Harvey Weinstein was hardly the first. My memories of inappropriate behavior and eventually even worse go back more than a half-century.
At the ripe old age of 12, a famous and vaguely-closeted coworker (more a comedian and then only on the verge of fame) came to me backstage, tore a hundred dollar bill down the middle, and gave me one of the halves. He told me if I wore the same underpants for two weeks and gave them to him, he would give me the other half. I had no idea what was going on but I did know it was wrong.
I took the half he gave me, ripped it into tiny little pieces, and threw them in his face--and a hundred buckaroos was worth a lot more than today, you know. He started yelling at me, calling me an "ungrateful little shit," etc., until the stage manager came into the dressing room to see what was going on and I told him, loudly and publicly, about this future Hollywood square's puzzling offer.
It was a big deal but... was he fired? Naw, he was a big draw for the show, after all. Instead the producers warned him to stay away from me and all the other many kids in the cast. He never spoke to me again and years later when he was a bigassed tv star, seeing me walk into a restaurant in Hollywood and later again running into me at one of the many all-boy parties at Raymond Burr's house, both times his early exit was faster than his little feeties could carry him. It made me feel very adult--and very powerful. I think that's where I developed the now-patented Travis Smerk.
The worst thing that has ever happened to me in my life happened the following year, however. At age 13, I was by a very charismatic, very famous man who kept telling me to relax because he knew what I wanted. He was showing me what I wanted, he whispered hoarsely to me over and over between thrusts. Right.
I have to admit I did have an idea what was happening when he started paying attention to me backstage and it was pretty dang thrilling--a handsome internationally renowned film star whose work I admired immensely was going to show me what everyone was always talking about. It quite honestly started out to be great fun, but I was 13 and a lot more naive than I let on, swimming around with the sharks in this adult fishtank at such an early age. I actually had no idea where the initial "fun" was going to lead. I mean, a very flamboyant chorusboy once teased me THAT was what THEY do but frankly, I didn't believe him.
So my teacher's mantra was for me to relax but I didn't--and I hid the continuous bleeding from my mother for several days until she found my discarded underwear I was hiding every morning at the bottom of the trash. I fell apart when it all unraveled and soon after I ended up facing a little stay in a hospital--and not a medical facility. I just couldn't go back into the show or, for that matter, even walk down the street and be able to look anyone in the eye. I was sure they could all see it: that thing he told me he could see that I wanted. I had in NO WAY wanted--or expected--such a thing but I couldn't get it out of my head that they all thought I did, they all thought they saw something in me I couldn't see myself. I was horrified. And ashamed. And humiliated. And terribly, terribly confused about the world I had thought I'd known.
The result? Yeah, I survived, mostly, except, as anyone who has ever been "with" me knows, nobody touches me THERE. Ever again. My old friend Barbara Bain told me once she believes that's why I have such a massive ass, something willed by me so no one will ever again find it attractive.
At age 14, I had the incredible honor of working with the greatest playwright of the 20th century, someone I looked up to maybe more than anyone else on the planet. Meeting him for the first time as part of a line of actors in the green room, I was bursting with excitement. As he came to me, his eyes lit up with that telltale look and, as he shook my hand (limply and a little too long), he crooned, "Weeeell, hellooooo, young man." My heart sank. Sadly at that young age, I immediately knew what was up.
During the run, he haunted me relentlessly--especially when I was putting on my makeup since I wore only a speedo thing at one point (if you can believe that, knowing today they wouldn't fit over one thigh) and he loved to show up when I was opening my jar of Texas Dirt.
Then one day, he came into the dressing room and said, "My beauty, you have inspired me." Uh-oh, I thought, but reluctantly asked what he meant. "I have gone to the drugstore of my hotel," he told me. "I have bought a child's set of watercolors and have painted a portrait of you... from my imagination." I was knocked out and said I was honored, but also remained suitably wary. Sure enough, he asked me to come to his hotel to see it. I suggested bringing it to the theatre but he said it was too big--and he really didn't want anyone else to see it.
Almost every day he mentioned the painting and how he wanted me to visit his hotel--I was 14, remember. Then one day, talking again about the painting, he said what was unique about it was he spilled coffee on it while he was working on it and then used it as a wash and it was the "perfect brown" to recreate our set behind me. I excitedly told him my mom was a watercolorist and often used coffee as a wash and I would love to have her see it. He laughed. "Honey," he said, "this isn't the kind of picture one would show your mother."
A few years ago, speaking about the incident at an annual literary festival honoring him in New Orleans, I told this story in a talkback. My future friend Erma Duricko came to me after and told me she thought she owned the painting of me. She took a photo of it and sent it to me and it was unmistakably me. It also proved his claim he had done the painting, as he told me proudly, from his imagination.
Boy, did that guy ever have a BIG imagination.
And the hits just kept comin'. I came to El Lay under contract to a major film studio in 1966 and the legendary head of casting who brought me here immediately turned me over to an infamous topdrawer agent and tucked me under the wing of a hugeassed casting director (with an award now named for him by the CSA), both of whom made plays for me that almost sent me running back to Chicago to become a plumber or something.
The casting director one day said a producer was interested in me for the lead in a little potentially important indie movie and suggested I come to his home to work on the script with him. It involved one Mrs. Robinson, it seemed--and I am purdy sure in retrospect the die (and the iconic role) had already been cast. I did go, however, not knowing that, but still fearing the worst.
After a short while and his third declined offer of wine, he told me I was too tense and wondered if I ever had a really good relaxing massage. He led me into an adjoining windowless room that smelled like a locker room. In it was a professional-looking massage table all set up with sheets all in place and a nearby stack of white towels. I declined to go in. After much attempted cajoling, he said, "You do know, don't you, your career is in my hands?" I told him to go fuck himself and WALKED back to where I was staying.
Six months later, my studio dropped me. They said it was because I was growing my hair for a stage role they didn't want me to do, something I told them was not an option they had mentioned in my contract--I had been SURE of that before I signed it. So, whichever the reason, thus ended my career as someone the trades once referred to as a "poor man's Troy Donahue"--and proved the dawning of my own personal Age of Aquarius.
Oh, and the guy who raped me at age 13? My mother did not stay quiet, but the powers-that-be did. Although he did keep working in European b-movies and later developed a career in daytime television, the word was out and he never EVER was hired to star in another Hollywood film. He died a few years ago at age 85.
Always wondered how often he thought of me. I hope often.