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In December 2017, as the #MeToo movement was exploding, June Seley Kimmel tweeted about a long-ago encounter with Les Moonves, then head of development at 20th Century Fox.
Another seven months would pass before The New Yorker first reported allegations involving Moonves, who has denied wrongdoing. Neither that article nor a subsequent one discussed Kimmel, but by then members of the CBS board were aware of her: THR has confirmed that in late June, Shari Redstone and two of her allies had cited Kimmel as well as The Washington Post’s reporting on Charlie Rose as they called for CBS to appoint independent counsel to investigate possible misconduct at the company.
CBS did so on Aug. 1, after the first allegations against Moonves were published. The New York Times reported Dec. 4 that a draft of the investigators’ report has concluded Moonves destroyed evidence and lied to save his reputation and preserve a $120 million severance deal. The report alleges that Moonves “engaged in multiple acts of serious nonconsensual sexual misconduct in and outside of the workplace, both before and after he came to CBS in 1995.” Through his attorney, Moonves denied improper conduct and said he had cooperated with investigators.
I had done a lot of work on this project and I was very excited. I did my pitch and it was really the best I have ever done. Just fantastic on steroids — completely on it. He said, “We are going to make this movie.” He came over and hugged me, I thought he was just being genuine. And he held me super close and proceeded to stick his tongue down my throat. It was revolting. He didn’t even kiss me! Just the tongue down the throat.
I knew this happened to actresses … the old casting couch. But I never expected that to happen in the capacity of pitching a movie. I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I got a little carried away. That was so amazing. You’re so amazing.” He acted a little bit contrite. He didn’t treat me like a laughing prick. He acted a little deferential to my remark so I recovered pretty quickly. Because he was nice, I didn’t storm out.
He said “I’ll call you. We’re going to make this movie.” So I was not initially devastated. I was just hoping he was going to fucking make my movie so I could forget that it happened. But I thought, did I do anything wrong? Did I lead him on?
He called a couple of days later with this low, sexy voice and said, “When can I see you again?” I said, kind of innocently, “You mean to talk about the movie?” Then I took a deep breath and took a page from my friend’s playbook. She said, “You’ve gotta keep ’em guessing when they pull that shit. You’ve got to make them think if they didn’t have a wife or you didn’t have someone, they’d be first on your list.” [At the time, Moonves was married to his first wife.]
So I said, “You’re a very sexy guy.” I wasn’t good at it but I gave it my level best. And he was sexy and handsome. I wasn’t lying. I said, “If there weren’t pictures of your beautiful wife all over your office … and I’m very vulnerable … and I can’t. I hope you’re still going to do the movie.” He kept me on the phone a little longer and then he said, “Oh, someone’s here.” And I never heard from him again.
Then it started to hurt. I had worked super hard. It was just so defeating. It made me feel like I was part of a pathetic little club. I just didn’t know what to do after that. I was trying to raise my little boy basically alone, trying so hard to get a life. It made it very hard to pick up a pen for a long time. Why bother? Meetings were so hard to get, and this is what happens when you finally get one? I went on to read and synopsize some scripts freelance. I did some acting and singing.
I didn’t think about it once a year, honestly, until the whole #MeToo thing happened. But I saw him once at Cipriani and it activated anger I didn’t know I had. I told my friend, “My whole life might have been different had he been a mensch.”
At some point someone called me and said, “There’s a dispute. Would you mind speaking to someone at CBS?” There were two women on the line. I told them the story and it got strange when they were asking for all of this verification. My sister wasn’t good enough for them. I asked a friend and she said, “I remember every detail,” but that wasn’t good enough, either. I was annoyed at the pushiness. What did they think — I was looking for publicity? But when I think about it, it seems to me that what he did should be grounds for firing. I know he liked my idea and thought it could be a really good movie. But if a woman won’t fuck you, you’re going to screw your company.
The eternal question for me is: If I had done it, would he have made the movie?
A version of this story appears in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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Tracee Ellis Ross