20 Hollywood women tell their tales of sexual harassment

Many women still fear that naming names will result in career repercussions, potential legal action
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 12/13/2017
Sexual harassment in Hollywood - Rina Mimoun
Executive producers K.J. Steinberg (L) and Rina Mimoun take part in a panel discussion during the 2013 Winter Press Tour for the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, Calif. Mimoun's tale of discussions of "What is rape" is one of 20 stories being shared. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) — While a tsunami of women in Hollywood tweeted #metoo, the powerful hashtag didn't give most the opportunity to tell their sexual harassment stories. Many women still fear that naming names will bring about career repercussions and potential legal action. With this piece, we decided to empower women to come forward only by identifying themselves and revealing their long-held secrets. Many of these stories took place when these women were starting their careers — young, naive, and powerless, they didn't know who to tell. They didn't want to lose their jobs. And while no one equated their harassment story with those who had been raped or assaulted, these incidents left their mark, and changed how these women function in an industry where sexual harassment is systemic.

Here are their stories:

NANCY KLOPPER, casting director

While casting a film for an award-winning director, I was treated very well, except for when he used the bathroom adjoining his office and would leave the door open. I thought it was a very passive aggressive behavior, but I never commented on it. About a year or two later, I was in London casting another film when he called to say he was in town and wanted to talk to me about casting his next film. His hotel was directly across the street from where I was staying, so I went over. He answered the door wearing a white, terry cloth robe. He guided me to the living room, motioned for me to sit across from him, and said: 'Let me know if my c-k is hanging out. Then, rather than giving me the script to take with me, he said he was going to read it to me. And he did. It had lots of sex scenes, and he read each aloud in graphic detail. It took on a completely pornographic tone. I was frozen. It felt like an assault using words instead of actions." When it was over, I tried to keep it light: 'So, I guess you'll be going for an X-rating,' I said, and then I left. And I turned down the job.

RINA MIMOUN, writer/executive producer ("Mistresses")

It was one of my first jobs as a writer's assistant on a sitcom. The writers room had one female writer, the rest of the staff were all white guys. The showrunner told a "hilarious" story about how he was on a date with a girl who passed out in his bed and he decided to have sex with her anyway, despite the fact that she was unconscious. The "bit" became: "That's not rape, right?" This bit never seemed to get old. What's rape and what's not. As a young woman who had just graduated with a womens' studies minor, I knew it was ALL rape. But as a person just starting out in her career, I laughed along. That's where the shame comes in. I wish I hadn't done that."

ALLYN STEWART, film producer ("Sully")

After being sexually harassed a great number of times in my twenties, I developed a posture of "You're not coming near me." I developed a tougher exterior and expressed far less of my femininity in the workplace. Men would say to me, "You're so tough," but it was just self-protection. And I feel sadder about that, than fending off the harassers. For me it was a loss. I had to shut down my femininity, softness, and vulnerability, which are vital components of your creativity. Because sometimes, if you expressed those things then you opened doors to sexual components that you didn't plan on. So you just shut it down. I didn't want to fend off men, I wanted to be appreciated as an equal, taken seriously, and do my work. And I feel terrible sadness in my heart that in order to do that I had to shut off part of myself. It took a lot of internal work to get back to an open creative flow as the years went by.

CAROLINE AARON, actress ("The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel")

When I was much younger, I went to a network in Los Angeles for a TV show. I had multiple auditions, knocked out everyone. In fact all others had been released from their three-day holds. When I got back to N.Y, they called and said that before they pulled trigger on hiring me they wanted to bring me in one more time. I went to the final callback in N.Y. with my heart in my hands, ready to do one final read. But they didn't want me to read, didn't want me to act, they wanted to film me walking away from the camera, so they could see the size of my ass. I thought about not doing it, but I did it because I really wanted the job. When I was walking away from the camera I was crying, but they couldn't see my face. They weren't interested in seeing my face. Just my ass. And I didn't get the job.

KATHERINE FUGATE, writer-producer ("Army Wives")

I was an assistant at a production company, and the head of the company used to hold pitch/notes meetings at his home after hours and on weekends. Sometimes he would be naked, getting a massage in the middle of the room, conducting the meeting from the massage table. Then he would get up, butt hanging out, and go to pee, door open, and kept asking questions.

LINDA LICHTER, entertainment attorney, partner, Lichter Grossman Nichols Adler & Feldman

In the mid 1980s, when I was a young mother with two children and a partner in a small entertainment law firm, one of the junior lawyers, a woman, came to me and another one of the women partners, to say that a senior partner was harassing her. It was common knowledge that this guy was a known harasser. We suggested she go to the managing partner (a man who happened to be a close friend of the harasser) to complain. We also said that if she had any continuing problems, she should feel free to call on us. The harasser saw us talking is to her, and forced her to tell him what we said. He then tried to get me fired, as a "disloyal partner" and when he couldn't, he convinced the other partners to cut my pay by almost a third as punishment. There were no laws to protect me and when I asked a famous attorney's firm to represent me, they said I was a "bad plaintiff" and a jury would not be sympathetic because I was too "successful."

NELL SCOVELL TV writer (Sabrina the Teenage Witch); co-author of "Lean In"

I went to my boss to say that I didn't feel safe in the room with a fellow writer, who was violent, physical, and made constant sexual comments. The boss informed me, "You can't change someone's behavior; you can only change your reaction to that behavior." Then he recommended that I go talk to the writer. When I said I wouldn't be in a room alone with him, the boss just shrugged.

MARGARET NAGLE, screenwriter ("The Good Lie")

Women have learned to deal with sexual harassment like it's a drive-by shooting: unless a bullet hits you, you just keep on running. I'd written a script about Eleanor Roosevelt, about the singular time in her life when she was at a crossroads -- she had just become First Lady, but was also in love with a woman. This is an amazing woman, a great mind, she coined the phrase "human rights." And the response I received from those reading it was "Yeah, but she's just not 'f-kable.' I responded by saying, "Neither was Winston Churchill. This is about when she fell in love with another woman." And they responded: 'Well, can we make the other woman hot then?'

TERRY CURTIN, veteran marketing executive

It was early in my career, I was a young wide-eyed assistant thrilled to be working at a studio. My boss's boss called me into his office one day and told me that I would have to stop wearing skirts around the office because it gave him a hard-on and he couldn't get any work done. His demeanor was angry and accusatory. I was humiliated and went home crying, worried I might lose my job. I felt self-conscious around the office, and became extremely uncomfortable in the presence of that boss. I began dressing really conservatively after that, and long after I no longer worked for that company or that boss, I remained self-conscious about outfit choices in the workplace.

NINA LEDERMAN, EVP scripted programming, All3MediaAmerica

As a gay woman, I have been spared a bit from the overtly inappropriate behavior that so many women have had to endure. But, my sexuality has inspired certain men to opine on why I might be gay, and comment on "what a waste it is." Years ago, I worked with a male television director who simply couldn't understand how I could be gay. Numerous times he suggested that it must be because I had not had "the right man." Of course he insisted that HE was the right man to "cure" me of my sexuality. Every time I saw him after that work experience, he reiterated his theory and his proposition. I never hired that director again, nor would I ever recommend him.

ERIN SIMON, writer/former development executive

I was working on a movie in production. My boss was one of the most powerful above-the-line people on the film. Before we went on location he warned me to stay away from a particular man who he said was a bad guy and not to get involved with him. Once on set, that guy and I developed a close friendship. This infuriated my boss who said that if I was going to do whatever I was doing with that guy, then I should have to do it with him, too. Back in L.A., things got worse. I delivered a script to his home one day and he refused to let me leave until I tried kissing him "to see if you might just like it." He literally chased me around his dining room. I was very afraid of what was going to happen. I even got splinters in my fingers from grabbing the edge of the wooden table. After that incident, he didn't let up and actually said: "I can't stop thinking about tasting you," which was the creepiest part of all. After the movie was wrapped I was let go, he shut me out, and then proceeded to bad mouth me around town telling people I was indiscreet, and untrustworthy.

JOELY FISHER, actress, ("Til' Death")

I was on a show and there was a director who would say, 'Oh look, my wife washed my pants, and there was gum in my pocket...and then he'd pull out his penis and his sack. He did it all the time. He did it often. And nobody complained. I never felt threatened or frightened by it. It even made me laugh out loud once, but I didn't need to see that. It was grotesque. But telling you this story I still feel nervous, thinking 'What if he reads this?" Afraid that I'm going to look like the woman who can't take the joke. You know what, so what if he reads this. So what." It's an industry of "does he like me? Am I good enough?" So anything that tips the scales the other way you feel like you should avoid. You have to be the person that everyone wants to have at the party. And so you say nothing. You laugh and go along with a man who pulls his penis out. Until you don't. I have three daughters...hopefully we're there now.

SHARON BORDAS, V.P. scripted series development, Lifetime

When I was producing a movie, the director threatened to physically assault and rape me and my female line producer if he didn't get his way. Once, he locked her into a jail cell which was part of the set, in order to get what he wanted and to scare her. I spent so much time on that set protecting women from him, just to get through the movie.

MARIA ELENA RODRIGUEZ, TV writer, ("Queen Sugar"), animation producer

Coming out of film school, I worked as a grip on low, low-budget shoots. I was short and petite, and couldn't carry the heaviest lights or stands but I would run back and forth to the truck for small gear and supplies. One of the electricians would corner me and expose himself as a joke. Everybody seemed to know about it. There was no point reporting him... and to whom? So, I started carrying a sharp pair of scissors on a ribbon around my neck and took to calling him "Dick." That's how I got through that shoot - brandishing those scissors anytime he came around. The rest of the grip crew started calling him "Dick," too.

MELISSA ROSENBERG, writer ("Twilight," "Jessica Jones")

One of my first jobs in the business was an assistant to a TV producer. An exec at the studio was very handsy --he groped, grabbed, was very touchy-feely. Me, being young and naive (read stupid) didn't understand that was inappropriate, so I laughed along. One day his assistant came up to me and said that she was suing him for sexual harassment, and asked if I would back her up at the deposition. I could have, as what she was claiming was accurate. I went to my female boss and asked what to do. She said she supported me whatever I chose to do, but I should know that if I helped the other assistant I would never work again. I was incredibly torn, but I took her advice. I didn't help. The assistant left town and never worked in the film business again. For all these years I've lived with shame of not having backed a sister. And yet I know with absolute certainty that if I had, I would never have worked again. So I try to make up for that now -- to prevent that and support other women as much as I can.

GABRIELLE CARTERIS, actress; president, SAG-AFTRA

This is not just about men, it's about people in power. Early on in my career I met with a female agent, hoping she would sign me. This is what she said: "This business is all about tits and ass, and you have neither."

STACEY SHER, producer ("The Hateful Eight")

Early on in my career, as a very young executive, I remember being really excited to go to one of my first agency meetings --where you tour around and meet all agents. We were sitting in an agent's office on the couch getting ready to talk about clients when the agent said: 'Well, I heard you were....pretty f-kable looking.' I thought he'd heard that I was smart, had good taste, was a hard worker. My heart broke, and I thought I can either burst into tears or respond, so I said, 'I guess you have pretty good sources.' It shattered me, but I wasn't going to let him have the power to break me. Or take this away from me. Even though I was mortified, and dying inside. And I eventually learned that all women in this business feel that our ability to work, no matter what we've achieved, can be taken away from us, like that.

LESLIE CASTANUELA BARNES, writer, former motion picture agent

I represented motion picture writers and directors, and there were several instances when my clients tested the boundaries of representation by suggesting that a sexual relationship between us would need to be a component of me representing them. The first time, I tried to brush it off as flattering, and move on. But once it became a bargaining chip, I got pissed and had to put my foot down. I felt like my integrity and character were being challenged. I remember once I was having a meal with a client, we were reviewing stuff when he just reached over, grabbed my face and shoved his tongue down my throat. I said, "What the hell are you doing?" and he said, "I've been waiting to do that for a long time." I told him I wouldn't be on his team anymore.

KJ STEINBERG, co-executive producer ("This Is Us")

I am one of the lucky ones. I was not assaulted. But things were said. By some extraordinarily powerful men. Things that made deep grooves in my young brain, informing how defensively I'd carry myself in the subsequent moments of my career. Two events stand out. 1) After shaking hands with my mother and father, the CEO of a major cable network waited until their backs were turned, asked me my name, my aspirations, and said he'd "like to take me into the men's room, do some blow and f-k around." I froze, then demurred, then politely walked away, my self-esteem draining like water from a tub. 2) The president of a network whispered in my ear (during the requisite uninvited industry-standard hug) how "hot I was for a writer," and how "he wouldn't be able to concentrate" during our pilot meeting. Later his name appeared in my inbox. A network president was emailing me personally from his account! I opened it excitedly to find this message: "Still shaking from your sexy hair..." I went fire-red with fear and humiliation. What should I do? Naively, I tried to deflect with a joke so as not to insult him, hoping the exchange would turn professional or stop. His response: "I am used to having notes for EP's not LUST." I didn't reply. My show never aired. Most likely because it wasn't good enough. But, in my heart, I'll never know.

SHERRI COOPER-LANDSMAN, TV writer/executive producer ("Eligible")

I have several harassment stories, but only one affected my career. It was my first TV staff writing job. I was 29. I went to the interview, and I decided not to wear my engagement ring, as I didn't want to wear a diamond ring to the meeting, and didn't want them to think I didn't need the job. I got the job. Two days in, I was home on Saturday night and got a text from my boss, the showrunner. It said: "You're a shining f-king star." I was pleased. "What are you doing tonight?" he asked. I wrote that I was home just doing work, etc. He responded: "What is someone like you doing home alone on a Saturday night?" I typed back that my fiance was away. The next day at work everything changed. He would freeze me out, while still bringing me into his office sometimes to listen to music. Then I got assigned my first script. But was only given three days to write it. He assured me that I wouldn't be judged, given the time crunch I was under. When I turned it in it was "gang banged," yes, that's the term used in the room when all the writers rewrite a script. After that I was shut out of the room, I truly didn't know why this was happening. Until one night my boss took me for a walk on the lot, to a prop bus on the lot. Inside, he put his hand on my leg and said: "There were lots of cute Jewish girls I could have hired, but I hired you." After 13 episodes I was not asked back. An older consulting producer was kind enough to explain as I was fired: "Everyone knows he hired you because he had a crush on you, and he got upset when he found out you were engaged. He set you up for failure." It was clear to me that I was never taken seriously for my talent. My next job I bought a new wardrobe -- I wore sweats and baggy jeans. Pulled my hair into a bun and didn't wear any makeup. I decided in order to succeed I couldn't "be a girl."

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