I Worked at a Beverly Hills Hotel and Witnessed Sickening Behavior (Guest Column)

A former PR director of The Peninsula Beverly Hills reveals the protocol of handling top executives including Harvey Weinstein, who was a frequent guest: "There's a reason bellmen were tipped better than anyone."
Illustration by Skip Sterling

In 1997, Ashley Judd joined Harvey Weinstein at The Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for a breakfast meeting, which the concierge informed her was to take place in the movie mogul's room. In the suite, the shocked actress fought off his sexual advances and, as she said in an Oct. 26 interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, "made a deal" to have sex with him after an Oscar win in order to escape. "Who was I to tell?" Judd told Diane Sawyer. "Was I going to tell the concierge who sent me up to the room?" The hotel — in a statement released to THR by parent company Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Limited — states that, yes, the concierge would have been obliged to act: "Hotel guests are entitled to privacy when staying with us, unless a complaint or allegation is made to our staff, in which case … we will not hesitate to ask a guest to leave if evidence is found that he or she has sexually harassed our staff members." However, in an interview, a former PR director for the hotel talks of a natural complicity to protect and keep VIP guests:

People have asked me, "Did you know?" I knew he was a bully. If his room service order was delayed, he would flip over the tray. Mr. Weinstein was known for screaming and for walking into the restaurant and demanding to know why his table wasn't ready, even if he had not made a reservation or canceled his reservation. He was high maintenance, but most top executives are. That behavior was common. But not so much that you would turn away the business. I don't know that anyone would ever have turned that business away.

Hotels are about generating revenue. If your guest, Mr. Weinstein, were coming in from New York, spending $980 per night for eight nights and taking meetings to include food and beverage service and room service, that's a nice piece of business. You find out his favorite wine or beverage, and you cater to that — not to his behavior but to the revenue he produces. Mr. Weinstein was probably there at least one time a month, in addition to pre- and post-Academy Awards for a significant time. The Miramax business mattered to the hotel. He and his brother, Bob, would stay in large suites, and the company would bring in other executives as well.

Guests would come to the concierge at the front desk and ask to see Harvey Weinstein, and we would call and send them up. That's how business was conducted. CAA was across the street at the time, and he held many meetings there; so did many entertainment industry insiders.

A woman would come to see Mr. Weinstein, and it would be confirmed if that is what he wanted, and she was then sent to his suite. I don't think there were women who hesitated that I knew of, but it was likely that they expected the meeting to take place in the foyer of a suite or in the office of a villa.

It wasn't at all unusual to see a high-level entertainment executive stay at the hotel for two weeks, and during that time, special guests who were clearly not the wife would join him. After entertaining those "guests" for several days, they would disappear, and halfway through the week, the wife, nanny and kids joined from New York. Everyone would know. It's an intimate, small hotel; it wasn't lost on anyone what was really going on, but it was never discussed. The wife could be 45 years old and the other guest maybe 20 years old. What happened at the hotel stayed at the hotel, and there's a reason bellmen were tipped better than anyone else in the entire hotel.

The higher up they are in an organization, the more you see it. It was so disappointing. As a 30-something professional, you wind up saying to yourself, "Him, too?" "Him, too?" "Him, too?" It causes you to lose faith in humanity a bit. On the flip side, it was fascinating to watch these men place the level of confidence they did in doormen. The doormen always knew when the girlfriend was leaving and the wife was coming, and that meant they helped take out any of the girlfriend's belongings and sweep the room just to be safe. It's a fascinating, well-oiled machine. That's one of the reasons these guys kept coming back: Their secrets were kept.

Hotels are really sexy. The more luxurious, expensive and elite, the more attractive they become — and they're open 24 hours a day. Hotels are a safe and discreet place where sex happens for people outside of their partnerships. Confidentiality is deeply entrenched, etched in the DNA of the employees. What you see is never to be repeated, and that goes for everyone from the housekeeper to the GM. If an employee had witnessed someone getting hurt or any harassment, they would raise the issue to a supervisor first. The police may not necessarily be the first phone call.

I don't know that I feel responsible for what Mr. Weinstein did at The Peninsula, but I'm really mad, saddened and sickened that this really bad behavior went on in a place where we, as employees, worked so hard to create something so special. To know that these women walked through that lobby to go upstairs to see that pig, and that's what happened? I'm really resentful that so much happened there. Gwyneth Paltrow's story in particular — no 22-year-old young lady should ever have to endure that.

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And an in-dining employee at the Montage Beverly Hills hotel recalls a traumatizing run-in with the producer:

Before occupying his Peninsula lair, Weinstein stayed at The Beverly Hills Hotel, where his association was reportedly ended due to staff and guests’ complaints including women entering and leaving his room. (The hotel declined to comment.) Several former employees of the Montage Beverly Hills, the hotel that Weinstein utilized starting in 2008 when it opened (before returning to the Peninsula), told tales of intimidation. A kitchen worker says, “Whenever he was staying at Montage, the in-room dining staff dreaded it. The housekeeping ladies did, too — I heard that he was filthy and they hated cleaning up a room he had just vacated,” while room-service worker describes how “the staff was strictly prohibited to greet him, speak to him, or even look at him,” upon the producer’s arrival. “The description on the PMA [computerized communication] system of how he wanted his arrival to be approaching the porte cochere were made in capital letters with several exclamation marks. If something wasn’t to his liking, he would raise hell completely.” The employee recounts a traumatizing encounter in 2010.

One day he placed a call to in-room dining. I knew it was him because it came from the presidential suite. When I picked up the phone, he started to bark orders like a mad man. He demanded sushi. Our sushi bar wasn’t open yet, but since I knew he was a big VIP, I wanted to make it happen. So I asked to place him on hold to find out if I could get one of the chefs to prepare the sushi. He stayed quiet for a second, then was like, "ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS? DON’T YOU FUCKING DARE PLACE ME ON FUCKING HOLD, YOU STUPID …" It was like that. I was in such shock. So I said, "OK, I’ll just make it happen."

I’ve never been verbally assaulted before. I had to take 10 minutes and cried, really cried. I brought it to the attention of my management and they were like, "Sorry, but you know how he is." Everyone was complicit because of who he was, the most powerful man in Hollywood.

This is how it works in luxury. I’ve worked in hospitality for 10 years, nine of those years in very luxurious hotels. There’s a certain complicity between the management and the people that frequent it. Harassment happens especially in high-end hospitality because when they’re paying thousands of dollars to rent a room, we’re basically in their homes. They feel like they can get away with anything. It’s a playground for them, and they can get away with being disgusting.

It can get a little scary for women servers. They get offered money for sex. There’s a ton of stories from girls who work in high-end hospitality. I’ve seen it happen, it has happened to me. Management knows but they don’t really do much to protect us. If I bring it to their attention, "Oh, don’t interact with him again. We’ll send someone else." But as far as confronting those people, no, they don’t, because they’re afraid of getting sued. We walked on shells when we knew he was on property. It was a very toxic environment when he was visiting.

If I would have complained, I know no one would taken me seriously or taken my word over their word because of the power these people have. And [Weinstein] never tipped, not at all. (Laughs.) It was like serving an ogre, it really was.

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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