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Sexual harassment rumors against Harvey Weinstein have hidden in plain sight for years

The open secret of “the Harvey Girls,” explained.

Tech And Media Elites Attend Allen And Company Annual Meetings In Idaho Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

In the wake of the New York Times’s explosive report alleging that megaproducer and Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed and assaulted dozens of women over decades as one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, there’s been one overwhelming reaction from industry insiders and dedicated celebrity gossip readers: Finally.

For years, rumors surrounding Weinstein and his behavior toward women have circulated through the entertainment industry. Almost all of it was gossip, unverifiable and unreportable — but there was a lot of it. The New York Times just found the fire, but there’s been decades of smoke surrounding Weinstein.

To be clear, all of the accounts you’re about to read are rumors. They have not been verified, and the fact that the Times has found sourced and verified accounts that in some cases match the rumors does not mean that any of these stories are true. What it does mean is that there have been persistent stories floating through public knowledge for years that paint Weinstein as a sexual predator — and it took until now for anyone to make the accusations stick.

Weinstein’s alleged pattern of preying on women has been an open secret

“It was mystifying several years ago why she was hyped the way she was hyped,” began Elaine Lui on her blog Lainey Gossip in 2009. She was writing a blind item, a description of a scandal so hot that naming names would mean opening herself up to a libel suit. This particular blind item described a young actress desperate to become the new It Girl, one who got a lot of buzz but very few major roles — and a married Hollywood power player who promised her roles in exchange for degrading sex, threw her a few scraps, and then cut her off to devote himself to hunting his next target.

The item got passed around from site to site, and a consensus began to form: The desperate not-quite-It Girl was Gretchen Mol, whose movie roles were starting to dry up; the new target was Blake Lively, beginning to transition from TV to film; and in the center of it all, between two beautiful young women whose careers he held in the palm of his hands, was Harvey Weinstein.

In the wake of the numerous allegations against Weinstein, Mol has responded to the much-cited blind item and said she had no history of sexual encounters with Weinstein, and calls the popular narrative around the rumor “another kind of misogyny, and blame-shifting.”

But the reason people believed it was Weinstein was that the description matches a pattern of behavior associated with him: He suddenly begins to promote a beautiful young actress as the next big thing, giving her showy movie roles, escorting her to events, dressing her in Marchesa couture (his wife is one of the co-founders of the brand), and declaring her a shoo-in for the Oscars before abruptly dropping her. He’d publicly done just that with Gretchen Mol, landing her a Vanity Fair cover describing her as Hollywood’s new It Girl … and then going quiet as her star faded away.

Whispers about Weinstein’s predatory ways go back to the ’90s

“The Harvey Girls are easily spotted,” wrote Courtney Enlow in 2010. “They are all very pretty, often in a rather generic sense. Their instant fame and the push behind them comes seemingly out of nowhere and without any justification in terms of resume or skill set.” She added, “Rumors of Harvey's casting couch ways are legendary” — and also unverified.

Perhaps the most successful of those former Weinstein-sponsored It Girls is Gwyneth Paltrow. As Olivia Armstrong wrote for the Decider in 2015:

Paltrow was the Weinsteins’ It Girl back in 1995, right after Se7en put her on the map and just before The Pallbearer and Emma the latter earning her the top-billing spot two years later in Miramax’s first Best Picture-winner, Shakespeare in Love, beating Steven Spielberg’s war epic, Saving Private Ryan, which, to this day, is still a shock. Paltrow was The Weinsteins’ most promising money-maker, and if there’s anything Harvey Weinstein loves more than editing films to death, it’s money.

Paltrow is still publicly friendly with Weinstein, but — as Jordan Sargent noted for Defamer in 2015 — “weird stuff” comes up when she talks about him. Like this quote:

When Talk magazine launched, pal Gwyneth Paltrow ended up posing in S&M garb that didn't fit either her career arc or any of her personal needs. Paltrow says that "there were certain favors that he asked me to do that I felt were not exploitive but not necessarily as great for me as they were for him."

And for every Oscar-winning still-famous Gwyneth Paltrow in Weinstein’s history, there’s a not-quite-famous Gretchen Mol. As Enlow details, Weinstein was behind heavy publicity pushes for Mira Sorvino (Oscar for Mighty Aphrodite in 1995, no longer a household name), Jessica Alba (Weinstein gave her a shot at a prestige role with Awake in 2005), and Sienna Miller (Weinstein gave her Factory Girl and touted both the actress and the film as the next big thing), among many others.

We don’t know that Weinstein harassed any or all of those women — but we do know a lot of people speculated that he did. While none of the speculators had any solid evidence, many who followed celebrity gossip suspected something.

“Tell us what you know about Harvey Weinstein’s open secret,” invited Defamer in 2015.

Some of the stories about Weinstein have documentation attached

Perhaps the most persistent rumor around Weinstein is the one about Rose McGowan, mostly because it’s the only one that one of the involved parties has (obliquely) commented on. McGowan appears briefly in the New York Times’s report, which notes she received a $100,000 settlement from Weinstein in 1997, after, the Times says, “an episode in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival.”

The settlement was not public knowledge until the Times’s report, but rumors have circulated about McGowan and Weinstein for a long time. Most publicly, McGowan tweeted last year that “my ex sold our movie to my rapist for distribution.”

On the Blemish, Chuck Liddle did the math: McGowan appeared in Grindhouse, directed by Robert Rodriguez, with whom she was having an affair; Grindhouse was released by the Weinstein Company. “Who raped Rose McGowan?” Liddle asked, concluding facetiously, “Definitely not Harvey Weinstein.”

McGowan herself has not commented on the Times story, presumably because her settlement with Weinstein would have involved a nondisclosure agreement. But she’s not above making veiled references. On Tuesday, news leaked that the New York Times was reporting on Weinstein’s years of sexual harassment. Weinstein laughed it off, joking that it sounded like a great story. “I want to buy the movie rights,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, McGowan posted the following tweet:

And not all of the stories flying around about Weinstein are just rumors. He did actually face one accusation before this year that he couldn’t keep out of the press. In 2015, 22-year-old model Ambra Battilana accused him of groping her breasts during what appeared to be a casting session. Battilana immediately went to the police, and the story made it to the papers. Unnamed sources told the New York Post that the whole thing was a “blackmail attempt,” and the DA dropped the charges (just before receiving a sizable payout from Weinstein’s lawyer, it was revealed today), but the publicity would prove to be a major chink in Weinstein’s armor. According to the New York Times’s report, it was this particular lawsuit that caused the Weinstein Company’s board to become “concerned” with Weinstein’s behavior.

Others in the industry have been concerned for much longer. “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time,” says Ashley Judd in the Times’s report, “and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”

This piece has been updated to include Gretchen Mol’s response to the rumors about her and Weinstein.

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