Culture Magazine

A Glimpse at the History of the Casting Couch Before/during the Weinstein Era

By Thejohnfleming @thejohnfleming
A glimpse at the history of the casting couch before/during the Weinstein era

Harvey Weinstein at Cannes Film Festival (Photo, Rita Molnár)

With Harvey Weinstein in the news, I thought this was quite interesting.

The currently-posted Wikipedia entry on CASTING COUCH has these under the heading ALLEGATIONS. I have edited out the more generalised bits.

I can, of course, not confirm the truth of any.


EUROPE

• In 1930s Nazi Germany, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels allegedly ran a casting-couch operation and aided the careers of actresses such as Jenny Jugo and Irene von Meyendorff. In her memoirs, Swedish actress Zarah Leander described the “sleazy seduction scene” Goebbels arranged for her at his villa.

• In 1956, British fan magazine Picturegoer published a four-part casting-couch exposé entitled “The Perils of Show Business” featuring interviews with actresses such as Joy Webster, Dorinda Stevens, Anne Heywood and Marigold Russell.

• On an episode of The Word in 1994, English actress Kate O’Mara claimed American producer Judd Bernard pulled down her panties during a hotel-room audition for the Elvis Presley vehicle Double Trouble (1967). In her autobiography Vamp Until Ready: A Life Laid Bare (2003), O’Mara described this alleged casting couch incident (p. 61) and “many other close encounters with… this very unpleasant and humiliating procedure” (p. 32), including a well-known television casting director (pp. 32–33), the boss of Associated Television at Elstree Studios (pp. 34–35) and the director of Great Catherine (pp. 41–42).

• In 1998, writer-director Bruce Robinson described how as a 20-year-old young actor he was given a role in Romeo and Juliet (1968) after Franco Zeffirelli went down on him in Rome.

• In 2002, actress Lesley-Anne Down (b. 1954) spoke of finding fame in the late 1960s: “The casting couch was in full swing, people expected it… My teen-age years were pretty intense, a lot of pressure and a lot of horrible old men out there”. In a 1977 interview, she had also said: “I was promised lots of lovely big film parts by American producers if I went to bed with them… Believe me, the casting couch is no myth”. In 2015, Down discussed her experiences of sexual harassment in the 1970s by an unnamed legendary Hollywood actor and also by producer Sam Spiegel, saying that she had never really enjoyed her acting career: “Partly that was because of all the lecherous men, studio executives, producers and directors. There was so much running away and hiding under tables. Anyway, I started when I was ten and I’ve been doing it for 50 years.”

• In 2005, French film director Jean-Claude Brisseau was found guilty of sexually harassing two actresses between 1999 and 2001 during auditions for Choses Secrètes (2002).

• In 2008, actress Ingrid Pitt described the unwelcome advances of two producers in hotels.

• In August 2012, actress Julie Delpy spoke out about casting-couch paedophiles in France in the 1980s.

• In October 2012, filmmaker Ben Fellows published claims that the casting couch was rife in the worlds of British television, theater and advertising when he worked as a child actor and model in the 1980s. He claimed “the problem is both institutional and systemic in the entertainment industry.”

• In 2013, Myleene Klass stated that, “I don’t think there’s a single person in the entertainment industry that hasn’t, at some point, experienced the casting couch thing”. Earlier, in 2010, she revealed a major Hollywood star (named in 2017 as Harvey Weinstein) wanted to sign a sex contract with her.

• In 2013, Thandie Newton told CNN of how, aged 18, she was auditioned by a male director and a female casting director. “The director asked me to sit with my legs apart – the camera was positioned where it could see up my skirt – to put my leg over the arm of the chair and before I started my dialogue, [I was told] to think about the character I was supposed to be having the dialog with and how it felt to be made love to by this person. It turned out the director used to show that video late at night to interested parties at his house – a video of me touching myself with a camera up my skirt.” She declined to name the director.

• In 2014, it was claimed that incarcerated former public relations guru Max Clifford‘s “casting couch” at his Mayfair office was “his daughter’s specially adapted disabled toilet cubicle”.

• In May 2017, actress Barbara Windsor claimed that in the 1950s an influential former actor ran his hands all over her after promising her a film role.

UNITED STATES

• In her memoir Past Imperfect: An Autobiography (1978), actress Joan Collins described her experience of the casting-couch behavior of two 20th Century Fox execs in the 1950s.

• Since 1988, Theresa Russell has alleged in multiple interviews that she was propositioned by legendary producer Sam Spiegel during her first casting session for The Last Tycoon. According to his biographer, Spiegel had previously made liberal use of the casting couch during the making of The Chase (1966).

• In her memoir Child Star (1988), actress Shirley Temple claimed that one producer exposed himself to her in 1940 when she was 12.

• In 2003, Italian actress Asia Argento stated that Hollywood producers expect oral sex from young starlets in exchange for roles. Her semi-autobiographical film Scarlet Diva (2000) features a scene along these lines with painter Joe Coleman playing a lecherous producer inspired, as revealed in October 2017, by Argento’s alleged experience with Harvey Weinstein.

• Robert Hofler’s book The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson (2005) alleged that Hollywood agent Henry Willson was a gay casting-couch predator.

• In her 2005 autobiography, actress Goldie Hawn stated that cartoonist Al Capp sexually propositioned her on a casting couch and exposed himself to her when she was nineteen years old. When she refused his advances, Capp became angry and told her that she was “never gonna make anything in your life” and that she should “go and marry a Jewish dentist. You’ll never get anywhere in this business.”

• In her autobiography Ich habe ja gewusst, dass ich fliegen kann (2006), Austrian actress Senta Berger (b. 1941) claimed that in a New York hotel suite in 1965 a producer (b. 1902) exposed himself to her beneath his silk dressing gown and offered to forgive her for the atrocities of the Nazis if she slept with him.

• In 2006, a New York City producer was accused of sexually harassing several members of the cast of the off-Broadway play Dog Sees God.

• In 2007, an article in Vanity Fair denounced former manager of boy bands the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, Lou Pearlman (who was arrested for financial related crimes such as money laundering) for improper casting couch-behavior.

• In 2009, Hollywood composer Joseph Brooks was arrested on charges of raping or sexually assaulting eleven women between 2005 and 2008, allegedly having lured them to his apartment to audition for movie roles. Brooks committed suicide in 2011 before the case came to trial.

• In a 2009 interview with OK! Magazine, actress Charlize Theron claimed that when she was 18 she was propositioned at an audition by a pajama-clad Hollywood director. “I thought it was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night at his house in Los Angeles, but I thought maybe that was normal.”

• In a 2010 interview with Elle magazine, Gwyneth Paltrow revealed that early in her career a film executive suggested that a business meeting should finish “in the bedroom”.

• In April 2010, actor Ryan Phillippe admitted on the Howard Stern Show that he had had to flee a “creepy” casting-couch session when he was 18 or 19.

• In a 2010 interview with Access Hollywood, actress Lisa Rinna said a producer had asked her for “a quickie” when she was a 24-year-old candidate for a role on a prominent television series. At the same interview, Rinna’s husband Harry Hamlin claimed that a female casting director attempted to seduce him in the late 1970s when he was 27.

• In 2011, Corey Feldman alleged that children were also victims of the casting couch.Paul Petersen said that some of the culprits are “still in the game” and Alison Arngrim claimed that Feldman and Corey Haim were given drugs and “passed around” in the 1980s.

• In the November 2012 issue of Elle, Susan Sarandon spoke of a “really disgusting” casting-couch experience in New York City in the late 1960s or early 1970s. “I just went into a room and a guy practically threw me on the desk. It was my early days in New York and it was really disgusting. It wasn’t like I gave it a second thought. It was so badly done.”

• Amy Berg‘s documentary An Open Secret (2014) followed the stories of five former child actors whose lives were turned upside down by multiple predators, including the convicted sex offenders Marc Collins-Rector, Brian Peck, Marty Weiss and Bob Villard.

• In July 2016, television executive Roger Ailes was accused of sexual harassment by former Fox News Channel anchor Gretchen Carlson. More than twenty other women, including Megyn Kelly and Andrea Tantaros, have since come forward with similar allegations about Ailes’ predatory casting couch-like behavior in the television industry over a 50-year period.

• In October 2016, Cher posted on Twitter that she had had a “scary experience” with an unnamed and now deceased “gross” rich, important film producer at his house. She stated that she walked out and they never spoke again because “no job is worth that”.

• Also in October 2016, Rose McGowan tweeted that she had been raped by a studio head who then bought the distribution rights to one of her films. She was then shamed while her rapist was adulated despite the rape being an open secret in Hollywood. A year later, the studio head McGowan accused was revealed to have been Harvey Weinstein.

• On 1 November 2016, defence lawyers for Bill Cosby, who has been accused of sexual assault by over 60 women, wrote that, “Even if proven (and it could not be), the age-old ‘casting couch’ is not unique to Mr. Cosby, and thus not a ‘signature’ nor a basis for the admissibility of these witnesses’ stories, let alone a conviction.”

• In March 2017, actress Jane Fonda claimed: “I’ve been fired because I wouldn’t sleep with my boss”.

• In June 2017, Alison Brie claimed she was asked to take her top off during an Entourage audition and Emmy Rossum alleged she was asked to visit a film director’s office in a bikini.

• In July 2017, actress Zoe Kazan stated: “I had a producer ask me on set once if I spat or swallowed”.

• On 5 October 2017, a New York Times article accused Oscar-winning film producer and mogul Harvey Weinstein of three decades of sexual harassment of and paying off settlements to actresses Ashley Judd (in 1996) and Rose McGowan (in 1997), Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez (in 2015) and several named and unnamed female Miramax and Weinstein Company production assistants, temps and other employees. Weinstein promptly issued an apology for his past behavior and denied some of the allegations before being fired by the board of his own company. Shortly thereafter, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Judith Godrèche, Heather GrahamCara DelevingneLéa Seydoux, Kate Beckinsale and many others spoke out about their experiences of being sexually harassed by Weinstein.

• In the immediate aftermath of the Weinstein scandal in October 2017, actor Terry Crews tweeted that a “high-level Hollywood executive” had groped his genitals at an industry event in 2016, actor Rob Schneider spoke of a “gross” hotel-room encounter before he was famous with a famous, now-deceased director and actor James Van Der Beek tweeted about sexual harassment by “older, powerful men” in Hollywood.


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