Caro­line Hed­ley


The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Saturday Extra -

Tin­sel­town’s in­sid­i­ous sexploitation of ac­tors

The term cast­ing couch has been around so long it al­most seems quaint. It tells of a young per­former — al­most al­ways a woman — who sex­u­ally “au­di­tions” for a role, al­most al­ways with a pow­er­ful older man.

Joan Collins wrote that she missed out on the ti­tle role in 1963s Cleopa­tra, which went to El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, be­cause she wouldn’t sleep with the boss of the stu­dio.

“I had tested for Cleopa­tra twice and was the fron­trun­ner. 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 ’60s for you know what,” she said.

“But I couldn’t do that. In fact, I was rather wimp­ish, burst into tears and rushed out of his of­fice.”

The most fa­mous sex sym­bol of all, Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, talked scathingly in her mem­oir My Story about her en­coun­ters with lech­er­ous film­mak­ers and stu­dio chiefs, say­ing they treated Hol­ly­wood as “an over­crowded brothel”.

“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,” she wrote.

“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.”

Stu­dio boss Dar­ryl Zanuck, who groomed a young Norma Jeane Baker into Mar­i­lyn, also had a rep­u­ta­tion for in­ter­view­ing starstruck young hope­fuls wear­ing only his dress­ing gown. He was no­to­ri­ously “in con­fer­ence” with as­pir­ing ac­tors ev­ery day be­tween 4pm and 4.30pm.

Other Hol­ly­wood pioneers con­sid­ered “no­to­ri­ous lech­ers” in­clude Harry Cohn, who had held cast­ing ses­sions for Columbia Pic­tures from 1919 to the 1950s, MGM fixer Ed­die Man­nix and his as­sis­tant Benny Thau, named as own­ing “the busiest cast­ing couch in Hol­ly­wood”.

The worst of­fender was MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, ac­cord­ing to au­thor Ger­ald Clark. Mayer, who pre­ferred fam­ily movies, would fon­dle Judy Gar­land’s breasts as the 16-year-old sat on his lap.

Child-star Shirley Tem­ple de­scribed her shock when MGM pro­ducer Arthur Freed ex­posed him­self dur­ing a meet­ing with her in 1941, when she was 11, shortly af­ter she signed with that stu­dio.

Film mogul Howard Hughes was noted for af­fairs with Ava Gard­ner, Katharine Hep­burn, Bette Davis and Gin­ger Rogers, but also had a “se­cret” house near his home to con­duct in­ter­views with would-be star­lets. The in­fa­mous case of film­make r Ro­man Polan­ski, who pleaded guilty to un­law­ful sex­ual in­ter­course with then13-year-old as­pir­ing ac­tor Sa­man­tha Geimer, has still not been fully re­solved. Polan­ski plied Geimer with cham­pagne and the drug Quaaludes dur­ing a 1977 LA photo shoot.

Polan­ski fled the US be­fore sen­tenc­ing and is still wanted by ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties.

Bri­tish ac­tor Les­ley-Anne Down de­scribed ar­riv­ing in Hol­ly­wood in 1975 aged 21, when a film ex­ec­u­tive in­vited her to share pop­corn from a box, where she felt his erect pe­nis. She said: “If 1 per cent of what was be­ing per­pe­trated on ac­tresses back then was pun­ished, the en­tire male film in­dus­try would have been in jail for a min­i­mum of 12 years.”

In 2013 ac­tress Thandie New­ton re­vealed at age18 she had a screen test with a di­rec­tor and a fe­male cast­ing di­rec­tor. The di­rec­tor asked “to sit with my legs apart – the cam­era was po­si­tioned where it could see up my skirt – to put my leg over the arm of the chair”, then read di­a­logue and imag­ine “how it felt to be made love to by this per­son”.

In 2009, Trans­form­ers star Me­gan Fox said lead­ing film di­rec­tors made sex­ual propo­si­tions while cast­ing for film roles.

Some ar­gue ha­rass­ment of women is en­demic in films as so much of the in­dus­try is based on the fact that sex sells.

“Sex­ual ha­rass­ment in Hol­ly­wood has a his­tory as long as that of the in­dus­try it­self: the in­dus­try was built, in part, on fe­male ha­rass­ment be­hind the scenes, fe­male ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion in front of the cam­eras, with the use of celebrity gos­sip to both tit­il­late and fore­warn about the so-called ‘cast­ing couch’,” says Red­lands Uni­ver­sity’s Kath­leen Fee­ley.

Although We­in­stein’s un­mask­ing has cre­ated shock­waves, any last­ing change will be hard fought.

If 1 per cent of of­fences were pun­ished, the male film in­dus­try would be in jail Les­ley-Anne Down

Hol­ly­wood Blvd, and (far left, from top) Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, Sa­man­tha Geimer, Judy Gar­land, and Louis B. Mayer.

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