By JODI KANTOR and MEGAN TWOHEY
Two decades ago, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what the young actress expected to be a business breakfast meeting. Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower, she recalled in an interview.
“How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?” Judd said she remembers thinking.
In 2014, Weinstein invited Emily Nestor, who had worked just one day as a temporary employee, to the same hotel and made another offer: If she accepted his sexual advances, he would boost her career, according to accounts she provided to colleagues who sent them to Weinstein Co. executives. The following year, once again at the Peninsula, a female assistant said Weinstein badgered her into giving him a massage while he was naked, leaving her “crying and very distraught,” wrote a colleague, Lauren O’Connor, in a searing memo asserting sexual harassment and other misconduct by their boss.
“There is a toxic environment for women at this company,” O’Connor said in the letter, addressed to several executives at the company run by Weinstein.
An investigation by The New York Times found previously undisclosed allegations against Weinstein stretching over nearly three decades, documented through interviews with current and former employees and film industry workers, as well as legal records, emails and internal documents from the businesses he has run, Miramax and The Weinstein Co.
Before he co-founded Miramax, the Flushing, N.Y.-born Weinstein graduated from the University at Buffalo and, with his brother Bob and Corky Burger, independently produced rock concerts as Harvey & Corky Productions in Buffalo through most of the 1970s. Using profits from their concert business, the brothers created Miramax, a small independent film distribution company named after their parents, Miriam and Max.
During the three decades the Times researched, after being confronted with allegations including sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact, Weinstein has reached at least eight settlements with women, according to two company officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. Among the recipients, The Times found, were a young assistant in New York in 1990, an actress in 1997, an assistant in London in 1998, an Italian model in 2015 and O’Connor shortly after, according to records and those familiar with the agreements.
In a statement to The Times on Thursday afternoon, Weinstein said: “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. 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.”
Lisa Bloom, a lawyer advising Weinstein, said in a statement that “he denies many of the accusations as patently false.” In comments to The Times earlier this week, Weinstein said that many claims in O’Connor’s memo were “off base” and that they parted on good terms.
He and his representatives declined to comment on any of the settlements, including providing information about who paid them. But Weinstein said that in addressing employee concerns about workplace issues, “my motto is to keep the peace.”
Bloom, who has been advising Weinstein over the last year on gender and power dynamics, called him “an old dinosaur learning new ways.” 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 behaviors can be perceived as inappropriate, even intimidating.”
Though O’Connor had been writing only about a two-year period, her memo echoed other women’s complaints. Weinstein required her to have casting discussions with aspiring actresses after they had private appointments in his hotel room, she said, her description matching those of other former employees. She suspected that she and other female Weinstein employees, she wrote, were being used to facilitate liaisons with “vulnerable women who hope he will get them work.”
The allegations piled up even as Weinstein helped define popular culture. He has collected six best-picture Oscars and turned out a number of touchstones, from the films “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Good Will Hunting” to the television show “Project Runway.” In public, he presents himself as a liberal lion, a champion of women and a winner of not just artistic but also humanitarian awards.
In 2015, the same year O’Connor wrote her memo, his company distributed “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about campus sexual assault. A longtime Democratic donor, he hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in his Manhattan home last year. He employed Malia Obama, the older daughter of former President Barack Obama, as an intern this year and recently helped endow a faculty chair at Rutgers University in Gloria Steinem’s name. During the Sundance Film Festival in January, when Park City, Utah, held its version of the nationwide women’s marches, Weinstein joined the parade.
“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,” he added, referring to Weinstein’s treatment of women.
Dozens of Weinstein’s former and current employees, from assistants to top executives, said they knew of inappropriate conduct while they worked for him. Only a handful said they ever confronted him.
Weinstein enforced a code of silence; employees of The Weinstein Co. have contracts saying they will not criticize it or its leaders in a way that could harm its “business reputation” or “any employee’s personal reputation,” a recent document shows. And most of the women accepting payouts agreed to confidentiality clauses prohibiting them from speaking about the deals or the events that led to them.
Charles Harder, a lawyer representing Weinstein, said it was not unusual for companies to enter into settlements to avoid lengthy and costly litigation. And, he added, “it’s not evidence of anything.”
At Fox News, where the conservative icons Roger E. Ailes and Bill O’Reilly were accused of harassment, women have received payouts well into the millions of dollars. But most of the women involved in the Weinstein agreements collected between roughly $80,000 and $150,000, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
In the wake of O’Connor’s 2015 memo, some Weinstein Co. board members and executives, including Weinstein’s brother and longtime partner, Bob, 62, were alarmed about the allegations, according to several people who spoke on the condition of anonymity. In the end, though, board members were assured there was no need to investigate. After reaching a settlement with Harvey Weinstein, O’Connor withdrew her complaint and thanked him for the career opportunity he had given her.
“The parties made peace very quickly,” Bloom said.
Through her lawyer, Nicole Page, O’Connor declined to be interviewed. In the memo, she explained how unnerved she was by what she witnessed or encountered while a literary scout and production executive at the company. “I am just starting out in my career, and have been and remain fearful about speaking up,” O’Connor wrote. “But remaining silent is causing me great distress.”
In speaking out about her hotel episode, Judd said in a recent interview, “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”
Nestor, a law and business school student, accepted Weinstein’s breakfast invitation at the Peninsula because she did not want to miss an opportunity, she later told colleagues. After she arrived, he offered to help her career while boasting about a series of famous actresses he claimed to have slept with, according to accounts colleagues compiled after hearing her story and then sent on to company executives.
“She said he was very persistent and focused, though she kept saying no for over an hour,” one internal document said. Nestor, who declined to comment for this article, refused his bargain, the records noted. “She was disappointed that he met with her and did not seem to be interested in her resume or skill set.” The young woman chose not to report the episode to human resources personnel, but the allegations came to management’s attention through other employees.
Across the years and continents, accounts of Weinstein’s conduct share a common narrative: Women reported to a hotel for what they thought were work reasons, only to discover that Weinstein, who has been married for most of three decades, sometimes seemed to have different interests. His home base was New York, but his rolling headquarters were luxury hotels: the Peninsula Beverly Hills and the Savoy in London, the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc near the Cannes Film Festival in France and the Stein Eriksen Lodge near the Sundance Film Festival.
Working for Weinstein could mean getting him out of bed in the morning and doing “turndown duty” late at night, preparing him for sleep. Like the colleague cited in O’Connor’s memo, some junior employees required to perform those tasks said they were disturbing.
In interviews, eight women described varying behavior by Weinstein: appearing 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. The women, typically in their early or mid-20s and hoping to get a toehold in the film industry, said he could switch course quickly – meetings and clipboards one moment, intimate comments the next. One woman advised a peer to wear a parka when summoned for duty as a layer of protection against unwelcome advances.
Many women who worked with Weinstein said they never experienced sexual harassment or knew of anyone who did, and they recalled him as a boss who gave them valuable opportunities at young ages. Some described long and satisfying careers with him, praising him as a mentor and advocate.
But in interviews, some of the former employees who said they had troubling experiences with Weinstein asked a common question: How could allegations repeating the same pattern – young women, a powerful male producer, even some of the same hotels – have accumulated for almost three decades?
For actors, a meeting with Weinstein could yield dazzling rewards: scripts, parts, award campaigns, magazine coverage, influence on lucrative endorsement deals. He knew how to blast small films to box office success and deliver polished dramas like “The King’s Speech” and popular attractions like the “Scary Movie” franchise. Weinstein’s films helped define femininity, sex and romance, from Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Chicago” to Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook.”
But movies were also his private leverage. When Weinstein invited Judd to breakfast in Beverly Hills, she had been shooting the thriller “Kiss the Girls” all night, but the meeting seemed too important to miss. After arriving at the hotel lobby, she was surprised to learn that they would be talking in his suite; she decided to order cereal, she said, so the food would come quickly and she could leave.
Weinstein soon issued invitation after invitation, she said. Could he give her a massage? When she refused, he suggested a shoulder rub. She rejected that, too, she recalled. He steered her toward a closet, asking her to help pick out his clothing for the day, and then toward the bathroom. Would she watch him take a shower? she remembered him saying.
“I said no, a lot of ways, a lot of times, and he always came back at me with some new ask,” Judd said. “It was all this bargaining, this coercive bargaining.”
To get out of the room, she said, she quipped that if Weinstein wanted to touch her, she would first have to win an Oscar in one of his movies. She recalled feeling “panicky, trapped,” she said in the interview. “There’s a lot on the line, the cachet that came with Miramax.”
Not long afterward, she related what happened to her mother, the singer Naomi Judd, who confirmed their conversation to a Times reporter. Years later, Ashley Judd appeared in two Weinstein films without incident, she said. In 2015, she shared an account of the episode in the hotel room with “Variety” without naming the man involved.
In 1997, Weinstein reached a previously undisclosed settlement with Rose McGowan, then a 23-year-old-actress, after an episode in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival. The $100,000 settlement was “not to be construed as an admission” by Weinstein, but intended to “avoid litigation and buy peace,” according to the legal document, which was reviewed by The Times. McGowan had just appeared in the slasher film “Scream” and would later star in the television show “Charmed.” She declined to comment.
Just months before O’Connor wrote her memo, a young female employee quit after complaining of being forced to arrange what she believed to be assignations for Weinstein, according to two people familiar with her departure. The woman, who asked not to be identified to protect her privacy, said a nondisclosure agreement prevented her from commenting.
Soon, complaints about Weinstein’s behavior prompted the board of his company to take notice.
In March 2015, Weinstein had invited Ambra Battilana, an Italian model and aspiring actress, to his TriBeCa office on a Friday evening to discuss her career. Within hours, she called the police. Battilana told them that Weinstein had grabbed her breasts after asking if they were real and put his hands up her skirt, the police report says.
The claims were taken up by the New York Police Department’s Special Victims Squad and splashed across the pages of tabloids, along with reports that the woman had worked with investigators to secretly record a confession from Weinstein. The Manhattan district attorney’s office later declined to bring charges.
But Weinstein made a payment to Battilana, according to people familiar with the settlement, speaking on the condition of anonymity about the confidential agreement. Battilana did not respond to requests for comment.
The public nature of the episode concerned some executives and board members of The Weinstein Co. (Harvey and Bob Weinstein together own 42 percent of the privately held business.) When several board members pressed Harvey Weinstein about it, he insisted that the woman had set him up, colleagues recalled.
Battilana had testified in court proceedings against associates of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who are accused of procuring women for alleged sex parties, and the Italian news media also reported that, years ago, Battilana accused a septuagenarian boyfriend of sexual harassment, a complaint that was apparently dismissed. Battilana did not respond to requests for comment. Her lawyer, Mauro Rufini, could not be reached for comment.
After the episode, Lance Maerov, a board member, said he successfully pushed for a code of behavior for the company that included detailed language about sexual harassment.
Then O’Connor’s memo hit, with page after page of detailed accusations. In describing the experiences of women at the company she had heard about, including her own, she wrote: “The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.”
She was a valued employee – Weinstein described her as “fantastic,” “a great person,” “a brilliant executive” – so the complaint rattled top executives, including Bob Weinstein. When the board was notified of it by email, Maerov insisted that an outside lawyer determine whether the allegations were true, he said in an interview.
But the inquiry never happened. Weinstein had reached a settlement with O’Connor, she had withdrawn her complaint and there was no longer anything to investigate.
“Because this matter has been resolved and no further action is required, I withdraw my complaint,” O’Connor wrote in an email to the head of human resources six days after sending her memo.
She also wrote a letter to Weinstein thanking him for the opportunity to learn about the entertainment industry.