”If I walk into a room and say to a woman, ‘You look good enough to love,’ I guess I shouldn’t serve on the Supreme Court,” says the sagacious Samuel Z. Arkoff, 73, the producer whose horror and bikini-beach flicks made him famous in the ’50s and ’60s. Arkoff has his own theories on sexual harassment. ”In almost every office, men had been accustomed to talking about women — dirty jokes, numbers of women they seduced,” he says. ”Now, when the women come in (to the workplace), there’s a certain amount of resentment on their part. And it doesn’t make it any easier having a lot of strident females coming in who would cut off the b—s of every man in sight, and have already cut off the b—s of their husbands. It’s nonsense!”
Still wondering how much sexual harassment has to do with power? Then ask the myriad women in movies who don’t have any. They inhabit the lower echelons of the industry — in public relations, production, distribution, development, and ”talent.” ”The men in this business expect you to put up with harassment — and to put out,” says Dinah Perez, who helped found Cinewomen, a group that fosters support among women in the industry.
In the movie business, women learn early that dealing with sexual aggression is just part of the job. Andrea Thompson Adam of the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women says most women in entertainment endure the behavior ”because you don’t want to make the decision to be Joan of Arc, so you grit your teeth or you put yourself in denial.” In fact, sexual harassment in the movie business is frequently dismissed by the victims themselves. One junior PR woman found herself in the back of a limousine pinned under an important actor. ”He’s lying on top of me, kissing my face and neck. He’s pulling on my arms. He’s sticking his hand up my skirt. I didn’t know what to do, because I needed him to come back and do half a day of interviews.” When she complained to the film’s distributor, he laughed and said, ”Oh come on, you love it.”
When the woman spoke with her boss about telling this story to Entertainment Weekly, he said she could do what she wanted. ”But he told me what happened wasn’t sexual harassment, and I kind of agree,” she says. ”I wasn’t going to lose my job or anything.”
Many women say they put up with harassment because they fear silent discrimination even more. Power publicist Pat Kingsley sees it this way: ”In order to survive in this town, you have to be pretty strong. I think most women can eventually overcome those problems.”
Producer-director Lili Fini Zanuck (Rush), who is married to producer Richard Zanuck, sees it quite differently: ”I just think that by the nature of this business there may be less harassment than in other businesses.” Why is that? Well, she explains, ”when men are unhappily married, they get a divorce and get a new wife.”
But a long list of the industry’s most powerful women refused to talk for this story. Said one studio PR woman, declining comment, ”I want to be thought of as a good soldier.”
— With additional reporting by Paula Parisi and Frank Spotnitz