The Casting Couch
Harvey Weinstein. Within the last couple of weeks, his public reputation has gone from that of “Producer/Mogul” to “Sexual Predator.” The revelations of a number of women in Hollywood have led to hundreds, if not thousands, of “Me Too” posts on social media, from men as well as women, who have admitted to being sexually harassed and victimized in the workplace.
The life of an actor may seem easy, but it’s a tough gig. The highs, when they happen, can be stratospheric and intoxicating. The lows can feel like you’ve hit the bottom of a mine shaft. Serious actors go through years of training and preparation; taking classes - expensive classes, working in theater, often without pay, to gain experience and “exposure,” all the while working part-time jobs to survive.
An actress friend of mine, whose career soared in the 70’s, once summed up her advice to young hopefuls. She said, “When someone tells me they want to be an actor, I ask them, what would you do if you couldn’t be an actor? If they say, “Well, I guess I’d be a nurse, or a flight attendant,” I tell them, then be a nurse or a flight attendant. Only if they say, “Nothing. I’d just die if I couldn’t act,” do I tell them to give it their all.”
Clearly, the pitfalls of acting are not limited to hard work, unrewarded. There’s also the so-called “casting couch.” The stereotypical line was always, “How much do you want this job?” For an actor walking the line between starvation and stardom, that question can be difficult to answer. As we’ve seen in recent posts, this kind of employer bullying is not limited to Hollywood.
A few years back, I was extremely dismayed to read a quote from a top Nashville record producer. I’ll paraphrase: “These days,when a female singer’s photo comes across my desk, if she doesn’t look like a model, I don’t even bother to listen to her demo.” While this doesn’t constitute sexual harassment, it does reduce women to an object. With this kind of attitude, some of the great female recording artists of the past, women with enormous talent, wouldn’t have stood a chance, simply because they didn’t happen look like a real-life Barbie. Score: Music Business 1, Music 0.
Not everyone is sympathetic to the “Me Too” posts. The other day I saw a 1970’s photo of an older character actress on Facebook. One of the responses to the photo went something like, “Now, there’s an actress who didn’t have to worry about sexual harassment.” Some men have the attitude that if women can’t handle the pressure, they should simply stay out of the business world. This line of thought is not only unrealistic, it’s archaic, misogynistic, and in fact, the root of the problem.
In our culture, sex is everywhere. It is used to sell everything from cars to toothpaste, to prescription drugs. Our tv commercials, television shows, movies, magazine ads and billboards constantly point out how we’re supposed to look and behave. So we go on diets, join gyms, get hair transplants and silicone breasts in an effort to feel better about ourselves, get a new job, or be more sexually attractive. My sister, Mary McDonough, wrote about her own Hollywood experience and the risks of breast implants extensively in her book, “Lessons From The Mountain.” My own personal advice to women regarding implants: If you’re contemplating surgery because your boyfriend insists on you getting fake boobs, get a new boyfriend.
Money, fame, and power are seductive. There will always be those who crave being part of that exclusive world, and those who will take advantage of their hunger. Not everyone is ruled by the same moral compass, and what works for some is not acceptable to others. Ringo Starr, when asked about female fans on The Beatles tours, was quoted as saying, “Every night Paul was judging a beauty contest.” When I was on tour, I sat with another well-known drummer, surveying the after-show pickup scene in the hotel bar.
“How do these people find each other?” I asked.
“Players know players,” he said.
Attraction to the rich or charismatic is not limited to the world of music or film. In the 80’s, outside the Dodger locker room, I observed a crowd of young baseball groupies, dressed to the hilt - full make-up, tight dresses, high heels - waiting for the players. And of course, sexual interaction in big business or politics is no different, as our current president inadvertently pointed out.
We all want to succeed, but at what price? The Weinstein scandal has shone a spotlight on employers who cross the line. Social media has allowed women and men to come forward to share their experiences in a cathartic way. The Weinsteins of the world are on notice. There is power in numbers, and consolation and hope for those who have been victimized; knowing they are not alone, that they need not feel ashamed, and that their voices are being heard.
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