Creepy Agents, Shady Managers and the Plight of Hollywood's Non-Famous Actresses

LeLa Edgar - Illustration - H 2017
Illustration by Zoe More O’Ferrall

"Actors tolerate workplace harassment before we even have a chance to interview for the job," writes Lela Edgar as she opens up about her own encounters with sexual predation as a struggling actress.

When I was 6, I decided I wanted to be Shirley Temple. I was set on it. Cut to years later, and I'm finally walking down the halls of a major Hollywood agency. The agent I meet informs me his assistant said that I had a "special look." After a quick chat, he offers to mentor me. I agree while nervously bringing up representation. But he never had me read. He never checked on my education. What he did was ask me to have sex with him.

I laughed it off and tried to veer the conversation in another direction. He was serious. He was engaged and wanted his last nonmarital sexual encounter to be with me. He was clear that having sex would not guarantee a role but wouldn't preclude me from getting one, either. Wink wink.

I declined, and Agent X was not heard from again.

Some time later, with more classes and auditions under my belt, I was invited to a casting director workshop, held at a prominent director's home. There I was thrilled to hear that I would be perfect for General Hospital. A casting director offered to take me to a play featuring two GH stars, one of whom had a famous manager who would be present.

At the theater, I was introduced to the manager, who leered as the female agent he was with looked at me with pity. I felt gutted. After the play ended, the manager walked me outside and tried to kiss me. I stopped him. He became angry. So forget about representation. Manager X was not heard from again.

After taking a break from being a struggling actor, I recently resumed my efforts. I emailed a few agents. I offered to read, to do a scene. I knew I was older than an agent wants in a new client, but I also know I am talented. Why should I be out of the game when I haven't truly gotten up to bat?

Not an hour after emailing, I was excited to receive a response — from the same hallowed agency where the engaged agent propositioned me. This agent emailed, "What happens when I fall in love with you?" My heart dropped. I placated him, as I have learned many of us do, and said, "Well, let's not assume that will happen." His reply: "I need to know you are committed." (A few weeks later, this very agent let one of his clients go for sexual harassment.)

Some people will no doubt say, "He thinks you are attractive — feel good!" Some will also say I am too sensitive. Most of us who have been in the trenches know that if I had continued flirting, I would have gotten that meeting. I did not. And with that, another opportunity was gone.

I am thankful for the high-profile actors who have come out. They opened the door and risked being skewered by the public and industry. I watched in horror as strangers questioned a famous friend's integrity and assumed she was angling to boost her profile. With this reaction, who can blame someone for hesitating to speak up? And what are the 97 percent of rank-and-file SAG-AFTRA members not being covered by media to do? Is there even a way to earn opportunities without having to jump through sexual hoops? Is it possible to suggest I shouldn't have to?

What are women to do when they walk into a professional situation, only to be received and responded to as sex objects? Many endure inappropriate conversation, flirt, date and even become intimate to move things forward. But when we repeatedly opt for "No" and don't have an alternative option to get in the door, it not only closes off potential paths but also deprives the public of a larger pool of talent.

Actors tolerate the equivalent of workplace harassment before we even have a chance to interview for the job. It turns out that Hollywood destroyed Shirley Temple after she lost the interest of studio head David O. Selznick when he became romantically involved with another actress. But with today's wave of attention, perhaps we can make a lasting change for the better.

This story first appeared in the 2017 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.