The news has been awash with sexual harassment, assault, and manipulation accusations with some that were perpetrated as far back as 40-years ago. It’s alarming, sad, and hard to watch the careers of those we had admired fall and crumble into the dust. But we can’t excuse them either. This “outing” from the #metoo campaign is woefully overdue and the number who have posted and spoken out has awakened us to the fact that the problem is immense.
The statute of limitations for Baby Boomers who experienced sexual harassment, assault or manipulation has run out and predators can no longer be prosecuted, or are dead. If you’re wondering why they didn’t speak out sooner, it’s important to realize that times were different then.
We came of age in the era of free love
The 60’s and 70’s was a time of rebellion, but we were also transitioning from the Beaver Cleaver lifestyle of the 50’s. The sexual revolution was in full force and AIDS wasn’t a factor yet. Women’s Lib gave us freedom and empowerment, but our mini-skirts and halter tops also made us prey to sexual harassment. It’s not that we were asking for it, but many of us embraced the free love revolution that sometimes ended in abuse.
I didn’t grow up in middle America, never lived on an isolated little farm, or went to church. We went to temple in Los Angeles for a few years before my family moved to Orange County, which was WASP at the time. The kids in my high school class of 1971 were old enough to embrace the new-found freedoms of our generation and because I was entrenched in the Drama Department, we were pretty wild. Somehow, I managed to wait until I was 19 to have sex. (not for religious reasons, because I was never very religious, but just for the heck of it) Once my cherry got popped, it was a free-for-all until I settled down and got married at age 26.
I continued in the theater at Junior College and did Melodramas at Knott’s Berry Farm until I moved to Los Angeles at the age of 23 to pursue my career as an actress.
The Hollywood casting couch
The casting couch is real. But, I can’t say I was ever assaulted. I was harassed to some extent and very easily manipulated. It’s difficult for a young girl with idealist dreams to work in an industry where powerful men rule, and careers can be broken in an instant. You had to be careful going on auditions because some were simply excuses to make women take off their tops.
How people viewed actresses
Actresses have been perceived as “almost prostitutes” for hundreds of years. It was never a “respectable” profession and parents often discouraged their daughters to pursue a life on the stage. The film industry changed that way of thinking to some extent, but not completely. There have always been “Harvey Weinstein’s” who exchange their power and influence for sex. The film industry is a “meat market” where beautiful young women and men go from waiting tables to stardom and back again at the will of powerful men.
Hollywood party life
I attended a few “Hollywood parties during the 70’s” If you were lucky to be invited, and were cute enough, it was a place to meet producers and directors. Many times, they turned into full-blown orgies. The number of women who were drugged and assaulted by Bill Cosby doesn’t surprise me. I’m sure some of them attended Hollywood parties hoping to further their acting careers. That still didn’t give Cosby the right to slip them a roofie and take advantage of them. I was slipped a roofie once at Over the Rainbow, a club above the Rainbow Bar and Grill. I had ordered a single glass of wine and suddenly got dizzy and started falling over. Luckily, I was with friends who drove me home. If I’d been alone, who knows what would have happened?
Meeting “The Toad”
I was taking an acting class at the Lee Strasberg Institute on Hollywood Blvd and met a producer in the parking lot, who I will refer to as “The Toad.” He asked me if I’d like to have lunch with him in Beverly Hills. I decided to go because it was at a nice restaurant and I loved to eat. He took a liking to me and I ended up going to several more lunches and dinners with him. The Toad was ugly as sin but knew all the maître d’s, so I was impressed. I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in him sexually. For one thing, he was as old as my father.
He introduced me to several rich people he knew and I noticed that many of the men were hooked up with much younger women. One guy was a B movie producer in his 70’s married to a Swedish girl who was 21. They had a 2-year old. The Toad liked to tell me about his sexual exploits and fantasies of doing it with girls younger than I was. Why I didn’t run at that point, I’ll never know. I guess I kept thinking about all the fancy restaurants I’d get to eat at.
Sexual Harassment or what?
I went out one night with The Toad when I was still living in Orange County. It was late and he offered to book me a room at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel so I wouldn’t have to drive home. That’s when he made his move. I can’t exactly call it rape because I could have flatly refused, but I stupidly let myself be manipulated. It wasn’t very successful on his end and totally grossed me out. That night, I took a long hot bath and slept in an elegant room but felt like a complete idiot.
I swore I’d never see him again but then he offered me a job doing wardrobe on a film he was going to direct. I’d never worked on a movie before and accepted the offer because it sounded like a cool experience and paid good money. The film was the story of Brigham Young and was going to be shot in Salt Lake City. I made it clear that I didn’t want to repeat that awful night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Luckily, I made friends with the crew, and they kept me safe from his advances during the shoot. (The film eventually ended up playing at the main temple in Salt Lake for many years)
Me, Ethel and The Toad in Jamaica
After the film wrapped, The Toad wanted to take me and a young Mormon girl he’d met on the film on a trip to Jamaica. I was hesitant to go but accepted, because I’d never been there before, and it was with the understanding I would only be his conversation partner. The girl’s name was Ethel and she didn’t talk much. She was apparently only invited to service him. He tried a few tricks to during the trip, but I thwarted them and had a fairly good time. I felt sorry for poor Ethel, though. I’ll never understand what her deal was.
We started working on another film, that shot in San Diego, The Toad tried several times to set me up with kinky millionaires, including Harry who is Anderson Cooper’s uncle. The film company hadn’t booked a room for me yet, so I was told I was to stay at Harry’s mansion overlooking Black’s Beach (clothing optional) in La Jolla. He had a young girlfriend but that didn’t stop him from going after me too. I must admit, Harry, who was 45 at the time, was kind of fun but a crazy horndog.
It paid off
I’m not sure why I hung around with The Toad for so long, but it worked out in the end. I got into the Wardrobe union, because of the hours I worked on the Brigham film and got hired to work on shows for several years at the studios including The White Shadow, Hill Street Blues, and Blake Edward’s SOB. I met my husband, who was an electrician on the film and Doug, who I started living with after my husband died. He was the Director of Photography.
My acting career
I quit doing wardrobe after a few years because I was still determined to be an actress. (probably a super dumb move, but young actors don’t always think in the long term) The producers of Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere helped me get my SAG card and I later starred in 2 feature films. After having kids, I gave up my on-camera career to become a full-time voice-over actor, which is way less prone to sexual harassment. No one cares what you look like when you’re recording. I’ve done that for over 35 years and am still active in SAG AFTRA.
I admit I made incredibly stupid decisions when I was young and vulnerable but understand the power trip and the fact that young women get sucked into it. The sexual harassment, manipulation, and sometimes assault by powerful men, who can make or break a woman’s career, continues in every profession. Even though many decades have gone by, I’m glad Baby Boomers are speaking out about their past experiences. I hope the #metoo campaign puts a final stop to sexual harassment but we have a long way to go.
Have you experienced sexual harassment, manipulation, or assault in your career? Please leave a comment below.