It seems every day there’s an announcement of yet another high-profile celebrity being fired over accusations of sexual misconduct in the workplace. When the “MeToo” campaign swept Facebook, I had to stop and think, “have I been sexually harassed in the workplace?” I got to thinking about my own work-place experiences with men over my lifetime, and sadly, I too have been the victim of inappropriate sexual advances by several men in positions of power, mostly within the entertainment industry.
It’s curious that I had to really think about it, because as a woman, I was raised to be a “good girl”, which means, ‘Don’t cause a scene” and “be nice”. I also took it to mean, “don’t call attention to yourself” and apparently, “Don’t fight back, it’s not “nice”. And I am grateful that nothing as egregious as being trapped in a hotel room with a Harvey Weinstein pulling out his wanky happened to me.
My final semester in college, I took an internship at CBS Studios in Hollywood, California, and worked for a brand-new soap opera called, “The Bold and the Beautiful.” That internship led to a job there as a Page, which was the most fun job I’ve ever had. There were about 30 of us, all making minimum wage, dressed in our polyester suits with the CBS logo on them. We were mostly all television and film students or recent graduates, and we all longed for a job in the industry. Getting a job as a Page gave you unlimited opportunities to see how a television show was put together, and see first-hand the creative input from supremely talented individuals. It also gave you a front-row seat to the darker side of what’s it’s really like to work in Hollywood. We all wanted to be stars, we all wanted to be “discovered”, and these predatory men in positions of power knew it.
The inappropriate sexual advances of a few men at CBS was insidious, and it upsets me greatly now. I had to ask myself, “should I too come forward and accuse my own abusers? What good would it do now? Are any of them even still alive?” It’s regrettable that as a woman, raised to be a “good girl”, I never did anything about the inappropriate sexual advances done to me, other than think, “he must like me a lot to do that”. Isn’t that pathetic? Rather, as a woman, I came to expect such behavior as typical of men in power, and as a woman, it was considered something along the line of “flattery” if they saw you as a sexual object. After all, didn’t we “ask” for it by being attractive?? I didn’t view the hand on my ass, the innuendos, the offers to accept gifts, car rides, dinners, weekend-trips, the creepy looks up and down at my body, the unwanted hugs, the overall general feeling of unsafetyness as anything other than the price of being a woman in a business that made stars overnight. And like most of my cohorts, we all dreamed of getting that big break.
My co-workers and I talked often about the stuff we saw going on, and we’d joke about a certain producer or celebrity that was well-known for making advances on the female Pages. We’d joke whether or not any of us was left out; in other words, we knew we weren’t “special” but it was often a rite of passage for a new female Page to be “initiated” for example, by an invitation to the Magic Castle by a particular older male stagehand. As far as I know, most of my female co-workers declined his offers, but I know that I was tempted because this was Hollywood!! I wanted to experience bright lights and the big city!! He was more than twice my age, and although I was afraid to say no, I did so. Something about his invitation felt slimy. I seriously worried about my reputation having said “no” to this powerful man. He’d worked there for two decades and was on a first-name basis with everyone, and was very well-liked and respected. I actually worried I’d harmed my future by saying “no”.
We all had heard how legendary host of “The Price is Right” Bob Barker would go into a particular models’ dressing room before the show. “TPIR”, as we called it, was one of the most frequent shows we Pages worked on. It took a crew of about 15 of us for each show, and because it was clearly the biggest money-maker there at CBS, we all knew it was an honor to work it. We were in charge of the audience; bringing them in for the shows, checking all their ID’s, drawing the infamous price tag-name-tags, making sure the ones chosen to be selected stayed in their seats, even after the customary seven-plus hour wait. We taped two shows a day, Monday through Wednesday.
Bob was such an icon, and we all feared and admired him from afar as he was not known to fraternize with us lowly pages, but to think he was a sexual predator?? At the time, I was as naive as the cliched Dorothy from Kansas. Surely they had a relationship?? And as we all know now, the model was Dian Parkinson, who sued him and the show in 1994 as well as Holly Halstrom in 1995. Bob apparently took full advantage of his “Barker’s Beauties.” We were disgusted but we’d heard the rumors. Pretty much everyone else on the set treated the Pages with respect, as did most of the actors on the soaps (we also worked on the set of “The Young and the Restless”) and most of the stagehands and various employees of the other shows and stages.
But it wasn’t unusual to be confronted with a flirtatious well-known male actor and wonder, “if I go to dinner with him, will I get a part on the show?”` I saw more than one of my female co-workers suddenly be associate-producing without a fucking internship first. Was I just jealous or had they actually sold themselves to the devil? The Hollywood “casting couch” was well-known back then. The thinking though was that girls who wanted to become stars went willingly. My fellow pages and I were well-aware that we who said “no” were going to have to work even harder and “pay our dues”, and we were okay with that. I knew I needed to be a person of integrity.
We’d talk about them behind their backs of course, because we knew they weren’t any smarter or talented than us, they just took the bait to get ahead. It was the same for a few of the actresses as well; we all heard about the ones who “slept” their way to the top. If you were someone working in Hollywood and planned to get anywhere in the business, you had to have a conversation with yourself about whether or not you were going to be one of them or not. How badly did you want stardom? What price were you willing to pay to get there? Oftentimes, this conversation in your head didn’t occur until you were being propositioned.
In 1989, MGM Studios had a lavish “Wizard of Oz 50th Anniversary” promotion at the studios. Everyone still alive that had been associated with the film was there. It was a big celebration. Who didn’t grow up watching “The Wizard of Oz”?? And I have a picture taken of me arm-in-arm with the last surviving Munchkin, Jerry Maren, who is still alive today at age 97. (see below). In the pic, you see his arm around my waist, but prior to the photo being snapped, he grabbed my ass and pinched it hard. The look on my face says it all. “What the fuck????” Once again, disbelief, and powerlessness. Let’s just say I wasn’t surprised to hear that Judy Garland’s ex-husband had a memoir posthumously published in February of this year that she was repeatedly groped on the set of the film by the Munchkins. Of course, Jerry denies any wrongdoing. I wish I’d had the chutzpah to slap him across the face, but no, I was a “good girl” and instead told myself I should be “flattered.” I wasn’t. I was mortified. And angry, mostly at myself for saying and doing nothing.
The whole Facebook and Twitter “MeToo” campaign has illuminated that nearly every single woman alive has had to endure some version of sexual harassment by men. And it’s not just in Hollywood; we’ve seen it in the White House and the newsroom as well as the boardroom. Twenty years of waiting tables, I’ve had my share of abuse by male customers who’ve called me everything from “hey baby” to “hey you” and a boss who told me once to “smile more” to get bigger tips rather than pay me a higher wage. It’s absolutely mind-boggling that sexual harassment is so pervasive. It sickens me now that I didn’t either have the courage or the tools to respond appropriately in those situations, but it does help now to know I’m not alone.
For those of us who’ve worked in the entertainment industry, it’s not surprising at all. I’m so thankful for all the brave women and men who’ve stepped forward, and that this will hopefully mark the end official end of the era of the “casting couch”. Sure, maybe there were plenty of women who consciously chose to trade sex for a part or job, but it’s possible that they just didn’t know any better. The workplace that rewards a person for their own victimization is not a healthy, respectful climate. But there will always be free will, and if a woman makes a conscious decision to use sex for gain, she should be allowed to do so. She just can’t take it back later if she doesn’t get what she wanted and call it “abuse”.