Harvey Weinstein takes leave of absence after accusations of decades of sexual harassment

Harriet Alexander
Harvey Weinstein with his wife, British designer Georgina Chapman - Copyright (c) 2016 BEimages. No use without permission.

One of Hollywood’s most famous film producers sexually harassed aspiring actresses over almost three decades, according to an explosive expose in the New York Times.

Harvey Weinstein, 65-year-old creator of Miramax and producer of films including Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Shakespeare in Love and Scream, announced on Thursday afternoon that he was taking time off from Weinstein Company in the light of the allegations.

Actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan were among at the women to have accused Weinstein of inappropriate behaviour. 

Ashley Judd claims Weinstein invited her to his hotel room 20 years ago and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower

“Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly,” said Judd.

Eight of the women have received settlements, believed to be worth $80,000 to $150,000.

“I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologise for it,” he told the paper.

“Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.”

He added that he was working with therapists and planning to take a leave of absence to “deal with this issue head on”.

Weinstein has been married to British fashion designer Georgina Chapman, founder of the Marchesa label, since 2007, and the couple have two children. Prior to that he was married for over 20 years to Eve Chilton, with whom he had three children.

Georgina Chapman with Naomi Campbell and Kerry Washington at the Weinstein Company's Golden Globes after-party in January

The New York-born producer had been a Hollywood fixture since the late 1970s, when he created Miramax with his brother Bob – the name coming from their parents, Miriam and Max.

He rose to the top of the Hollywood power tree; Malia Obama interned at his company this summer, and he hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton at his home. In January this year he joined in the women’s march at Park City in Utah, while attending the Sundance Film Festival.

“From the outside, it seemed golden — the Oscars, the success, the remarkable cultural impact,” said Mark Gill, former president of Miramax Los Angeles, which was then owned by Disney. 

“But behind the scenes, it was a mess, and this was the biggest mess of all.”

An assistant to Weinstein, Lauren O’Connor, described as a valued employee, had written a letter to several executives in 2015 after another unnamed assistant was pressured by Weinstein into giving him a massage while he was naked.

Ms O’Connor said the colleague came to her “crying and very distraught” after the incident at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

“There is a toxic environment for women at this company,” she wrote. 

Harvey Weinstein and Kylie Minogue

She wrote that Weinstein required her to have casting discussions with aspiring actresses - after they had private appointments in his hotel room. She suspected that she and other female Weinstein employees were being used to facilitate liaisons with “vulnerable women who hope he will get them work”.

She continued: “I am a 28 year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.”

Eight women told the New York Times that Weinstein would appear nearly or fully naked in front of them, requiring them to be present while he bathed or repeatedly asking for a massage or initiating one himself. 

One woman advised a peer to wear a parka when summoned for duty as a layer of protection against unwelcome advances.

Sallie Hodges, another former employee, worked for the company in their London offices.

“I was pretty disturbed and angry,” she said, recalling the accounts she heard from colleagues. “That’s kind of the way things were.”

Lisa Bloom, a lawyer advising Weinstein, said in a statement that “he denies many of the accusations as patently false”. 

Ms Bloom, daughter of famed women's rights lawyer Gloria Allred, represented many women accusing both Bill Cosby and Donald Trump.

Weinstein is making a mini-series of Bloom's book about the Trayvon Martin case.

She said she had “explained to him that due to the power difference between a major studio head like him and most others in the industry, whatever his motives, some of his words and behaviours can be perceived as inappropriate, even intimidating”.

She described him as “an old dinosaur learning new ways”.