The casting couch in Hollywood has long been known as the place where sexual favours are demanded by a powerful film producer or director from aspiring actors or actresses who want a role in their production.
The casting couch mentality has been around ever since the beginning of the film industry when powerful movie moguls would make sexual advances to young or vulnerable actors or actresses in return for a role in a film, to be ‘made a star’, or to be introduced to other powerful people who might be able to give their career a leg-up.
It was, and still is, a toxic culture among film producers, directors and other power players in the industry.
The allegations of assault surfacing about Miramax founder Harvey Weinstein have echoes of the many sexual harassment and casting couch horror stories that have emerged Hollywood’s chequered history.
One of the first and most historic cases of sexual assault was in 1921 when Hollywood first one million dollar star, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, was found beside actress Virginia Rappe who was screaming in pain on the bed. She accused him of raping her.
She died a week later – of causes documented as ruptured bladder and secondary peritonitis – saying ‘he did this to me’.
It was Hollywood’s first sex scandal and it shook the industry to its core, although Arbuckle was later acquitted after three trials.
Nearly a century later Harvey Weinstein stands accused of sexual harassment by 32 women, many of whom are in the film industry. The majority of the accusations come from women who were either looking for a role in a Weinstein production or already had one.
Whether they have had contact with Weinstein or not, actors and actresses in all areas of the film industry almost uniformly report to have experienced or heard about the casting couch mentality throughout their careers.
The presence of this despicable behaviour in the industry has survived so long for a number of reasons.
In part, the victims feel trapped into silence. They feel powerless against the abuser who could end their career or smear their name – and makes open threats to do so. The ‘you’ll never work in this town again’ cliche became a cliche for a reason.
Indeed, many actors and actresses have come out to talk about their experiences with casting couch behaviour but have refused to name the abuser because of many fears of what would happen if they did.
Others agreed to speak but insisted upon anonymity, making it difficult for the media to print the allegations.
In addition, there are those who are complicit in the system – assistants, friends, colleagues – who may know about the assault but refuse to act, either because they don’t want to, or through fear.
Professionals in the industry have spoken about the ‘machine’ that exists to silence victims of sexual assault in the form of PR smear campaigns, lawsuits, being fired or blacklisted.
Some of the Hollywood victims of casting couch behaviour
Charlize Theron recounted an experience where she said that she was asked to audition at a director’s house when she was 18 but found him ‘in his Hugh Hefner pyjamas.’
Thandie Newton detailed a story of an audition where the director positioned the camera up her skirt, and he told her to touch herself in the audition, she later found out that the director showed the audition tape to people at his house.
Judy Garland used to have her breasts groped by the head of MGM Studio Louis B. Mayer and he would tell her to sing from the heart while doing it.
Shirley Temple said an MGM producer exposed himself to her when she was just 12 years old.
Joan Collins says that she was tested for the role of Cleopatra twice and was the front-runner for the role when she was approached by the head of the studio who said to her ‘all you have to do is be nice to me’ to get the role.
She said that ‘It was a wonderful euphemism in the Sixties for you know what.’
Lesley-Anne Down said that in the late 1960s she was ‘promised lots of lovely big film parts by American producers if I went to bed with them,’ she went on to say ‘believe me, the casting couch is no myth.’
Helen Mirren claimed director Michael Winner treated her ‘like a piece of meat’ in a casting call in 1964, but Winner said that he thinks ‘her memory of that moment is a little flawed.’
Myleene Klass has said that ‘I don’t think there’s a single person in the entertainment industry that hasn’t, at some point, experienced the casting couch thing.’
Julia Phillips has said that a casting couch mentality was alive and well in Hollywood after she attempted to expose many underground Hollywood institutions.
Asia Argento, the Italian actress who has spoken out in the Weinstein case, said in 2003 that Hollywood producers expect oral sex from young starlets in exchange for roles.
She directed and starred in a semi-biographical film called Scarlet Diva in 2000 which depicts a scene of sexual assault, which she has said was inspired by her experience with Harvey Weinstein.
Megan Fox said that leading film directors have made unwanted sexual advances on her during casting calls for films.
Gwyneth Paltrow said in 2010 that when she was a young actress a film executive suggested that a business meeting should finish ‘in the bedroom’.
Corey Feldman, a child actor in the 80s, has said that children were also victims of the casting couch. Alison Arngrim claimed that Corey Feldman and Corey Haim were drugged and ‘passed around’ in the 80s.
Rose McGowan said last year that she had been raped by a studio head who later bought the distribution rights to one of her films. It has come to light that Harvey Weinstein is the alleged abuser.
Have there been any convictions of sexual harassment in Hollywood?
Roger Ailes was accused of sexual harassment in 2016 by former Fox News Channel anchor Gretchen Carlson.
After that 20 other women including Megyn Kelly and Andrea Tantaros came forward with similar allegations about Ailes’ predatory casting couch behaviour in the TV industry over a 50-year period.
Producer Alain Sarde and actor Robert de Niro were involved in two Parisian court cases exposing the borderline between the casting couch and prostitution for aspiring models and starlets in the 90s.
Bill Cosby was accused of sexual assault by over 60 women. His defence lawyers said that: ‘Even if proven (and it could not be), the age-old ‘casting couch’ is not unique to Mr Cosby, and thus not a ‘signature’ nor a basis for the admissibility of these witnesses’ stories, let alone a conviction.’
Harvey Weinstein was accused of three decades of sexual harassment and paying off settlements to actresses Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and Ambra Battilana Gutierrez as well as other unnamed Miramax and Weinstein company employees.
Since the report emerged Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Judith Godreche, Heather Graham, Cara Delevingne and Léa Seydoux have spoken out about their experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of Weinstein.
What does Hollywood have to say for itself?
Hollywood was been described as ‘a town where everyone is selling body and soul for fame and fortune and all – especially women – are considered commodities’ by Peter Keough in 1995, and the casting couch activity has remained equally unforgivable over the years.
The industry has long turned a blind eye to the behaviour of its most powerful figures and their abuse of vulnerable starlets, with many victims, many of whom are just beginning their career and fear the repercussions if they speak out.
Woody Harrelson said in an interview in 1996 that ‘every (acting) business I ever entered into in New York seemed to have a casting couch… I’ve seen so many people sleep with people they loathe in order to further their ambition.’
The Manifesto for Casting launched by Equity, the trade union for actors, recommends that ‘no sex act should be requested at any audition’ and ‘a performer should not be requested to undress in whole or in part unless a mutually agreed observer is present.’
Harvey Weinstein: The allegations that helped lead to the sacking of the Hollywood heavyweight
A number of women have so far come forward to accuse Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse during their time working with the 65-year-old.
As more brave ladies come forward with their accounts, we sum up which women in the film industry have so far spoken out against Harvey, accusing him of assault or harassment.
Rose McGowan is the highest-profile of Weinstein’s accusers, with it emerging she reportedly sued the movie producer for making advances on her during the production of the Weinstein-produced 1996 teen slasher film Scream.
McGowan claims she was abused by Weinstein inside a hotel room at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997. Rose has previously claimed she was raped by a studio head and on Sunday, she tweeted about being abused by a ‘monster’.
It is claimed she signed a non-disclosure agreement after filing the lawsuit after allegedly being paid off by Weinstein.
Rose has since tweeted her thanks to The New York Times for ‘saving lives’ by reporting the accusations against Harvey.
Ashley Judd claims that during the filming of Weinstein’s movie Kiss the Girls, he repeatedly asked her to watch him as he showered and offered to give her a massage in his hotel room.
She says she remembers thinking at the time: ‘How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?’
Judd spoke out about Harvey this week as The New York Times posted the allegations. She said in a statement: ‘Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.’
Laura Madden is an ex-employee of Weinstein’s and alleges he asked her to give him massages from 1991 and onwards. She told the NYT: ‘It was so manipulative. You constantly question yourself – am I the one who is the problem?’
Like O’Connor, producer Elizabeth Karlsen shared her experience of claims she had been told by female staff. She claims a young female executive told her thirty years ago how she found Weinstein on her bed in a house rented by Miramax.
Emily Nestor was a temporary employee at The Weinstein company when she was allegedly invited to the same hotel as Judd and made another offer. Nestor claims that she had been offered a career boost if she accepted Weinstein’s advances in 2014.
Italian actress and model Ambra Battilana also claimed to the NYT that Weinstein had asked her if her breasts were real in a meeting in New York in 2015, before he allegedly grabbed her chest while putting his hands up her skirt. She is another victim Weinstein apparently paid off after police failed to press charges.
An audio recording made by Ambra later emerged, featuring Weinstein pleading with her to enter a bathroom and watch him have a shower.
Another former employee of TWC, Lauren O’Connor spoke out in 2015, telling executives that women were faced with a ‘toxic environment’. It followed her being told by a female assistant that Weinstein had coerced her into giving him a massage while he was naked. She was apparently left ‘crying and very distraught’. O’connor had written in her report: ‘There is a toxic environment for women at this company.’
Lauren Sivan claims Weinstein masturbated in a restaurant after trapping her there with him, climaxing in front of her during the incident in 2007 when she refused to kiss him, reports the Huffington Post.
She has since defended herself on Twitter for keeping silent for 10 years.
Another hotel incident was reported by Liza Campbell, a freelance script reader, who claims Harvey invited her to get in the bath with him, according to The Sunday Times.
Romola Garai stepped forward to document her own experience with Weinstein on Monday October 9, after many other allegations had already been made.
The 35-year-old actress recalled how, at the age of 18, she had also had to ‘audition’ with Harvey Weinstein as he sat in his dressing gown in a hotel room in London.
‘Like every other woman in the industry, I’ve had an “audition” with Harvey Weinstein, where I’d actually already had the audition but you had to be personally approved by him,’ said Garai. ‘So I had to go to his hotel room in the Savoy, and he answered the door in his bathrobe. I was only 18. I felt violated by it, it has stayed very clearly in my memory.’
Asia Argento, an Italian film actress and director, claimed that Weinstein ‘forcibly performed oral sex on her’ but alleged that she refused to speak out because ‘he has crushed a lot of people’.
‘That’s why this story—in my case, it’s twenty years old, some of them are older—has never come out,’ she added.
‘The thing with being a victim is I felt responsible. Because if I were a strong woman, I would have kicked him in the balls and run away. But I didn’t. And so I felt responsible.’
Gwyneth Paltrow claimed she suffered sexual abuse by Harvey Weinstein in the 1990s.
She detailed how, after being cast in Weinstein’s Jane Austen adaptation of Emma, he touched her and invited her into his hotel room for a massage.
The mum-of-two, who also starred in Weinstein’s Oscar-winning movie Shakespeare In Love, which was a Miramax Films production, claimed she had been asked to attend a meeting in his hotel room when he made the advance. ‘I was a kid, I was signed up, I was petrified,’ Paltrow told the New York Times.
Gwyneth, aged 22 at the time, bravely rejected his offer and then told her then-boyfriend Pitt, then aged 32, what had happened. At a party in 1995 Pitt then approached Weinstein and, without worrying about his own career in Hollywood, told him in no uncertain terms to never touch Paltrow again.
Representatives for Pitt confirmed the story.
In an email to the New York Times, which broke the story of decades of harassment by Weinstein on Hollywood women, Angelina also documented her own experience.
She said: ‘I had a bad experience with Harvey Weinstein in my youth. And as a result, chose never to work with him again and warn others when they did. This behavior towards women in any field, any country is unacceptable.’
Cara Delevingne joined the list of actresses speaking out against Harvey Weinstein in a late-night Instagram post on Wednesday October 11, six days after the initial allegations emerged.
Also claiming sexual harassment, the former model turned actress recalled how, when she first began working in Hollywood, she received an ‘off and uncomfortable’ call from Weinstein asking her about who she had slept with of her group of friends, before telling her that if she were indeed gay she would never ‘make it as an actress in Hollywood’
She then revealed how a year or two later she she had to meet with regarding a film she was working on and how he ‘began to brag about all the actresses he had slept with and how he had made their careers and spoke about other inappropriate things of a sexual nature’.
Cara claims he invited her to his room and his assistant told her that she should go to the bedroom. In the bedroom there was another women and he then asked the two of them to kiss.