The multitude of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood Director Harvey Weinstein stirred up Hollywood and gave women worldwide a voice.
Now more women are speaking out against sexual abuse from yet another Hollywood director.
Media profiles often referred to Hollywood Director James Toback, now 72, a womanizer, but lurking underneath were darker rumors of creepy behavior, reported in 1989 by Spy magazine and, more recently, by Gawker.
According to the 38 women who spoke to The Times, the scope of Toback’s behavior was far more serious.
From LA Times:
He prowled the streets of Manhattan looking for attractive young women, usually in their early 20s, sometimes college students, on occasion a high schooler. He approached them in Central Park, standing in line at a bank or drug store or at a copy center while they worked on their resumes.
His opening line had a few variations. One went: “My name’s James Toback. I’m a movie director. Have you ever seen ‘Black and White’ or ‘Two Girls and a Guy’?”
Probably not. So he’d start to drop names. He had an Oscar nomination for writing the Warren Beatty movie “Bugsy.” He directed Robert Downey Jr., in three movies. The actor, Toback claimed, was a close friend; he had “invented him.” If you didn’t believe him, he would pull out a business card or an article that had been written about him to prove he had some juice in Hollywood. That he could make you a star.
But first, he’d need to get to know you. Intimately. Trust him, he’d say. It’s all part of his process.
Then, in a hotel room, a movie trailer, a public park, meetings framed as interviews or auditions quickly turned sexual, according to 38 women who, in separate interviews told the Los Angeles Times of similar encounters they had with Toback.
During these meetings, many of the women said, Toback boasted of sexual conquests with the famous and then asked humiliating personal questions. How often do you masturbate? How much pubic hair do you have? He’d tell them, they said, that he couldn’t properly function unless he “jerked off” several times a day. And then he’d dry-hump them or masturbate in front of them, ejaculating into his pants or onto their bodies and then walk away. Meeting over.
The women’s accounts portray James Toback as a man who, for decades, sexually harassed women he hired, women looking for work and women he just saw on the street. The vast majority of these women — 31 of the 38 interviewed — spoke on the record. The Times also interviewed people that the women informed of the incidents when they occurred.
As is often the case, none of them contacted the police at the time. When contacted by The Times, Toback denied the allegations, saying that he had never met any of these women or, if he did, it “was for five minutes and have no recollection.” He also repeatedly claimed that for the last 22 years, it had been “biologically impossible” for him to engage in the behavior described by the women in this story, saying he had diabetes and a heart condition that required medication. Toback declined to offer further details.
The women interviewed during The Times’ investigation offered accounts that differed from Toback’s recollections.
“The way he presented it, it was like, ‘This is how things are done,’” actress Adrienne LaValley said of a 2008 hotel room encounter that ended with Toback trying to rub his crotch against her leg. When she recoiled, he stood up and ejaculated in his pants. “I felt like a prostitute, an utter disappointment to myself, my parents, my friends. And I deserved not to tell anyone.”
“In a weird sense, I thought, ‘This is a test of whether I’m a real artist and serious about acting,’” remembered Starr Rinaldi, who was an aspiring actress when Toback approached her in Central Park about 15 years ago. “He always wanted me to read for him in a hotel or come back to his apartment, like, ‘How serious are you about your craft?’”
“And the horrible thing is, whichever road you choose, whether you sleep with him or walk away, you’re still broken,” Rinaldi continued. “You have been violated.”
Toback amassed a solid body of work over four decades. His 1974 debut, “The Gambler” starring James Caan, the three movies with Downey Jr., a sympathetic documentary about boxer Mike Tyson and, of course, that Oscar-nominated screenplay for “Bugsy,” the 1991 portrait of gangster Bugsy Siegel, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Beatty and Annette Bening.
Toback’s movies often examine extremes — gambling, drinking, womanizing — that he says overlap with his own demons. “The idea is not to have a separation between my life and my movies,” Toback said in a 2002 Salon interview. His characters are often on edge — Harvey Keitel’s pianist in “Fingers,” the teenagers infatuated with hip-hop culture in “Black and White.”
As a writer/director, Toback liked to push the envelope sexually. The widely panned 2004 drama “When Will I Be Loved” opened with a five-minute shot of Neve Campbell masturbating with a shower nozzle.
Off-screen he constantly brought up those provocative scenes, say the majority of the women interviewed by The Times, to see how far they were willing to go, both during the audition process and, should they be cast, in his movies.
“The more time you spend with him, the weirder it gets until it’s like just like one giant red flag,” said Los Angeles radio reporter Anna Scott, who also shared her disturbing experience with Toback:
Scott was an 18-year-old senior at Manhattan’s Hunter College High School when Toback approached her at a deli across the street from her campus. He told her he was working on a movie called “Black and White,” that it starred boxer Tyson and he was casting complete unknowns. He asked if Scott was interested in acting. She was about to attend the University of Southern California to study screenwriting. She thought she had made a fortuitous connection.
Toback invited Scott to a taping of the “Charlie Rose” show, where he was part of a panel. After the taping, he told her, they could talk more about the movie. But as they walked the streets of Midtown, the conversation quickly veered into sexual territory, including queries about masturbation and pubic hair.
“It was disgusting and embarrassing,” Scott said. “I tried to extricate myself from it without causing a scene.”
Instead, Toback steered her into a restaurant where, she said he told her, “You have to be ready to turn yourself completely over to me.” Finally, she abruptly stood up and fled.
The Times continues to report on each woman’s recount of their highly inappropriate encounters with Toback. Some remained anonymous, still fearing for their safety and retaliation.
One woman who asked to remain anonymous claimed Toback humped her leg in his office until he ejaculated in his pants. Another woman recounted the time when she met Toback at his New York home and he wouldn’t let her leave until she grabbed his nipples and looked into his eyes while he masturbated.
“People who go against me … I know people that hurt people,” he warned her. Then he asked if she’d have sex with him or jerk him off, to which she responded with a firm “No” to each of the sick questions.
Her manager told her not long afterward that he wanted to see her again. She told her manager that Toback’s a vile person and he shouldn’t ever send another woman to him.
Thank God these demented horrible monsters are finally being outed. Women have had enough. They know they’ve waited too long to speak out against the quiet sexual abuse by powerful men that Hollywood has ignored.