How Harvey Weinstein Used His Book Imprint to Cover His Tracks

From big advances to important political figures like Madeleine Albright and Rudy Giuliani to publishing numerous journalists to co-opting a satirical novel about him, the disgraced mogul saw books as a way to exert influence.
Getty Images

In 2003, former Miramax employee Rachel Pine started shopping a novel, The Twins of Tribeca, about a young ingenue who goes to work at Glorious Pictures, run by the notoriously larger-than-life brothers Tony and Phil Waxman. It was pitched as a satirical roman a clef of her time as a publicist at Miramax in the 1990s.

Interest was high. More than a dozen publishers bid in the first round of an auction for the publishing rights. But then around the second or third round a new bidder popped up: Harvey Weinstein.

Having failed to secure a copy of the manuscript (which at that point consisted only of a few sample chapters and a proposal), Weinstein decided to just buy it. He called Pine from Rome, telling her, “How much money do you want? I don’t want to be your stalking horse” [to get more money from another publisher]. Pine asked for only one thing from him, “You have to publish the book. You have to leave it alone.” Weinstein replied, “I will and you have my word on that.” Pine, who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter from her home in London about her experience, laughs at that memory now. “It was probably the most civil conversation I had with him.”

And Harvey remained true to his word. Mostly. He only asked for one small change in the manuscript, recalls Pine. "I think it was about Harvey not being handsome or something.” (Pine thinks the brothers might have wanted other changes but they were in the middle of negotiating their 2005 exit from Disney and had other things on their minds.)

But in other ways, Weinstein did undermine the book. Even though foreign rights were sold in about nine countries, the manuscript was never released in England. Pine suspects it was because Harvey was dating second wife-to-be Georgina Chapman, who lived in London, and he didn’t want her to see it. And when the book started picking up sales right as the Weinsteins were negotiating funding for their post-Disney venture, The Weinstein Company, the publisher pulled the plug on any more publicity. Her book publicist told her, “You can’t repeat this, but Harvey basically told us to stop working on it.”

Pine’s story illuminates just one of the ways Weinstein used his company’s publishing imprint — first known as Talk Miramax Books and then later, after he and brother Bob split from Disney and set up The Weinstein Company, as Weinstein Books — to further his aims over nearly two decades. (After the recent news of Weinstein’s predatory sexual behavior broke, Hachette Book Group, which was Weinstein Books' publishing partner, shuttered the imprint and reassigned books in the pipeline to other divisions.)

Though it was never a huge moneymaker, the publishing imprint was far from just a plaything for the Weinstein brothers. It was staffed by respected people — originally Jonathan Burnham, now the publisher of Harper division of HarperCollins, and recently by Georgina Levitt and Amanda Murray, who won plaudits for making it a strong female-centric imprint. And it had its share of notable successes, including smash kids series Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Artemis Fowl. It was reported to be profitable within two years of starting up.

But it also served as a vehicle for Weinstein to reward friends, curry favor with the powerful and perhaps try to silence and even buy favorable coverage from journalists. Weinstein made clear he was very much involved in the publishing operation. “Every final decision is mine,” he told The New York Times in 2002, adding, “I have strong input into the creative side.” He went on to say, “When I meet with people who I find interesting or innovative and there is a concept for a book...Tina [Brown, then chairwoman of Miramax Talk’s media division] and Jonathan [Burnham] can execute it brilliantly.”

Start with the powerful, where the roster of Weinstein authors included NBC's Meet the Press host Tim Russert, Queen Noor of Jordan, Weinstein’s own lawyer David Boies, Rudy Giuliani (reportedly for a $3 million advance), U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe. Those writers penned memoirs for Weinstein, while Al Gore's daughter Kristin Gore wrote a novel and her sister Karenna penned a book on female leaders. All were signed to high-profile and likely high-dollar deals. Add in books from celebrities such as Cheryl Ladd, Jules Asner, Dick Van Dyke, Yanni, and frequent collaborator Quentin Tarantino (for the novel version of Kill Bill).

“In the beginning when it was Talk Miramax, I think he also looked at it as a way of legitimizing himself," observes Pine, who started working at Miramax in 1995. She recalls Harvey’s excitement at hosting a book party for Caroline Kennedy, who had published a tome of her mother’s favorite poetry, that drew the widow of the Shah of Iran, among others, as guests.

But the roster of journalists who signed with Miramax/Talk and Weinstein is just as impressive, and now raises eyebrows, considering these are some of the same figures who might have published revelations about Weinstein's serial harassment of women years before those claims came forward this month. Weinstein gave a low seven-figure advance to Arianna Huffington for Fanatics and Fools, about Republican leaders (and also a deal for a TV show). Vogue contributing editor Plum Sykes published the novel Bergdorf Blondes, Vanity Fair’s James Walcott had Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants, about right-wing pundits, Page Six’s Paula Froelich wrote The It Guide to getting famous, MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski was signed for three books and her co-host Joe Scarborough was to write a still unpublished book on fatherhood). Variety editor Peter Bart contracted with Weinstein for three separate books. Several film critics had deals, including then Variety reviewer (and now THR critic) Todd McCarthy for a book about female race car drivers in the 1950s and New York Film Critics Circle chairman Marshall Fine for a biography of John Cassavetes.

Sometimes Weinstein pursued journalists himself. Earlier this summer, likely aware that The New York Times and the New Yorker were circling him, Weinstein called THR’s Kim Masters, who had long looked into stories about his bad behavior, out of the blue to offer her a book deal. But before he could even get his pitch out, Masters told him signing a deal with Weinstein Books would be inappropriate.

Even when he couldn’t co-opt a book by buying it, as with Twins of Tribeca, Weinstein tried to use his influence. In 2016, Canadian filmmaker Barry Avrich wrote a book about his career that detailed the ways Weinstein tried to stop Avrich from making a documentary about the mogul, from discouraging actors from narrating the film to trying to get distributor IFC Films to either agree to changes he wanted or shelve the film.

Weinstein protested when THR ran an excerpt from Avrich’s book, specifically denying a passage that had him directing a sex scene between Sienna Miller and Hayden Christensen. Finally unable to stop the book or the excerpt, Weinstein switched gears. A few weeks later, when Avrich’s book actually published, a press release arrived at THR about an “exclusive and intimate party [that] was hosted by The Weinstein Company and had over 100 guests in attendance, including Harvey Weinstein, Dick Cavett, Michael Cohl, James Earl Jones, Petra Nemcova, Martin Short and more.”