'An overcrowded brothel': Hollywood casting couch

For years, film stars have shared their stories of sexual harassment on set, and how producers and directors abuse their power.

The most recent tales of casting couch abuse have been directed at film mogul Harvey Weinstein, with several actresses accusing him taking off his clothes and asking for a massage, among other things.

Weinstein was sacked from his own company, and in the mildest scenario, he will have his name stripped off all his films and never work in the industry again.

He has “unequivocally denied” every allegation.

:: Weinstein left by wife as sex scandal deepens

But Weinstein isn’t the first Hollywood boss to be accused of sexual harassment.

Before the accusations about him emerged, many actresses had already shared their own experiences of Hollywood’s infamous ‘casting couch’, a term meaning the trading of sexual favours for career advancement.

Marilyn Monroe, considered by many to be the first big Hollywood sex symbol, once described Hollywood as an “overcrowded brothel”.

Hollywood film star Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jean Mortenson or Norma Jean Baker
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Monroe famously spoke of what actresses do to get roles

In Anthony Summers’ biography Goddess: The Secret Life Of Marilyn Monroe, the author recalls the star describing her career by saying she “spent a great deal of time on my knees”.

When British writer W J Weatherby asked her whether the stories about the casting couch were true, Monroe responded: “They can be”.

“You can’t sleep your way into being a star, though. It takes much, much more. But it helps,” she added.

“A lot of actresses get their first chance that way. Most of the men are such horrors, they deserve all they can get out of them!”

Before Monroe, child star Shirley Temple accused an MGM producer of unzipping his trousers and exposing himself to her during their first meeting in 1940 – she was 12 years old.

1958: American actor Shirley Temple wears a fairy godmother costume, which includes a magic wand and a tiara, in a promotional portrait for her television series of dramatized fairy tales, 'Shirley Temple's Storybook'. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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Temple was allegedly harassed by a studio boss at the age of 12

According to Temple, the studio head was famous for having an “adventuresome casting couch”.

Dame Joan Collins claimed she lost the leading role in the 1963 film Cleopatra after refusing to sleep with the studio boss.

“I had tested for Cleopatra twice and was the front runner,” she said.

2th September 1956: Joan Collins arrives at the European premiere of 'The King & I', wearing an evening gown and white fur stole. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
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Collins claimed she lost the lead role in Cleopatra for refusing a casting couch proposal

“He took me into his office and said: You really want this part? And I said: Yes. I really do. Well, he said, then all you have to do is be nice to me.”

“It was a wonderful euphemism in the sixties for you know what,” Dame Joan added.

“But I couldn’t do that. In fact, I was rather wimpish, burst into tears and rushed out of his office.”

A biography on the life of actress Judy Garland, written by author Gerald Clarke, claims the famous vaudevillian suffered numerous sex propositions from studio bosses at MGM.

circa 1955: Singer and film star, Judy Garland (1922 - 1969) at an airport. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
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Garland said she was propositioned for sex by studio bigwigs when she was a teenager

One of the most notorious harassers was allegedly Louis B Mayer.

“Mayer would tell her what a wonderful singer she was, and he would say: you sing from the heart – and then he would place his hand on her left breast,” Clarke wrote.

Megan Fox, star of big budget studio films like Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, told GQ magazine she started experiencing “casting couch s***” when she began her career.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 11: Actress Megan Fox attend a photocall before a press conference to promote her new film 'Transformers' on June 11, 2007 in Seoul, South Korea. Korea is the first country to screen the new movie which will be released on June 28. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
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Fox said she first experienced Hollywood’s casting couch at the start of her career

“It’s really so heartbreaking. Some of these people! Like Hollywood legends. You think you’re going to meet them and you’re so excited, like: I can’t believe this person wants to have a conversation with me,” she added.

“And you get there and you realise that’s not what they want, at all.”

Dame Helen Mirren, whose career began in the early sixties, claimed in a TV interview director Michael Winner made her turn around and flaunt her body for him during a casting interview.

“I thought it was insulting and sexist, and I don’t think any actress should be treated like that – like a piece of meat,” she said.

Winner disputed the actress’ version of events, and said he “did not ask her to turn around”.

English actress Helen Mirren at a promotional reception for 'Age of Consent', a film she stars in with James Mason, 1969. (Photo by Len Trievnor/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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Helen Mirren at a promotional reception for Age of Consent in 1969

Earlier this year, a pressure group called Equity issued a manifesto demanding radical change to casting practice, which specifically writes that “no sex act should be requested at any audition”.

But for The Big Sick star Zoe Kazan, the problem seems to persist.

In July, she told The Guardian that actors still have no HR department to go to when these situations occur, and shared how actresses are repeatedly being told to give directors “b*** j** eyes” during auditions.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 20: Zoe Kazan attends 'The Big Sick' New York Premiere at The Landmark Sunshine Theater on June 20, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
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Kazan was one of the latest stars to speak about her experiences

“You leave the situation feeling not good about what just happened, but you don’t really have the language for why,” she said.

“You feel like, if you said something, it would reflect badly on you.”

In 2009, actress Charlize Theron told OK! magazine she had a casting couch experience at the age of 19, when a producer invited her to his house.

Charlize Theron stars in 'The Cider House Rules.' directed by Lasse Hallstrom Photo credit: Stephan Vaughan Miramax Films
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Theron told OK! magazine she had a casting couch experience at the age of 19

“I thought it was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night at his house in Los Angeles, but I thought maybe that was normal,” she said.

“He was in his Hugh Hefner pyjamas. I go inside and he’s offering me a drink, and I’m thinking: My god this acting stuff is very relaxed.

“But it soon becomes very clear what the situation was. I was like, ‘Not going to happen! Got the wrong girl, buddy!'”

Gwyneth Paltrow, who has also accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, told Elle in 2010 she had one boss suggesting their interview was finished in the bathroom.

1996 GWYNETH PALTROW STARS IN 'THE PALLBEARER'
1996 GWYNETH PALTROW STARS IN 'THE PALLBEARER'
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Paltrow said she had one boss suggesting the interview was finished in the bathroom

“I left. I was pretty shocked,” she said.

“I could see how someone who didn’t know better might worry: My career will be ruined if I don’t give this guy a b******!”.

But such claims in Hollywood are not only made by women.

Corey Feldman, the former teen idol who starred in classics such as Stand By Me and The Goonies, made claims about paedophilia in Hollywood.

LA CANADA, CA - AUGUST 28: Actor Corey Feldman volunteers at 'Camp Nickelodeon' carnival night held for children with cancer on August 28, 2002 in La Canada, California. The camp is sponsored by the Amie Karen Cancer Fund. (Photo by Robert Mora/Getty Images)
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Feldman spoke of Hollywood’s paedophilia problem in a recent interview

In an interview with Nightline, Feldman claimed “the number one problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be paedophilia”.

“That’s the biggest problem for children in this industry,” he added.

“It’s the big secret.”

Other stars who have shared their casting couch experiences include the likes of Susan Sarandon, Thandie Newton, Lisa Rinna, Lena Headey and Goldie Hawn.

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