For anyone who is unfamiliar with the term casting couch – it simply means the act where aspiring actresses and starlets are promised role in a movie for sex. Women are propositioned, bullied and in other cases, forced to have sex or raped by top producers or other studio execs all for the probability of a screen test or role in a movie.
This is a behaviour that has been around for years and dates back to the early days of Hollywood and most big name actresses we know today as well as many unknown ones have at some point in their careers been subject to the casting couch proposition.
Recently, the shocking but unsurprising allegations against top Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has thankfully brought what can only be described as the shame of the industry to the forefront and into the news.
When the New York times published a story of disturbing allegations against the producer, many came out in protest of support for him but that can of worms was opened and it gave way to an avalanche of revelations of years, perhaps decades of an history of systematic sexual harassment of several hollywood actresses including some A list starts. More disturbing was the revelation that Weinstein’s behavior over the years was a thing of common knowledge which was covered up and swept under the carpet by execs of the studio that he co-founded with his brother Bob.
Weinstein being a powerful career maker or breaker in Hollywood, enjoyed his reign of terror against female members of the industry in spite of his cinematic brilliance and laudable achievements.
Top actresses such as Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, have reportedly opened up about being propositioned by Weinstein and Oscar Winner Rose McGowan has gone as far as alleging she had been raped by the producer. The actress Tweeted in 2016 that she had been raped by a studio head who then bought the distribution rights to one of her films. She was then shamed while her rapist was adulated despite the rape being an open secret in Hollywood.
A year later, the studio head McGowan accused was revealed to have been Harvey Weinstein.
Other leading ladies such as Helen Mirren, Susan Sarandon, Alison Brie and Emmy Rossum have also spoken out about about the “creepy come-ons from powerful men that they experienced early in their careers”
In 2002, actress Lesley-Anne Down spoke of finding fame in the late 1960s: “The casting couch was in full swing, people expected it… My teen-age years were pretty intense, a lot of pressure and a lot of horrible old men out there”. In a 1977 interview, she had also said: “I was promised lots of lovely big film parts by American producers if I went to bed with them… Believe me, the casting couch is no myth” In 2015, Down discussed her experiences of sexual harassment in the 1970s by an unnamed legendary Hollywood actor and also by producer Sam Spiegel, saying that she had never really enjoyed her acting career: “Partly that was because of all the lecherous men, studio executives, producers and directors. There was so much running away and hiding under tables. Anyway, I started when I was ten and I’ve been doing it for 50 years
Jane Fonda revealed in March that she was once fired “because I wouldn’t sleep with my boss”, while Zoe Kazan recalled one producer describing his inappropriate behaviour towards her as “a joke”..
*Actresses who have all spoken out about the casting-couch culture
In a 1996 interview, actor Woody Harrelson declared “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 casting couch culture was also not unwilling to extend towards child abuse or even peadophilia. In 2011, former child actor Corey Feldman alleged that children were also victims of the casting couch. Paul Petersen said that some of the culprits are “still in the game” and Alison Arngrim claimed that Feldman and Corey Haim were given drugs and “passed around” in the 1980s
According to anti sex abuse campaigner Professor Caroline Heldman, the kind of behaviour Weinstein is accused of is widespread in Hollywood – and the floodgates are now open.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain today, Heldman said: “I think that something is shifting in Hollywood, with enough women coming forward and saying enough is enough.”
It’s certainly true that Weinstein isn’t the only culprit.
Marilyn Monroe once described Hollywood as “an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses”.
But one will be grossly misled in believing that the casting coach culture prevailed only in Hollywood. In October 2012, filmmaker Ben Fellows published claims that the casting couch was rife in the worlds of British television, theatre and advertising when he worked as a child actor and model in the 1980s. He claimed “the problem is both institutional and systemic in the entertainment industry.
In 2014, it was claimed that incarcerated former public relations guru Max Clifford’s “casting couch” at his Mayfair office was “his daughter’s specially adapted disabled toilet cubicle”
British TV star Myleene Klass explains: “I don’t think there’s a single person in the entertainment industry that hasn’t, at some point, experienced the casting couch thing – that’s why there is a term for it, the casting couch. So I’m not saying this like it’s the shock of the century.
In Bollywood, Asia’s movie industry, the casting couch culture also gave the world many of the known Bollywood names we know. Many actors both male and female have spoken how they were repeatedly asked to perform sexual acts at every audition. The famous Shashi Kapoor spoke about a famous female producer who propositioned young new male actors who came for movie roles for sexual favours. He alleged that the careers of many Bollywood stars started as a result of their performance on the casting couch.
In Nigeria’s movie industry, Nollywood, the casting couch culture is most prevalent. Many starlets are alleged to have been willing to perform various sexual acts for even minor or movie extra movie roles. In the early days of Nollywood, many wannabe actresses were more than happy just to appear in movie for no pay at all. But also very willing to pay the heavy price usually on the casting couch. Many are also reported to be have had to sleep with anyone from a studio gaffer to cameraman and just about anyone who can introduce them to a director or producer for an audition where they have to encounter the real “casting couch”
Historic cases of Casting Couch scandals:
In the first scandal to shake Hollywood, the comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle attended a wild party in San Francisco in 1921 that ended in the death of actress Virginia Rappe. Rappe, writhing in pain from a ruptured bladder, accused Arbuckle of raping her. When she died days later, he was charged with murder, which was downgraded to manslaughter. Arbuckle was acquitted after three trials.
A TORN DRESS
Actor Errol Flynn had a two-year affair with Beverly Aadland, starting when she was 15. At the time of the affair Flynn had already been accused — and found not guilty — of the statutory rape of two underage girls in 1942. “I was scared,” Aadland wrote in People. “He was just too strong for me. I cried. At one point he tore my dress. Then he carried me off to another room, and I was still carrying on. What was going through my head was, what was I going to tell my mother?”
‘BE NICE TO ME’
Joan Collins says she lost out on the lead role in “Cleopatra” because she wouldn’t sleep with the studio head. “I had tested for ‘Cleopatra’ twice and was the front-runner. He took me into his office and said, ‘You really want this part?’ And I said, ‘Yes. I really do.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘then all you have to do is be nice to me.’ It was a wonderful euphemism in the Sixties for you know what. But I couldn’t do that. In fact, I was rather wimpish, burst into tears and rushed out of his office.” The role went to Elizabeth Taylor.
AMERICA’S LITTLE DARLING
In her memoir “Child Star,” actress Shirley Temple claimed that an MGM producer known to have an “adventuresome casting couch” unzipped his trousers and exposed himself to her during their first meeting in 1940. She was 12. Being innocent of male anatomy, she responded with nervous laughter, and he threw her out of his office. Fortunately, she had already signed her contract with MGM.
Marilyn Monroe was no stranger to lecherous studio chiefs and filmmakers and in her memoir, “My Story,” she didn’t hold back: “I met them all. Phoniness and failure were all over them. Some were vicious and crooked. But they were as near to the movies as you could get. So you sat with them, listening to their lies and schemes. And you saw Hollywood with their eyes — an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.”
GROPED FOR YEARS
Judy Garland was pawed and propositioned for sex by studio bigwigs at MGM between the ages of 16 and 20, according to author Gerald Clarke, who wrote “Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland.” One of the most notorious harassers was allegedly Louis B. Mayer, the head of the studio. “Mayer would tell her what a wonderful singer she was, and he would say ‘you sing from the heart’ and then he would place his hand on her left breast,” Clarke wrote.
STILL AT LARGE
Filmmaker Roman Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with Samantha Geimer, then a 13-year-old aspiring actress during a photo shoot in Los Angeles in 1977. He gave her champagne and Quaaludes. “I didn’t want to have sex,” Geimer wrote in her memoir, “The Girl.” “But apparently that is what was going to happen.” Polanski fled the United States before final sentencing and is still wanted by judicial authorities. He has since faced more rape allegations.
Bill Cosby, the “Cosby Show” star once known as America’s Dad, is facing a retrial on charges he drugged and molested a former Temple University employee, at his home in 2004. He could get 10 years in prison. Cosby has said the encounter was consensual. He is free on $1 million bail. Dozens of additional accusers have come forward, including 13 women whom prosecutors want to call as witnesses to show that they were drugged and violated in similar fashion.
‘GOT THE WRONG GIRL’
Charlize Theron was new in Hollywood but knew the warning signs when she went to an audition. “I thought it was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night at his house in Los Angeles, but I thought maybe that was normal,” she told Marie Clarie in 2005. “I go inside and he’s offering me a drink, and I’m thinking, ‘My god, this acting stuff is very relaxed.’ But it soon becomes very clear what the situation was. I was like, ‘Not going to happen! Got the wrong girl, buddy!’”
Two women who worked on Casey Affleck’s film “I’m Still Here” filed sexual harassment lawsuits against him in 2010. One woman accused him of crawling into her bed without her consent while she was asleep, while the other woman said Affleck pressured her to stay in his hotel room and “violently” grabbed her arm when she refused. Both claims were settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in 2010. Affleck has repeatedly denied the allegations. He went on to win the best actor Oscar for “Manchester by the Sea.”
The story coming out at a time like this does not mean it is a new issue. Neither does it mean that the actresses who have been victims are only just coming out now. Reportedly, accusations and allegations have always been covered up and swept under the carpet and perpetrators have always been the top big powerful men whom no -one wants to cross or take on. The issue has now become a news item because a big media house has decided to take up the story and the “scape-goat” is a big name.
But you can be sure that they are many more like him and it is only a matter of time before their names are also made public.