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On an unseasonably hot Sunday afternoon last November, I went to a reception for the movie Lion. The film was Harvey Weinstein’s Oscar contender, so I wasn’t surprised when I noticed him across the terrace at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, where various talents involved with the film were chatting with reporters, hoping for attention that would boost the movie’s chances in the awards race. Harvey was a master of this game.
I decided not to approach him. I had known Harvey for years, done stories on him, been yelled at by him, and even still was hoping to break the Big Story that almost everyone who covered the entertainment industry knew was out there if only it somehow could be gotten on the record. The very first time I had met him, more than 20 years earlier at an off-the-record lunch, he barrelled up to the table where I was waiting with two publicists and bellowed, “What have you heard about me?” I told him, in the bluntest possible terms, what I had heard about him and women. I thought the two publicists were going to fall backward off their chairs.
Since it was an off-the-record lunch, I can’t relay his response, though I remember it with crystal clarity. All I will say is that you can rule out shock or outrage.
Many years later, at the Lion reception, I decided to keep my distance rather than make friendly small talk. The Hollywood Reporter had been pursuing the Big Story about him, and if we could confirm it, we would have published it. But he approached and greeted me warmly. It was hard to know how to respond. He was talking politics — it was right after the 2016 election — when suddenly Nicole Kidman appeared at his side, greeting him joyously. And why not? It was already clear that she was poised to be nominated for an Oscar for Lion.
Harvey introduced me this way: “This is Kim Masters. She’s been trying to get me for years.”
“Yes,” I said pointedly. “And I still am.”
I think Kidman said something like, “Oh, my,” and I suspected, but did not know, that she had an inkling what the subtext might have been. With that peculiar moment out of the way, Harvey proceeded to lavish compliments on me. Awkward. My phone rang and I jumped at the chance to step away.
For years, Harvey had been someone who entertainment reporters dealt with as a matter of course. His brilliance in picking and releasing awards-magnet movies could not be disputed, and he moved in some of the most interesting circles in the world. In 2002, I interviewed Harvey and Martin Scorsese together about the production issues on Gangs of New York. Jousting with Harvey wasn’t dull.
When he and his brother Bob were still at Miramax, their awards-season parties were legendary. One year I took my then-12-year-old niece to the company’s Golden Globes bash at Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills. The minute we walked into the space — routinely so packed that the fire marshal would block the entrance — Harvey walked right up to her, ignoring me, and said, “Would you like to meet Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp?” With that, he strode off and took her to their table while I yelled after him, “I owe you nothing!” And so I became the coolest aunt in the world.
But always there were the persistent, terrible stories. I heard tales about celebrities and others who weren’t famous, though I could never get even one name. Some executives said they had heard about his behavior but it was maddeningly, infuriatingly impossible to pin down anything in any form that could make it into print.
Finally the dam has broken. Why now? Harvey’s luster has faded when it comes to picking movies, and for some years, he has not seemed as invincible as he once did. Maybe, as some have speculated, his brother has chosen this moment to do him in. I suspect that an internal Weinstein Co. memo in which an employee outlined alleged sexual harassment and other misconduct on Harvey’s part may have provided the wedge that was needed to break the story, and who knows who slipped that into the hands of reporters? But it seems clear that in the wake of Bill Cosby and Fox News, women are less willing to stay silent.
There has always been tension in the movie business over what to tolerate in the name of art or profit or, preferably, both. Roman Polanski and Woody Allen present the issue in sharp relief, and among producers, so has Harvey for the many who knew what was constantly alleged about him in whispers. Most in the industry — though not all — preferred to cling to an innocent-until-proved guilty rationalization or simply to look away. But now, even as adult audiences are hungrier than ever for the type of bold and brilliant movies that Harvey sent into the world, the consensus seems clear: The price is much too high to pay.
No doubt some people are asking themselves now what they could or should have done differently over the years of Harvey’s reign. And I am quite sure that some men in the business, aware of their own bad conduct, are pretty nervous right now. But will anything really change? Maybe. The studios belong to big companies now and the corporate parents are less likely to tolerate bad behavior. Still, I suspect that some at the peak of power still feel invincible. Until women are properly represented in front of and behind the cameras and in executive offices — and the statistics are grim — Hollywood won’t truly cure itself of this particular sickness.
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