I have been following the Harvey Weinstein story (who could escape it) and I am struck by the courage of all of the women coming forward. Rose Mcgowan is a powerhouse rockstar on this feminist battle and I bow to her badassery. (I also really appreciate the other famous women who have chimed in with their stories in support of the unknown women.) And in the spirit of that courage and in an effort to shed light on the issue I see many other women posting stories of sexual harassment by other men in the entertainment industry. I have decided to add my voice to the chorus in the hopes of shedding more light on the issue so hopefully, we can change things.
First of all, I was sexually harassed by almost every boss I ever had in jobs outside of the entertainment industry as well. By Bosses, co-workers, clients, men on the street, landlords, neighbors, and by other women. To be a woman is to be on the defense all day long. However, I am by no means a prude. I met my first husband on a film set and I have had relationships with people that I started out working with or met in the industry as that really happens all the time. I think consenting adults should do whatever they want and more power to them. That’s as long as both parties are consenting and are on equal ground. I don’t think anyone is trying to make everyone into monks and nuns. What we want is to be respected, treated fairly as equals and to feel safe from physical abuse, unwanted sexual advances and work in an atmosphere where we are not victimised. I could write a series of books on all the stories of sexual harassment I personally have experienced but for the purpose of making changes to my industry, I will reveal a few stories of mine that are relevant.
When I was starting out as an actress I met super manager Jay Bernstein who took me on as a client. He shaped the careers of Farrah Faucet, Suzanne Somers and many others. I was excited to have this man at the helm of my career and looked at him as a mentor. He did teach me a lot and sent me on castings and to meetings with big agents and to a lot of parties with A-list players. I had a separate agent at the time already who was also representing me, David Wilder (who told me to wear tight jeans, a tight white t-shirt and no bra on all auditions, even for Disney, but that’s a whole other story) While I was with Jay Bernstein as my manager, he told me that all his stars had double initials so I should change my name to something with double initials. I didn’t want to change my first name so he suggested “Regina Rhoades” which I hated. So I came up with “Regina Russell”.
One day Jay asked me to come to his office (home office) to have lunch and talk about my career. I went to his house, we had salad, talked about some auditions and he said he wanted to show me a movie. He popped in a VHS tape of a movie about the life of Marilyn Monroe. I can’t remember the title of it but the entire story took place before she became famous and was a dark depressing saga of her just blowing one gross producer after another and being treated like garbage. He asked me what I thought of the story and I said it was pathetic and sickening. He was sitting on the couch with a blanket over him. He lifted it and asked me to come sit next to him and give him a hug. I was so freaked I didn’t know what to do. I said I need to check my messages. I called my home answering machine just to stall and maybe think up some urgent message I could say I heard on my machine that would be an excuse to bolt. (I didn’t feel powerful enough to just call him a pig and walk out) When I checked my messages I had one from my acting teacher. The casting director Roger Mussenden had come to our class to watch some scenes and speak. He asked my acting teacher for my agent’s info because he was casting “Hook” for Stephen Spielberg and thought I would be perfect for one of the mermaids. I called my teacher back on the spot, from Jay’s phone. He asked for my agent or managers phone number. I looked over at creepy Jay Berstein on the couch hoping I would crawl under the blanket to give him a hug and I gave my teacher David Wilder’s phone number and then got the hell out of there. I booked the movie through David Wilder, (who of course tried to take credit for it) and never went anywhere with Jay Berstein again. He later tried to tell me that he owned my name.
Much later in my career, I was the lead actress in a movie with a few somewhat known D-list actors. I was cast by the director and the producer. When the film was completed the distribution company, Giants Entertainment Inc was selling the film at The American Film Market and Cannes. There was a huge full page add in Moving Pictures magazine of my face, and they rented an enormous 20-foot tall billboard of that ad on a moving truck going up and down the street in front of the Loews Hotel during the AFM and Cannes. I was at AFM networking and was pretty pumped to see the ad campaign. I had never met anyone at Giants so I thought I would go up to the booth to meet everyone. I met the head of Giants, David Dadon who was there with his wife and small children. After I left and went back to the floor, he followed me downstairs. He told me if I slept with him I would star in many more of his film and he tried to get me into his limo. This is how he treated the star of the film he was plastering everywhere. I later heard he was sued or indicted for fraud, sex crimes and a host of other stuff. Needless to say, I didn’t do any more films for that company.
I have worked with a lot of great men in this industry. Many of whom were and are mentors, and have treated me well, taught me how to make movies, inspired and encouraged me and I adore most of them. However, women are still fighting equality battles even here in a progressive liberal landscape. Sexual Harassment is just one finger on the hand that hinders women in Hollywood (and everywhere). Women are dismissed, discredited, taken advantage of, pitted against each other. Men steal our ideas, take credit for our work, and we have to over prove ourselves. I know I have to be careful to never share on-screen credit with a male if I can help it because everyone will think he’s the one who really did the work. Even when we were on the festival circuit with my documentary and doing interviews, everyone asked Frankie all the questions about how the film was made and why this or that is in the film like he made the movie himself.
Right now, women are coming forward and shining a light on the abuse, discrimination, and inequality we face in the entertainment industry. Let’s help each other. Believe our stories, help us climb and let’s support each other, stop tearing each other down and not let men pit us against each other. Who’s with me?