What’s a first-time producer to do when a world-famous actor is sexually harassing the women working on his film? 2,549 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by John David Carlucci.
She came to Mike Garth’s hotel room at midnight.
It had been an arduous day of location work for the first-time movie producer at an off track betting parlor on Broadway and 94th Street. The film had been forced to abandon the last set-ups because the continuity person had quit unexpectedly and the world famous actor had once again barricaded himself inside his trailer. No one knew what had happened between them. One minute Emily Culhane was talking to Douglas Troy, then she threw away her notebook, thus scattering the vital pages that inventoried the physical details connecting every shot, and fled.
It was unusual behavior for Emily, a small and tidy and intensely well organized woman who usually was supernaturally calm. No one had ever seen her angry or heard her raised voice before this afternoon. On the most chaotic sets, over a 22-year career, she had always been the serene one with the mug of Earl Grey tea whose job was to keep each appallingly expensive film from drifting out to sea on the tides of inspiration and ego.
There was awkward confusion after Emily left. The AD and a couple of grips scrambled desperately to gather up the storm of pages while Mike tried to find her. He made a few calls, got the production’s permit extended for another day, ate alone at Sichuan Balcony, then took a cab back to the hotel. When he could barely keep his eyes open, he climbed into bed without even brushing his teeth and fell asleep instantly.
A few hours later, insistent knocking woke him from an anxiety-filled dream. The digital clock on the dresser showed 12:01 a.m. The bed sheets felt like a full body straitjacket. He thrashed his way free, stumbled to his feet and pulled on a pair of jeans. The banging on his door was relentless and loud enough to wake up guests in other rooms.
"Who is it?" he asked in a hoarse stage whisper that was supposed to communicate the need to be quiet.
"Emily Culhane," the voice came back through the door.
The name woke him, and she stood in the light from the hall looking wind-frazzled and cold. Mike stepped back. "Come in," he said. She hesitated for a second and then slipped into the room as if she was afraid of being caught. "Are you all right?" he asked, genuinely concerned.
She sat down on the edge of the armchair across from the bed. She was wearing jeans, a bulky sweater, hiking boots and a winter coat. She struggled out of the coat and the sweater to reveal a crew neck olive green cotton t-shirt underneath. She brushed a hand through her short brown hair. Mike tried to offer her something to eat or drink from room service, but she shook her head no.
"I’d just like a glass of water,” she said.
He fetched it. She took a sip and set it down next to the chair. As they sat watching each other, he waited. She wasn’t the sort of person he could rush, even in the middle of the night in a strange hotel room.
"I’m a nice person," she began, finally. "Most people would tell you that, Mr. Garth. I was raised not to complain or to make trouble. I hate fighting with people. It took me three years to tell my landlord about my broken fridge. He was happy to replace it but I still felt awful for saying anything. I know it’s silly but I’m not likely to change much, not at my age. I’m 45."
She took another sip of water. "I didn’t want to quit with no explanation. I didn’t walk off the set after a tantrum, leaving everything at sixes and sevens. I’ve never behaved in such an unprofessional manner before, Mr. Garth, and I’ve worked on nearly 50 pictures and five television shows.”
She paused then continued. “I’ve always been a person other people confide in. Normally I like to listen, but in the last few weeks it’s been getting harder, Mr. Garth. The things I was hearing, I didn’t know what to do about. They were so strange and awful and evil somehow. I know those seem like strong words. I thought about telling someone, but I didn’t think anyone would believe me. And none of the women would come forward, so I just decided to stay out of it. I told myself that I wouldn’t help anything and I’d just get in trouble. That was until today. After today — ” She took a long breath and let it out in a shudder. “– I don’t care. It doesn’t matter any more."
Mike sat down on the bed and leaned forward. "Tell me what happened."
She lifted the glass and finished the water. "It started with Amanda Tompkins, one of the craft services girls. Of course she wants to be an actress. Petite, blonde, very shapely, I guess you’d say. She came to me the second day on location and she was sobbing, Mr. Garth. I had to give her two cups of Chamomile tea. It had to do with Mr. Troy. He invited her into his trailer and asked her to, well, show herself to him. To undress for him right then and there and show him her breasts."
"What did she say to him when he asked this?"
"Well, she said no, of course. But he threatened her. He told her that if she didn’t do it he’d have her fired and make sure no one else ever hired her again. So she did it. She took off her shirt and her brassiere. And he touched her. He said he wanted to make sure her breasts were real."
Mike started to feel queasy. Because he had no idea how to handle this latest Douglas Troy nightmare.
"He did it to several other girls,” Emily told him. “Including Kate Adair."
Kate was the ingenue of the picture and this was her first big part. Her contract specified no nudity, and when Troy made his demand that she undress for him, she thought he was talking about some newly written scene for the film. She explained that she had been fat as a girl and was still agonizingly shy about her body. She even avoided situations requiring bikinis and always wore a one-piece swimsuit with a towel sarong.
"So I can’t do nudity," she told the actor.
"Odd," the actor replied, "I can’t do without it."
He used the same threat with her that he had with the others: that he’d ruin her career. So she undressed and let him touch her. He slipped his hands under her breasts and took their weight as if his palms were some kind of living scale. "She said a snake once got into her sleeping bag on a camping trip. That was what having him touch her felt like."
"Jesus," Mike exhaled.
"There’s more. Please, Mr. Garth, let me tell you everything and then you can decide what to do."
"Okay, but wait a second," he asked. He called down for a scotch on the rocks. He made her wait until the drink came and he had taken a calming swallow. He felt the burn as she launched into the end of her story.
"One of the young gaffers has a beautiful girlfriend who visits him on the set sometimes. Well, Mr. Troy took them both into his trailer and, as I understand it, made the young man watch while… you know. It was very humiliating for both of them."
Mike stood. "I’m going to kill that asshole. Thank you for telling me this. It was good of you to come.”
"But I didn’t come to tell you what he did to other people, Mr. Garth. I came to tell you what he did to me. Please sit down. I’m almost finished."
He sat down.
"Mr. Troy had been looking me over right from the beginning. Sort of brushing against me and smiling at me. Then today he asked me into his trailer. I told him I didn’t want to go in there, Mr. Garth, because I knew what was coming. But he grabbed my arm and whispered, ‘Just do as you’re told,’ and so I went in with him, and he said ‘Strip,’ and I said no. He threatened me the way he threatened everyone else and I’ve been in the business a long time, longer than any of them, and I knew he had power over me and he knew it, too. And that was what he liked more than looking at women’s breasts. But I couldn’t do it, Mr. Garth."
She was crying. Mike lurched off the bed and across the floor to her and took her hand. "You don’t have to tell me anymore.”
"No, I want to. You see, Mr. Garth, I had breast cancer. And to save my life, doctors gave me a double mastectomy. My husband left me when I was diagnosed, and so no one has seen me since the operation.”
She was crying again. Mike looked up at her, tears in his own eyes. "My mother died of breast cancer," he told her.
The next morning, Troy’s limo pulled in half an hour after Mike arrived at the 94th Street location. Mike watched the actor walk across to the big Airstream. The biggest Airstream. By six inches. Mike was in a controlled rage. Emily eventually left his room at three in the morning after she had wrung out the last sob over Troy’s abuses. Mike didn’t want to talk anymore. He wanted to hit. He wanted to punch and keep on punching until Troy’s handsome face was twitching jelly. Then let Troy try to get a job in Hollywood battered and disfigured and humbled by pain.
No, Mike knew that would be a catastrophe. And not just for him but for the inexperienced director Bill Terhune and the struggling screenwriter Jim Hotaling and everyone else working hard on Unfinished Business. Mike instead had to control Troy and, most of all, control himself.
Mike’s hands were shaking. He clenched them into fists and his fists started shaking, too. He pushed inside Troy’s trailer. The actor was standing with his arms crossed, as if he’d been expecting Mike.
"We have to talk," the producer began.
"Get out of here, Garth. I’m working now. I’m preparing a scene."
"No. Listen to me. You have to –
"This is why they pay me millions of dollars. I have a scene to shoot and you’re fucking around with my concentration. So get out."
"I’ve cancelled today’s shoot. You’ve got nothing to do but talk to me."
Troy curled his wrists into a half turn upward and shrugged contemptuously at Mike who was having none of it.
"This is how it’s going to be," Mike stated. His hands were still shaking but his voice was solid. "You’re going to apologize to every woman you’ve assaulted since this shoot began. And you’re going to sign a notarized agreement stating that your sickening behavior will stop as of now.”
Mike found himself advancing on the bigger man, and Troy moved back a step. But the actor asked defiantly, "And what if I don’t?"
”Then you’re fired."
Troy laughed. "I’d like to see you try that."
"Then watch. I don’t need you. This movie doesn’t need you. Actors will line up to play your part. We can re-shoot your lousy scenes in a week, and we can even make up the lost time and money you cost us."
Troy stepped forward, grabbed the written letter of apology which Mike was holding, crumpled it into a ball and threw it. The sheet of paper bounced absurdly off Mike’s forehead. Neither of them moved to pick it up. Troy’s tone was soft and conversational when he spoke again.
"Listen to me, you little pissant. I’m calling your bluff. You don’t have to fire me. I’m quitting. And then this fucking movie is gonna sink like the Andrea Doria, and it’s gonna take fifty million bucks in pay or play money and pre production down with it. Along with your pencil dick career. Unless you apologize to me. Right now. On your fucking knees. And then you put your wife on a plane to New York because her tits are next."
Mike advanced a step.
“Look at my eyes,” the producer instructed the actor. “I’m not afraid of you. I don’t give a shit what you do. You’re nothing to me. You’re just a bullying drunk who finally met somebody he can’t push around.”
"You wanna get pushed? I’ll push you." Troy slammed a flat palm into Mike’s shoulder and rocked him back a step. They were in unexplored territory now, where rage was made physical. Anything might happen. Troy was still talking. "I’d punch you out but I don’t want to kill you. Because I punch hard.”
"Maybe you did once. Before you got old," taunted Mike.
"Don’t make me hurt you, punk."
Mike was charging toward disaster and he had never wanted anything so badly in his life. Any pretense at control was useless. The two men were on the verge of insanity now. "Try it," Mike said. The words came out in a grating whisper. “Try it, you fucking piece of shit. Come on.”
Troy bellowed and swung a heavy right. Mike felt nothing but sweet clarity. It was all happening in slow motion. The producer stepped inside the clumsy blow and drove a left into the movie star’s neck and then a right into his solar plexus. Troy buckled but didn’t fall. He charged, bent over, and rammed into Mike head-first like a bull. They both went staggering and flailing into the wall of the trailer.
The Airstream rocked. For one spinning second Mike thought it was going to tip over. Then Troy straightened himself. He connected with a wild punch and split Mike’s lip. Mike hit back, once and hard, a straight piston into the point of Troy’s adam’s apple, and Troy reeled backward.
"You’re finished in this town," Troy said, gagging on the words.
Mike weaved to the trailer door and turned one more time. "You’re fired. Collect your shit and leave."
Outside the Airstream, fifty people were staring at him. They all knew something horrible had happened, but they didn’t know exactly what. Blood was oozing down Mike’s chin. He wiped it away with his sleeve. He picked the director out of the crowd and saw the baffled fury that would probably end their friendship forever. Mike also saw the screenwriter there, his longtime pal, looking stunned and worried.
But he saw some women’s faces too, and they were obviously glad that something had been done to Troy. Finally, just a few feet away, stood Emily in her bulky winter coat. She caught Mike’s eye and mouthed the words, "Thank you." That was the only vindication Mike ever received. From the only other person who would ever understand what happened in Troy’s trailer that morning. That, and the knowledge that Mike’s mother would have been proud of him. It wasn’t much, but he was surprised to find that, for the moment at least, it was more than enough.