Who’s the most famous graduate of your alma mater? No matter what school gave you your diploma, if you’re one of my readers you’re probably not an immediately recognized public figure. My high school, John Bowne of Flushing,New York, has produced a number of noted TV executives over its 58-year history, some of whom I’ve counted as friends and former colleagues, who I hope would at least include me on a list of people who did slightly better in our professional lives than the parents that raised us in our middle-class Queens surroundings. Still, none of us rose to the prominence, and ultimately ignominy, of Harvey Weinstein.
And as those are reading Ken Auletta’s magnificent new biography, HOLLYWOOD ENDING: HARVEY WEINSTEIN AND THE CULTURE OF SILENCE are discovering, Weinstein, and to a lesser extent his younger brother Bob, weren’t raised much differently than I was. We shared the same junior high (the now-defunct Harold G. Campbell JHS 218Q) and the Bowne I shared my memories of last week. Harvey preceded me in graduation eight years before, his graduating class slightly larger than mine, neither of which were able to be accommodated by the modest auditorium on site. Mine was moved to Queens College next door; his was moved to a porn theatre. Based on Harvey’s later choices, one might call that foreshadowing.
Early on, it becomes evident via Auletta’s storytelling–that the Weinsteins had a domineering–and arguably emotionally abusive— Jewish mother and were raised in an apartment complex only slightly nicer than the drab garden apartment I spent my youth in. Electchester was a sprawling array of mid-rise buildings built in the post-World War II explosion to service primarily electrician union members, the most notable being labor leader Harry Van Arsdale, Junior. The street of my youth, Jewel Avenue, was later partially renamed in his honor. My day camp bus route picked up a number of the “richer kids” from that complex, so I have little doubt I probably crossed paths with Harvey at some point before I saw him from a distance at a Golden Globes ceremony in the early 2000s.
By that point, Harvey had become a mythic figure in Hollywood. His Miramax film company was among the most aggressive and free-spending in the industry, having spawned a series of box office franchise hits such as HALLOWEEN and SCREAM. Numerous other horror movies, and occasional arthouse hits, came under his purview as well, When they threw parties, they were coveted tickets.
When I shared our common history with a noted director who knew him, he offered to bring me over to meet him. Naturally, I was intrigued. I’ve always cherished the chance to rub shoulders with true success stories. Harvey was holding court near a bar across the room with a few others standing around him. A lovely woman in a strapless gown then interrupted them and started to yell at him. Harvey started to yell back with a slew of expletives that honestly exceeded even the number my mother would yell at me when she was angry. My director friend said “Uh, maybe we should come back later”.
We never did.
And as it turns out, she wasn’t the only woman who had issues with him. Three different women charged him with various degrees of assualt, and in early 2020 Weinstein, by this time humbled by illness and accusations, was the focus of a seminal trial that effectively put #MeToo on display.
As numerous longtime friends, both childhood and professional, attested to Auletta, there clearly was a pattern between the types of films that Miramax greenlit and the way the boys, particualrly Harvey, were raised. Like me, Harvey was an obese Jewish teenager who couldn’t please his mom. His obedient response, of course, was to name his company in honor of her (Miriam) and his reticent dad (Max), immortizing her in Hollywood legacy. Apparently, while she took pride in his success, she never relented in reminding him of where he came from, and how in many ways he was still disappointing.
Harvey’s rage toward employees, and his treatment of women in particular, became public testimony. He eventually grew distant from Bob, who wasn’t without fault himself but never to the extent that Harvey exhibited. Harvey denied all, of course, but was nevertheless convicted on two of five chagres of felony rape in February 2020, and will spend his golden years in incarceration, his earliest possible release date being late 2039–assuming he lives.
It’s a fascinating story even without the personal connections I have, but it resonates all the more with me because it gives me pause on what I could have been had I had the enabling and degree of success he did. No matter what I’ve ever been accused of, I’ve never struck a woman, and certainly never aggressively used whatever relative success I had to sleep my way into some sort of personal reclamation.
So now my somewhat less successful fellow alumnae can take a bit more limelight because whenever we note who may be the most famous alumnus of our high school, he’s clearly even more infamous.
By the way, Auletta’s a fellow alumnus of my college, SUNY Oswego, again a few years before me. I haven’t met him yet either. I sure hope to, to congratulate him on yet another outstanding book. I have to believe he’ll be a lot more well behaved at any bar I may see him at.
And if you ever meet him, you’ll probably want to congratulate him too. HOLLYWOOD ENDING definitely should be on your summer beach or pool list.
Until next time…