" methods continue on from there, even on gossip items that had nothing to do with him. Here, on a blog called Blind Items Exposed, a little rumor about Glee devolves into another conversation about Weinstein, Lively, and his other "girls:
Jamee are you talking Harvey Weinstein? Again if only my integrity (and wallet) would/could allow me to break my NDA from 'way back when' I could tell you a story of just how gross that man is - then again if you read BV you probably already know as I wasn't the only person at that showbiz event who saw what he did and others most likely told Ted.
Everone associated with Harvey Weinstein.
But until this weekend, it's remained confined to comment sections and gossip boards. The late David Carr, in a New York feature about Weinstein's monstrous reputation, declined to touch allegations of sexual impropriety, instead focusing solely on his image as a bully. Still, weird stuff bubbled up, like in this quote from Gwyneth Paltrow, who is considered a good friend of the producer's:
When Talk magazine launched, pal Gwyneth Paltrow ended up posing in S&M garb that didn't fit either her career arc or any of her personal needs. Paltrow says that "there were certain favors that he asked me to do that I felt were not exploitive but not necessarily as great for me as they were for him."
So here's the question: If Weinstein's behavior has reached the level of "despicable open secret," who's going to crack it truly open? If you have any stories of sexual assault or harassment at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or me personally at email@example.com, anonymity guaranteed. (You can also, if you're so inclined, use our SecureDrop service.)
[image via Getty]