Post-Harvey Weinstein, it feels like there is no end to the list of badly behaved men who are finally being exposed. This week included two huge names. On Wednesday, glib morning-television personality Matt Lauer — he of the blatantly sexist 2016 presidential forum — was fired by NBC as exposés by Variety and the New York Times loomed. Yesterday, music and entertainment mogul Russell Simmons announced he would step away from his businesses after a devastating account of sexual assault by screenwriter Jenny Lumet was published in The Hollywood Reporter.
Lumet was prompted to write the article after Simmons denied sexual-assault charges made against him and movie director Brett Ratner by model Keri Claussen Khalighi in a November 19 Los Angeles Times story. Lumet, the daughter of director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of Lena Horne, is showbiz royalty. As such, she and her sister Amy were ultra-chic girls about town in 1980s New York — the kind I idolized, wishing I too could be at the hottest clubs rubbing elbows with Andy Warhol (even if he was bitchy about it later). Lumet’s article about Simmons is specific about all of their encounters, namechecking the old haunts I was overjoyed to go to oh-so-rarely, like Palladium, Nell’s, and Indochine. For non-New Yorkers not of my generation, the details Lumet provides probably just emphasize the deadly accuracy of her account. But for me, they were personally painful due to the hours I spent poring over Detail magazine‘s photos of Jenny, Amy, and other stars of the downtown scene, absolutely certain that they were living the life of my dreams, rather than a nightmare.
Also yesterday, the New York Times ran a story on accusations made by nine women against prolific playwright Israel Horovitz (the father of the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz, who announced that he believes the accusations against his now 78-year-old father.) What floored me in that story was this paragraph:
“Mr. Horovitz’s behavior around women had long been the subject of whispers. But since at least 1993, Gloucester Stage officials had known it was more than mere speculation: that year, Mr. Horovitz was the subject of an exposé in The Boston Phoenix in which 10 women accused him of sexual harassment and assault. The women’s names were not disclosed in the article. At the time the board’s president, Barry Weiner, dismissed the accusations and described some of the women speaking out against Mr. Horovitz as ‘tightly wound.'”
Naturally, I had to read the Boston Phoenix stories, which were every bit as thorough as all of the articles ending careers this year. It was all out there, starting with revelations from six women involved in the Gloucester Stage Company, of which Horovitz was artistic director. Just as is happening now — with one woman’s story inspiring other women to come forward — the original Boston Phoenix article by theater critic Bill Marx encouraged three of Horovitz’s former nannies to reveal his harassment of them. He dismissed the complaints, as did people associated with him, and continued on his merry way. That’s reminiscent of what’s been going on for 17 years with R&B singer R. Kelly. Music critic Jim DeRogatis has been reporting since 2000 on Kelly’s abuse of underage girls and young women, to no avail. His most recent article — about women whose parents said Kelly was holding hostage in a personal sex cult — came out this July. Yet Kelly has dodged complete professional collapse and law enforcement, often thanks to settlements and nondisclosure agreements like Harvey Weinstein.
Yesterday, as the Russell Simmons story exploded, DeRogatis took to the New Yorker’s website to ask why Kelly’s downfall hasn’t come yet. (He answered his own question, noting, “The women in R. Kelly’s ‘cult’ are all African-American,” and concluding that “…no one, it seems, matters less in our society than young black women.”)
I do believe that in the current environment, Kelly will finally feel the consequences of his actions. (I was also betting on movie director Bryan Singer — long the subject of both rumors and open accusations of sexual abusing young men — getting his comeuppance even before today’s announcement that production of his Freddie Mercury biopic was suddenly halted due to Singer’s “health.”) While we wait for those announcements, I urge you to reread the 1993 Horovitz stories as well as the huge amount of R. Kelly reporting by DeRogatis, including his original story published in the Chicago Sun-Times on Dec. 21, 2000. This reading assignment will be very enlightening if you’ve ever asked about one case or another, “Why did the women take so long to report these crimes?” Considering that nothing happened when assaults were reported by women not only to law enforcement or company management but to hundreds of thousands of people in the general public via newspapers, it should seem absurd to criticize other women for holding back.
Finally, speaking of behavior that is well-known, I occasionally go to a jewelry-supply store where the oldfella of an owner is flirty — making eyes, complimenting, paying extra attention, and so on. I’ve never felt threatened by him and, considering how asshole-ish most of his employees are, I didn’t particularly mind returning his smile. He was overeager, but pleasant compared to everyone else. Once, when I came in right before closing, he cut gold chains for me himself as his scowling staff emptied the counters around us.
I went to the store today and was assisted by a woman who I thought of as “relatively pleasant” even though in the real world, people would deem her to be outrageously rude. (You have to judge behavior there on a Department of Motor Vehicles type of curve.) Oldfella was sitting nearby, having his ear talked off by a guy who — having apparently escaped the set of The Sopranos — was eager to share the details of his brother-in-law’s 17-year jail term. (The guy is dead to his parents due to his criminal behavior, but they’ll still bury him in the family cemetery plot when he’s dead for real. Seriously, I learned all of this.) After I wrote a check for $460 for four skinny 18K chains, two earring backs with posts, a clasp, and a few other bits and pieces, my DMV-style saleswoman handed it to Oldfella for his approval. He approved. He approved so much I had to tweet about his approval.
Picking up jewelry findings in NYC. Old guy who owns the place approves my check and declares, "Did you know that for over $400 you get a kiss too?" ?
— Wendy Brandes (@WendyBrandes) December 1, 2017
Oldfella is either not following the news or has gotten some fresh ideas from it, because that’s the most inappropriate and startling thing he’s ever said to me. I laughed like a maniac, because what else am I going to do? Pick a fight with him in his own store? Then I hustled out, tuning out whatever he called out after me, already focused on Twitter. It didn’t take long for two other female jewelry designers to identify the culprit (via Facebook, which is where they saw my tweet). Later, others made the same ID. Dudes! We know who you are. Stop! It! Now!