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“He Had a Preternatural Ability to Detect People’s Vanities”: An Excerpt From Harvey Weinstein Biography ‘Hollywood Ending’


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In 2017, Ronan Farrow published an extensive takedown of Harvey Weinstein, following New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in exposing the producer’s years of abuse and sexual assault. He received help and consultation from fellow New Yorker scribe Ken Auletta, who first heard the whisperings about Weinstein’s behavior twenty years prior, while reporting on a profile for the magazine. Auletta remained plagued by questions surrounding the abuse — when it started, how it remained an open secret, what the warning signs were — and, as such, embarked on another round of investigations into Weinstein, particularly his early life. 

The result is the biography Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence, which explores everything from his childhood in Queens to the founding of his now-defunct companies.

Below, The Hollywood Reporter shares an exclusive excerpt which details stories from the heyday of Miramax Films. 

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Hollywood Ending by Ken Auletta

Courtesy of Penguin Press

Those who witnessed Harvey Weinstein’s eruptions at Miramax and at the Weinstein Company, describe not a lovable rogue or someone as demanding of himself as of others, but rather a man with little self-control. His tone of voice and body language reeked of danger; at times, Harvey appeared about to burst with fury, his fists clenched, his teeth grinding, his large head shaking as he struggled to restrain himself. Sometimes he failed and physically assaulted people.

Donna Gigliotti worked at Miramax for three and a half years as an executive vice president of production and was a key movie decision maker who went on to win Academy Awards as a producer. A welcoming personality who had officemates gravitating to her desk, Gigliotti sat on the other side of a wall from Harvey’s office. “I was sitting at my desk one day and thought we were hit by an earthquake,” she said. “The wall just shook. I stood up. I learned that he had flung a marble ashtray at the wall.”

The ashtray weighed ten pounds, and was thrown at long time Miramax senior executive, Mark Gill. Sometimes when one of Harvey’s assistants made a mistake, Gill recalls, they were ordered to go to a large chalkboard and write “I am a moron” one hundred times, then sign it and place the chalkboard in the lobby. By the early nineties, Fortune magazine listed the Weinstein brothers as among the worst bosses in America. As he often did when criticism could not be dodged or easily refuted, Harvey confessed, insisting he was undergoing a process of self-reform. “I think I was a bad boss…. I had a bad temper,” he once told me. “I think I yelled at people way too much.” He blamed being “a perfectionist and a micro manager. I still have some tendencies of doing that now, but they’re way rarer to what I was thenAnd, I think, Bob too.:

Harvey’s assistants would say these confessions were cyclical, and inevitably followed by a return to old habits. They feared Harvey’s sharp mood swings; feared he would explode when he couldn’t find the peanut M&M’s they hid because his personal aides knew he was a diabetic; feared not having a pack of Marlboros or Carltons or a can of Diet Coke within reach when he demanded them; feared sitting across from him in a restaurant because he shoveled food in his mouth so quickly while speaking that he sent food projectiles across the table. Staffers figured out subtle ways to manage him. After graduating with an art history major from Oberlin College, Amy Israel was hired at twenty-two as the assistant to the director of acquisitions and promoted at age twenty-six to be co-head of the acquisitions department with Jason Blum. She discovered that the surest way to keep impulsive, restless Harvey in his seat during a screening of a film she wanted to buy was to bring in a plate of freshly baked cookies. “This way I could keep Harvey in his seat long enough for me to get to the end of the film. He would just sit there and eat the whole plate. I thought it was a pretty clever strategy.” Israel was not aware he was diabetic, since Harvey’s health issues were closely guarded by his assistants, and with the way he ate it was hard to imagine he had diabetes.

Harvey’s awful assaults on women and criminal conviction in 2020, plus his 23-year prison sentence, has also erased from public memory his talent and Miramax’s many feats. Amy Israel toiled for nearly eight years at Miramax. Looking back, she appreciated an often overlooked Miramax virtue: “By starting at Miramax so young, you grew up in a culture where you learned how to think outside the box, where every closed door presented itself as a challenge in how you could break it down—either by using your intelligence, street smarts, or sheer force of will. Harvey would task you with a seemingly insurmountable mission and you would say to him, ‘No, this is impossible.’ He would show fifteen ways it was possible. You learned very quickly how to adapt to pull off the most incredible feats.”

If a staffer mentioned to Harvey that they just finished a really engrossing book, Harvey would ask questions, pressing to know the story—and if he was sufficiently intrigued, he’d demand they get on a plane the next day to visit the author to lock the book up for a movie. Many employees came to work with their passports, not knowing if they’d be told to jump on an international flight that day.

Whatever Harvey’s egregious flaws—Israel described him as “terrifying,” and she was one of the women who dared cooperate with New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey to expose Harvey as a sexual beast in October 2017 — she also described the rare benefits that working for Harvey offered. She believes some of the “best people in the movie business” were nurtured at Miramax because the Weinstein brothers ran Miramax as “a meritocracy.” Among those who went on to prominence and success were Jason Blum, founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions, which produced Get Out and BlacKkKlansman; Donna Gigliotti, who would win Academy Awards as producer of Shakespeare in Love and Hidden Figures; Mark Gill, until late 2021 the president and CEO of Solstice Studios, an independent movie company; and Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer of SiriusXM Radio. “As a young person coming up,” Israel remembered, “if you were passionate, smart, and had taste, if you were a hustler, and could find the films first and close the deals fast, you could do very well there.”

Even the most junior underlings were given opportunities. A former assistant (who preferred not to be named, fearing that Harvey’s scandalous sexual behavior would tarnish his reputation) recalled, “You couldn’t say to them, ‘I don’t know. I’ll go ask so-and-so in the marketing department.’ They expected you to know everything.” By contrast, if you worked at a Hollywood studio as “a production executive or a development executive or a marketing executive, you pretty much stayed in your box.” Over more than a decade, this assistant was promoted to a succession of senior executive roles.

“I admired the fact that everything was possible,” said Gina Gardini, who started working there as an intern right out of Northwestern’s respected film school and rose over the next fourteen years to supervise Miramax operations in Europe. “I admired their relentlessness.”

For a man not noted for empathy, Harvey had a preternatural ability to detect people’s vanities and private passions. Eric Robinson, who started as one of Harvey’s multiple New York assistants and rose to the title of vice president, remembers when Harvey was determined to persuade Russell Crowe to star in Cinderella Man, a film about a scrappy boxer who rises to be the world heavyweight champion. Crowe was not interested. “Harvey had to find a way to Russell’s heart. He had a band”—called 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. “Crowe had made a documentary about his band. Harvey found out that the band was performing in Milan. He dropped everything and flew to Milan to see the band perform. And he bought Crowe’s unpublished documentary.” After this extended courtship, Crowe agreed to star in Cinderella Man.

It was a demonstration of Harvey’s special talents as head of a studio: He believed that he could persuade anyone to do what he wanted. He had a nose for people’s vulnerabilities or desires. And he could wield considerable charm. But charm required concentration. Harvey’s default position was anger and paranoia. He fervently believed Hollywood was out to get him, and he believed this even before it was true.

The way Harvey seduced Quentin Tarantino is instructive. Tarantino’s first released movie, Reservoir Dogs, was shown at Sundance in the winter of 1992. The movie was both lauded and condemned for its violence. At a Sundance screening, Peter Biskind reported that an audience member rose and asked Tarantino to justify all the blood. “I don’t know about you but I love violent movies,” Tarantino shot back. “What I find offensive is that Merchant- Ivory shit.” Like Harvey, Tarantino enjoyed behaving like a rebel. His put-downs of critics and those he considered vanilla moviemakers were avidly recorded by the press.

The buzz around Reservoir Dogs spread, and after the film was shown in Cannes, Harvey and Bob jumped in to sign on to distribute Tarantino’s movie. Its rabid intensity attracted applause from critics and members of the film cognoscenti. But the movie’s feral violence limited the size of its audience—it netted just $2.5 million at the box office.

However, Harvey achieved something more important than a financial success: Tarantino’s loyalty. In a 2002 interview, Tarantino recounted to me his initial decisive experience with Harvey over this. Harvey liked the movie but wanted a market research focus group screening to test the audience reaction. “I just hate those fucking things,” Tarantino said. But he relented and attended the focus group screening. Afterward, he and Harvey met alone in the darkened theater. Harvey told him the audience hated the bloody scene where Mr. Blonde tortures a bound cop and slices off his ear. “People who could really appreciate the movie and enjoy it, that scene cuts their head off….So we can have a much bigger hit if you were to cut that scene out.” Harvey had shown movie to his wife, Eve, and her sister as well, and they got up in the middle of the screening (although they went back in to see what happened). Despite that promising sign, Harvey was convinced women would reject the movie.

“You know what, Harvey?” Tarantino responded. “This is the movie I wanted to make; that’s my scene in the movie. I’ll never be able to watch it if we cut scene out. . . . No, I’m keeping the torture scene in.”

Aware that he had lassoed a rare talent, almost instantly Harvey relented. “Then we’re not gonna touch the movie.” Harvey “was the opposite of a bully,” Tarantino told me. (Harvey was also clearly wrong about the ear scene, which became iconic.) With many other directors Harvey was not ecumenical. His bullying over scripts and the movie’s length earned him the nickname, “Harvey Sissorhands.”

What puzzled those who worked for Harvey was that he did not switch on the charisma more often. It was as if Harvey could not control the unpredictable emotions seething within. Author Peter Biskind described him as “a preternaturally charming man who is nevertheless a roiling cauldron of insecurities, in which self-love and self-hatred contend like two demons, equal in strength, canniness, and resolve. To listen to him for any length of time is to be continuously entertained, but battered as well by relentless waves of hubris, and drowned by apologia, false humility, and self-pity.”

Many believed the rage that bubbled just below the surface was a volcano that Harvey could not prevent from erupting, its lava blotting out what he was able to accomplish when he bent his considerable intelligence to sympathetic listening. It is also possible that he got the results he wanted with less effort when he showed his more fearsome side.

While Miramax employees respected Harvey’s talents, few liked him. “I never had a single personal conversation with Harvey. I don’t think he knew if I was married or had a family,” said a former senior executive who worked closely with him. Most found him cold and remote. He had few industry friends outside Miramax. Despite their scorching verbal battles and sometimes rivalry, Bob remained Harvey’s best friend. And to those in the office, his only friend.

But even that friendship didn’t last, as Bob voted to terminate Harvey from the Weinstein Company in October 2017, and no longer speaks to his brother.

Today, Harvey has been transferred from a maximum security prison outside Buffalo, New York, to await trial later this year in Los Angeles. He resides in a medical ward of the Twin Towers correction facility, relying on a wheelchair to move about. He is plagued by spinal stenosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, a steep cholesterol count, a weak heart fortified by a stent, and glaucoma that requires injections to stave off blindness. No longer does he have four assistants hovering to execute his orders, or a car with four televisions to screen films as he was whisked to another meeting or premiere. In prison, his telephone calls must go through his lawyers. He has no Internet access, and few visitors. Like his brother, his three adult daughters from his first marriage refuse to speak to him. His second wife, Georgina Chapman, divorced him and now dates and walks the red carpet with actor Adrien Brody.

Harvey Weinstein is very much alone. And although he won’t accept responsibility, he can’t blame anyone but himself.

Excerpted from Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence, published by Penguin Press, copyright ©2022 by Ken Auletta.

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