The Awful Things Harvey Weinstein Allegedly Did at Miramax
Recent reports of the fallen movie mogul's horrifying conduct are worse than ever—and it's nothing new.
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To anyone who's come into Harvey Weinstein's orbit or considered his now-bygone career, the phrase "open secret" hardly applies: His history of alleged sexual assault and harassment recently revealed by the New York Times and the New Yorker was no secret at all. Still, a handful of celebrities have spoken out against the dethroned mogul and in support of the women who were his alleged victims—a growing list that includes Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Asia Argento, and Rose McGowan.
But Weinstein's storied reputation as a power-drunk, hot-tempered blowhard surrounded by cases of Diet Coke has been well documented since he founded Miramax with his brother Bob in 1979. Plenty of folks in Hollywood—from heavyweights like Spike Lee to former employees like those cited by the Times‚ have explicitly called him out on alleged behavior ranging from physical threats and public tantrums to stubbing out cigarettes in a tray of lox from crafts services. Over two decades worth of Weinstein's alleged aggressions and the fallouts they caused are laid out in Peter Biskind's meticulous, juicy Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film (which this piece's quotes and anedotes were taken from). The book was published in 2004, just before the brothers left parent company Disney to found The Weinstein Company, from which Harvey was officially fired by the board on Sunday.
Two accounts of Weinstein's allegedly violent temper that have surfaced since the Times report are also detailed in Biskind's book. One of those is Rebecca Traister's recounting for The Cut of a 2000 election-eve party, when Weinstein allegedly blew his top at the young reporter and put her colleague and then-partner Andrew Goldman in a headlock, shouting, "I'm gonna take him outside and I'm gonna fuckin' kill him!" (Traister was there chasing a quote about the release delays surrounding Miramax's O, the 2001 modern-day adaptation of Othello, following the mass shooting at Columbine.)
Then there's Nathan Lane's account of Weinstein allegedly throwing him up against the wall and threatening him later that year, at a birthday party the producer hosted for Hillary Clinton with Lane acting as the master of ceremonies. Weinstein's explosion in the wings is said to have come over a joke Lane had delivered earlier about Rudy Giuliani's combover. At the same party, an assistant tasked with saving a table for Harvey was allegedly fired in front of Jimmy Buffet, Harrison Ford, and his wife, screenwriter Melissa Mathiessen, when Harvey found the three of them seated where he meant to have a private chat with Julia Roberts—who eventually ditched him for Matt Damon. The assistant was apparently rehired the next morning.
Working under Bob and Harvey is described by many former employees as like being part of the mob, complete with tough-guy bosses from Queens often at each other's throats. Long hours and catering to demanding whims are par for the course in Hollywood (and many other industries), but former employees painted a picture of a particularly sadistic atmosphere at Miramax. "Anything anybody says about them being monsters is true," said Amy Hart, who served as marketing coordinator at the company for three years. Anything within reach could become a weapon for Harvey to throw, she claimed: phones ripped from the wall, ashtrays, books, VHS tapes, framed family photos.
"Miramax ran on fear. They're intimidating, they shout a lot, they foam at the mouth," said Stuart Burkin, who started in post production in 1991. "There isn't a woman in that office that wasn't made to cry," said Mark Lipsky, former head of distribution. "When he turns on you it's with venom. And it's personal."
"You're a dildo! You are a dildo. Say it, 'I'm a dildo,'" one former employee recalled Weinstein telling him. "I hate the sound of your breathing," another recounted him saying. "Every year at Miramax felt like a dog year, for mental distress and emotional cruelty," Mark Gill, the former president of the LA office, told Biskind. "You have to be able to completely subordinate your own vision of right and wrong in order to work there," said David Steinberg, an attorney who worked in acquisitions for two years.
In 1997, the Labor Department investigated Miramax employment conditions for seven months. In spring 1998, attorney Merri Lane, whose daughter Stacey was a former employee, gathered around 35 people to sign up for a class-action suit for $1.4 million over unpaid overtime. "Dead silence," former marketing assistant Peter Kindlon said of the room following Lane's call for participants. "Most of the people in that room, all of them except me, were afraid of retaliation, afraid to be associated with anything against Miramax."
"They intimidated everybody," Lane told Biskind. "None of the people who still worked there would sign up. They were convinced they would be fired, be blackballed, that terrible things would happen…There was one poor young woman whose father called me constantly saying that she wanted to join but she was terrified, and I couldn't guarantee that nothing bad would happen to her." The resulting case was settled for an undisclosed amount; Kindlon says he received about a year's salary, $25,000, and Amy Hart in the range of $7,000 to $10,000.
"They played with you, they owned you, they crippled you, they broke you. Harvey would say these totally spurious things just to antagonize you, little things, seeking to demonstrate your ineffectiveness and ineptitude," said Jack Foley, former head of distribution. "When they die, people are going to talk about what great people they were. And they're not, they're cruel people. They're very, very sick people. They have contempt for humanity," continued Foley, who quit over disputes during test screenings for Scream in 1996.
There's at least one account of Weinstein allegedly showering a female employee with affection, an assistant hired in 1986 with whom he was said to be immediately smitten. "It seemed like not even a day [passed] before he was all over her," said Lipsky. Their boss's public displays, including allegedly sending roses to his assistant's desk, escalated to the point that Weinstein's colleagues reportedly confronted him, saying, "You can't do this, it's an office, not your personal sexual playground." The woman's name was Eve Chilton; Weinstein eventually placed her in charge of the children's division of Miramax and married her the next year (the couple divorced in 2004).
From the many firsthand accounts collected by Biskind, Weinstein's pattern of allegedly flying off the handle—driven by his self-proclaimed "passion for the movies"—before turning around to apologize (often with flowers, sometimes accompanied by a fax) comes up again and again. "That's always his excuse," said a source close to The Hairy Bird, a film by Sarah Kernochan that Miramax acquired and shuffled into obscurity after a characteristic creative dispute. "'I might have lied, I might have killed one of your children, I might have hijacked an airplane, but I'm passionate about movies!' Temporary insanity. It's part of his manipulative technique. He tries to scare the shit out of people, and the next day he sends flowers."
This type of venom was said to be unleashed most frequently on directors, with whom Weinstein reportedly argued often over post-production cuts ("Harvey Scissorhands" was a longtime nickname). Following a screening of Wide Awake, M Night Shyamalan's first movie, "[Harvey] made Night cry. Destroyed him, in front of everybody," according to former Miramax production head Paul Webster.
The director wasn't the only one to shed tears. Rosie O'Donnell, who had had a bit part in the movie, called Weinstein to defend Shyamalan. "There are these moments where you can actually see smoke coming out of Harvey's ears. He just snapped. He lost his mind," recalled Cathy Konrad, one of the film's producers. People in the room said he roared at O'Donnell, "You're some fucking artist! You're just a fucking talk show host! Like you would fucking know. You bitch! You cunt!" Konrad continued, "Rosie burst into tears." One source told Biskind that Weinstein called O'Donnell a "big fat fucking cow"; Weinstein claimed, "I never used 'cunt' and I never said 'cow'." O'Donnell allegedly received her mea culpa flowers the next morning, but remained furious.
Todd Haynes, who had worked with Miramax on distribution for Velvet Goldmine, took Far From Heaven to USA Films instead. According to Biskind's book, Weinstein went off: "You fucking little motherfucker, you're just a spoiled brat, you think you're such a fucking genius… You fucking prima donna, you fucking arrogant prima donna." According to Haynes, Weinstein threatened to spend $10 million to keep Julianne Moore from getting an Oscar nomination for the movie. (Afterward, Haynes allegedly received both an apology basket and a fax.)
A similar anecdote is recounted in Down and Dirty Pictures concerning a test screening of Frida: Weinstein allegedly tore up audience scores and lashed out at Julie Taymor when she questioned his proposed cuts, saying to her, "You are the most arrogant person I have ever met…Go market the fucking film yourself, I'm selling it to HBO." He then allegedly turned to Taymor's agent Bart Walker ("Get the fuck outta here") Elliott Goldenthal, Taymor's partner and film composer ("I don't like the look on your face. Why don't you defend your wife, so I can beat the shit out of you"), and, finally, to Miramax executives and the film's editor ("You're fired, you're fired, you're fired, you're fired").
Following the Frida incident and a string of other alleged outbursts, Weinstein reportedly sang a familiar tune: "The morning after Julie's thing was when I talked to [Miramax co-president of production] Meryl Poster, I said, 'We gotta deal with my anger management. All my movies got screwed up because of [my] personality. I have too bad a temper, this has to stop, now. God, what an asshole I've been."
Weinstein's disputes with his rivals came with fewer apologies. When Scott Greenstein, then senior VP of Miramax, defected to rival October Films, Weinstein allegedly called the company's co-founder John Schmidt: "Harvey just screamed obscenities and idiotic comments for 45 minutes at the top of his lungs, things like, 'Our missiles are aimed at you! The rockets will be launched! You won't know what hit you! You open a film, we'll open three. We'll put you out of business." To the company's other co-founder, Ray Bingham, he allegedly added the best insult, maybe ever: "And Bingham, you worthless piece of shit, you think you're good at anything? Fuck you. You suck, I could blow you away with one of my weakest farts."
Of course, Weinstein had diehard supporters like Ben Affleck (who, after Tuesday's events, has also changed his tune). "[Harvey's] behavior is like Queens coming across the river," Affleck is quoted as saying in Down and Dirty Pictures. "I think it's kind of charming. Maybe not so charming if you're the one in the headlock, but Harvey is a tough bastard, his people skills are not all that good. And he doesn't have a lot of restraint, he's all id. But Harvey is not Suge Knight. People are different to different people, and I've only seen the human side of him."
American Hustle director David O. Russell, for one, claimed in the book that he never had much tolerance for Weinstein: "His gluttony for power and fame have hurt him. If he can't shove you in his mouth and eat you right now, if you're not a Matt Damon soufflé, he chucks you aside. He alienates everybody." Spike Lee put it a bit more bluntly: "There's a saying, 'God don't like ugly!' The fucked-up shit he's done over his career, that's just gonna come 'round and bite him. He's a lying cocksucker! A fat bastard. A fat rat bastard!"
Ultimately, The Weinstein Company board seems to have followed the logic of one top exec, who told Biskind: "He's done one horrible thing too many. When the cat shit gets bigger than the cat, get rid of the cat."
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect the alleged nature of the stories recounted in Biskind's book.
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