They say all families have their secrets. But showbiz families? Their secrets are at a whole other level.
For years, the name Miramax was one of the most revered brands in Hollywood, signifying class and intelligence in the stories it championed. Founded by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, brothers from Queens, New York, the name was an amalgam of Miriam and Max, the mother and father who loomed over their sons in life, and in death. It was his mother’s death, after all, that Harvey used as a pretext in November 2016 to lure aspiring actress Jessica Mann to his hotel. Harvey, she claimed earlier this year in court, told her “he needed to be consoled for his grief.” When she arrived, Harvey proceeded to masturbate in front of her and put his penis into her mouth.
Jailed now on a 23-year sentence for third-degree rape and a criminal sexual act, Harvey’s battling an additional pile-on of charges in Los Angeles in the midst of a planned appeal (also: a brand-new civil suit alleging two rapes and two additional sexual assaults). A prison union leery of incident declared he had the dreaded coronavirus shortly after he arrived, earning him immediate semi-sequestration in the infirmary. Despite monumental health issues, he’s remained asymptomatic. Just another mystery in an endless string that still linger about the case—and his motivations.
Just why would Harvey put his entire business, reputation, and fortune at risk over and over? Why did his partner and brother, Bob, sit on his hands as long as he did? And did he finally help push his brother off the ledge? When were Harvey’s wives aware? And what part did Harvey’s physical insecurities, and his curiously misshapen genitalia, play in his abuse of women?
These are questions that have only deepened since the day in 2005 when I was working on a story about the Weinstein Company, the brothers’ newly founded studio, and sitting on Harvey’s now notorious casting couch in his Tribeca office as he told his marketing team why I was there.
And what part did Harvey’s physical insecurities, and his curiously misshapen genitalia, play in his abuse of women?
“The magazines think I’m good-looking,” he said to the room jokingly. “I slept my way to the top.”
His staff smiled. They had to. Outside his office, a giant poster for the movie The Libertine sat parked on an easel. Its tagline, scripted in red, advertised the bold presence within: “He didn’t resist temptation. He pursued it.”
And now he’s paying for it. Prison’s been hard on Harvey. “He’s always had someone do things for him. So now he’s got to do everything for himself, and he’s not used to it. He has no idea how to do things,” says a source close to Weinstein. “He lived his whole life, a lavish life, where he had assistants take care of everything. Whether it was slice up the chicken for the salad and pick up the dry cleaning. He was such a privileged guy.”
He’s now living as his assistants once did, in the clutches of a perverse and petty system, overseen by guards who demand utter obeisance, deference, and subjection. Imagine one of the world’s foremost consumers of the luxury-hotel suite and capacious bathroom trying to survive an infirmary dormitory with no-seat toilets.
In court, his people had to shut off his iPhone for him; he’d never quite mastered the mechanics. But now there’s no phone—save the one he’s allowed to access for only an hour a day as, maintaining his innocence, he orchestrates his appeal from a room he can use only when no one’s there. (And after he’s done, the space requires disinfecting so as to thwart any spread of the virus.)
He is bewilderedly at the mercy of the same universe he for so long bent to his will. A whole culture outside his prison bars shocked into change.
When it comes to siblings, Hollywood has a quirky history of power brothers, from such behind-the-desk deal-makers as the Warners, the Cohns, and the Selznicks to forces behind the camera: the Coens, the Safdies, the Sylberts, and the Russos. And then there’s Harvey and Bob.
Growing up in midcentury Queens at the Electchester, a lower-middle-class housing project, big brother Harvey and little brother Bob shared a room. For years after the two had officially made it, they offered to buy their mother a grander place, but she stayed. The sons would send limousines to pick her up for premieres. It impressed her yenta neighbors.
Harvey would say he started “with nothing,” but neighbors assumed the Weinsteins were prosperous, because the father, Max, was a jeweler, making house calls late at night to other kids’ parents. Harvey was Bar Mitzvahed at the event space Ripples, in Arthur Hammerstein’s former Tudor mansion. So they weren’t hurting.
He’s now living as his assistants once did, in the clutches of a perverse and petty system, overseen by guards who demand utter obeisance, deference, and subjection.
They were quite obviously living beyond their means. The parents fought over money, and Miriam was envious of a sister whose own husband wound up quite well-to-do.
“A lot of nice things in the house,” Harvey’s friend Bill Brender remembers. “Filled with tchotchkes. Everything for show.”
There were chairs in the living room the boys weren’t allowed to sit on. Miriam got her hair done once a week, an extravagance other mothers would forgo. She always wore heels, not the norm in those parts. The upstairs neighbors could smell her perfume. Miriam was a neat, petite powerhouse to Max’s tragically guttered bowling ball.
Max made the boys pay her compliments.
But the family’s fortunes yo-yoed as Max tried his hand at various businesses only to be finally beaten back to the same job he’d had at age 18: cutting diamonds.
“Max was a good man,” says Corky Burger, Harvey’s onetime concert-promotions partner. But also a slob or a schlep, depending on whom you ask, a bald version of Harvey who chain-smoked Camels. Max was gruff, “a tough Jewish guy who ran roughshod over everything,” recalls Dr. Joseph Takats, who later lived next door to Harvey for 10 years. “He kind of felt sorry for himself.”
On the one hand, he was the boys’ hero. On the other, he was a loser. (Or: treated that way by their mother.) They were not going to finish up like him.
By contrast, Miriam “had the kind of wonderful outgoing manner with people that Harvey uses to win over people like the Clintons,” Harvey’s long-ago marketing mentor Arthur Manson once told me. An honors student who graduated president of her Williamsburg class, Miriam had a surprising harsh side; her senior-yearbook quote was “Don’t scratch until you see the red of their cheeks.” She had a temper—but she insisted the gentler-souled, proverbial good cop Max be the disciplinarian. Max sometimes faked taking the belt to Harvey, having the boy wail in mock pain from behind a closed door.
Max worked six days a week, and on his one free day he’d take Bob and Harvey to the movies, more an excuse to chow down on popcorn and candy out of Miriam’s sight line and fall asleep. A classmate remembers Bob and Harvey as pretty tight with Max. “They just felt different than father and son—more friends and joking around.” Going to the movies was partly about getting away from Miriam. “Their mother was similar to my mother,” says Bill Brender, “a very dominating individual because dad was never around.”
Miriam’s senior-yearbook quote was “Don’t scratch until you see the red of their cheeks.”
In an unreleased statement from December 2017, presumably intended for the media and prepared with the help of his sex-addiction counselor in Arizona, Harvey explains, “My mother always pushed my father to be successful. My father was not successful financially but a wonderful human being. He suffered from physical ailments and deep emotional distress.”
Harvey elaborates: “I was building an empire to please Mom.”
“It was the talk of the neighborhood that Max dropped dead on the front stoop,” neighbor Margaret Kelly told me. It was 1976. Harvey was 24 years old and Bob 21, and Miriam was now their responsibility. And they were alone in her gimlet glare. There was guilt. As if to give Max’s existence more heft, Harvey later told journalists that after serving in Cairo as a supply sergeant through the end of World War II, Max made his way to Palestine to support the Jewish state. (A noble gesture, cast in doubt by Max’s discharge from Fort Dix, in New Jersey, in 1946.) Max’s tombstone reads, “You were special,” which sounds like some kind of apology to a husband treated otherwise.
When the Philip Roth novel came out in 1969, Harvey began referring to his mother as “Mama Portnoy.” By all accounts, Miriam was a typical mah-jongg-playing, food-foisting Jewish smother mother. But: hard to please. As a young mother, she relentlessly compared her boys with all the other boys, and Harvey and Bob always came up short. “When they got an Oscar, it would be ‘So, where’s the next one?’” says Ivana Lowell, who worked at Miramax in the 1990s and dated Bob. “It was never quite good enough, whatever they did.”
Recounting to me the story of how school chum Billy Brender almost took his eye out in a childhood accident, Harvey mentioned, with an edge in his voice, that “Brender is a doctor now, and his brothers. The three of them are doctors. Boy, Mom would have loved him.”
In sixth grade, an I.Q. test enabled Harvey to skip a year and be placed in the bright-kid classes at John Bowne High School. Bob, an underachiever, didn’t place out; back then, friends assumed he wasn’t as sharp. Around this time, Bob was being roughhoused by Harvey, and both boys were being roughhoused by some local bully. (Through Harvey’s spokesperson, Juda Engelmayer, Weinstein says brothers tend to get into fights once in a while, but his father always stressed the importance of looking out for Bob, too. Despite multiple attempts, Bob Weinstein could not be reached for comment.)
“I remember Harvey looking at his watch, joking, ‘I’m late for an appointment—I’m getting beat up by so-and-so at such and such a place,’” says a former middle-school classmate. “But he did it in a way that we all laughed.”
The boys around the Electchester were dominated by an Irish kid named Billy. With the help of his friend Bill Brender, Harvey finally organized and stood up to Irish Billy, which left Harvey the leader of their little gang. “Queens was not known for its etiquette,” says Brender. Despite having trounced the bully, Harvey still didn’t get respect. In high school, girls giggled behind his back, making fun of his voice, his mannerisms. Deep acne dappled his face, and he was built big, and overweight. A guy who just “wasn’t at ease with his body,” says a classmate, observing that a “certain amount of creepiness” explains why he regularly got turned down for dates. Still: “It wouldn’t stop him from moving on to someone else.”
By the time he arrived at the University of Buffalo in 1969, Harvey had dropped the weight, stocking his refrigerator with soyburgers and Mason jars full of whitefish salad from his adored bubbe (Yiddish for “grandmother”), who, like their mother, lived in the projects. He set about building a business with his friend Corky Burger, as concert bookers for their school—a job that would get him notice and respect. As he would say ruefully, years later, “One of the only ways I could meet girls was to be on the music committee.”
“How else could Harvey Weinstein become a campus hero?” jeered The Spectrum, the student newspaper, when Harvey booked the Grateful Dead. (Harvey himself was a columnist for the paper, writing under the byline “J. Harvey Weinstein,” with its syllabic echoes of both J. Edgar Hoover and gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker, from Sweet Smell of Success, a favorite movie of his. He shared a byline on a piece with Burger—which Burger has since disavowed—about a hustler sidling up to a woman at a bar, saying, “Look baby, I’m probably the best-looking, most exciting person you’ll ever want to meet—and if you refuse to dance with me, I’ll probably crack this bottle of Schmidt’s over your skull.”)
The two were in charge of “monstrous” amounts of money, according to a Buffalo business partner, Dr. Joe Takats, but were known for not paying promptly.
What with the draft ending in 1973, Harvey dropped out to book concerts full-time with Burger—as “Harvey & Corky”—at the Century, an undervalued X-rated-movie theater in town they bought with Takats as a third partner and revamped as an event space. Brother Bob soon left the State University of New York at Fredonia to join them. Takats, an emergency-room doctor, was not just an investor; he also treated Harvey for severe cystic acne that was splashed across his back and chest and caused him grief well into his 20s. Visiting the Takats home, Harvey dubbed himself “the Gru” (short for “gruesome”), giving chase to the Takats children around the house. “It was all in good fun,” Takats says.
“[Harvey] was not an athletic guy, and he wasn’t Mr. Charisma,” Takats continues. Then he tells me a story about how, shortly after Max died, Harvey was dating “a gorgeous young thing,” a woman named Debbie. She was the daughter of a Buffalo firefighter and a secretary who would train to become a massage therapist. Harvey took Debbie to the original Broadway run of Chicago. Harvey told her he’d make a movie of it one day. She scoffed at the dreams of the small-town concert promoter. Debbie left Harvey for “some guy who was the captain of the football team and the crown prince of the prom. Somebody like that.... It really hurt him. He was down and out for a while.”
As a rosebud, as an inciting incident, as a deep razor slash to the psyche, it seems a bit too easy. And Harvey got himself another girlfriend he stuck with even after he left Buffalo. But it’s the late 70s—after this traumatic breakup, after his father’s untimely death, and with his mother now focused exclusively on his and Bob’s success—that appear to be the starting gate to the sexual-assault allegations eventually strewn across the press. (Through his spokesperson, Harvey denied this characterization of his relationship with Debbie or that it was in any way an inciting incident.)
The Big Picture
([EDDY’s] arms tighten their grip around her. KAREN begins to panic.)
Eddy! For Christ’s sake!
EDDY (angry, still pressing hard)
C’mon baby … What did you come out here for?
—From the third draft of The Burning, an original screenplay by Peter Lawrence, Tony Maylam, and Harvey Weinstein
With competition flaring on Buffalo’s events front, as well as with the connections in place for booking theaters, the brothers road-tripped to Cannes in the summer of 1980, coming home with some French and Hong Kong money and notions of cashing in on the slasher-movie trend. The Burning is a film based on a rudimentary script Harvey had ginned up that was based on the summer-camp legend of the Cropsey Maniac, a disfigured bogeyman who picks off summer-camp kids one by one using gardening shears. Harvey hired Peter Lawrence to juice the script and Tony Maylam to direct it.
In the film, Cropsey is a summer-camp caretaker accidentally torched by a group of young boys. After he emerges from the hospital, his first victim is a hooker, her face wrenched with fear and disgust the moment she catches a glimpse of his face. Cropsey then takes revenge against two girls who have separately humiliated a pair of date-rape-y teenage boys. In a twist on the “final girl” survivor trope, The Burning ends with a final guy—a bullied nerd voyeur, who gets called a “pervert” and is ridiculed when it is revealed he cannot swim.
On the last day of shooting The Burning, the cast and crew flung Harvey into the lake. Only to discover that he couldn’t swim.
“Somebody had to go in there and save him. I probably didn’t help,” says Maylam, returning to the subject of Harvey’s still owing him money. “He is a bully. Always has been, always will be.” Maylam remembers especially how Harvey ordered Bob about like a servant.
In high school, girls giggled behind his back, making fun of his voice, his mannerisms.
“Back then,” says Lawrence, “Harvey was an arrogant, ignorant asshole, frankly. [And] Bob was kind of the passive-aggressive version of the same.”
As kids, Harvey and Bob had had their own sleepaway-camp nightmare at Sullivan County’s Camp Wel-Met, a lakeside retreat for working-class families who couldn’t afford anything swankier. The Weinstein brothers were asked to leave early. (They were refusing to shower.) Attending camp, with its group showers and obligatory swimming—these are impossible activities for someone painfully self-conscious about his weight. Camp and its traumas were a Harvey obsession. When I interviewed him in 2005, he said he was reading Christopher Lehmann-Haupt’s summer-camp scream story, The Mad Cook of Pymatuning.
In 2020, court papers revealed that a prior bad-acts witness interviewed by prosecutors said that Harvey had threatened to have him castrated with gardening shears.
Within a few years of launching, the company had such breakout indie films as The Thin Blue Line and Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Miramax became a place where everyone wanted to be, from established talent to those looking to break into the business. Across the decades, through the company’s reincarnation as the Weinstein Company, any work for the brothers was seen as a hot credit. Malia Obama interned for late-period Harvey.
Harvey’s alleged compulsion to expose himself in the shower not only to female job supplicants but staff is by now well documented. Unsurprisingly, there was considerable attrition on his desk. For years, fresh faces were funneled to his office by Force1 Entertainment, an employment agency specializing in what were internally referred to as “high profiles,” media and entertainment bosses who could be highly demanding. Others landed in Harveywood more organically, via the résumé route. The hook was simple: play your cards right and you could end up like some of the other Harvey and Bob protégés: running such desirable departments as acquisitions or production. “Harvey’s boot camp,” as it was known, always comprised four assistants, each promised a promotion—if he or she survived.
Some barely made it a week. There were the rages, the impossible tasks. If you couldn’t get someone on the phone for Harvey, he’d go down the line, pitting one assistant against another. And Harvey hated himself after any incident where he’d lost control, from referring to some female as a “cunt” in an interview (then phoning one editor in chief to try to get his colorful word choices excised) to getting up into people’s faces, eyes beady. A 2018 lawsuit from New York State’s attorney general alleges he thought nothing of addressing employees as “cunt” or “pussy.” He was known to aggressively grab men by surprise and give them what he called “noogies.”
Malia Obama interned for late-period Harvey.
Says a former Miramax employee, “The way he operated was he’d be a total asshole about something and his way of dealing with it was to do something for somebody. You understand? This could be flowers. Or a huge thing from Barney Greengrass.”
Harvey went volcanic on an assistant who’d failed to get tickets for the Victoria’s Secret AmFAR pageant delivered to Terminator producer Andy Vajna. “He got up a couple inches from my face, spittle flying,” says the assistant. “He was like, ‘I’m gonna kill you.’ Vajna was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoaaaa!” Harvey made the assistant round up goodies for an “apology basket” and run it over to Vajna’s yacht. Fabrizio Lombardo, head of Miramax Italy, took the assistant aside and said, “He does this because he loves you,” the assistant remembers. “Which was the most fucked-up abusive thing you could possibly say.” (Through his spokesperson, Harvey says he “never went volcanic.”)
Small wonder that, at trip’s end during the Disney years, Harvey would tip his traveling assistant $1,500 to $2,500 cash.
“He was both ashamed but he kind of didn’t give a fuck at the same time,” says an ex-Miramax employee. “It was like there was some big Manichaean struggle going on. You could see the demons fighting right in front of you in a very obvious way. It was kind of gripping to watch.”
“No one’s saying it, but I think he’s bipolar,” says one ex-assistant, whose sister is bipolar. Harvey seemed to never sleep, screening movies in the middle of the night. (“He stays up for three nights, and then he’ll sleep for a whole day,” former head of production Meryl Poster explained to me years ago.) Harvey speed-talked. (See: the Ambra Battilana Gutierrez hotel-hallway recording.) Harvey is diabetic; many bipolar people have Type 2 diabetes, as they tend to be overweight. He is certainly grandiose. (“I’m glad I’m the fucking sheriff of this shit-ass fucking town … ”) Excessively social? Prone to spending sprees? Check and check. His nickname at the festivals was “the Hungry Hippo.”
“Harvey was an arrogant, ignorant asshole, frankly. [And] Bob was kind of the passive-aggressive version of the same.”
Then there was Harvey’s hyper-sexuality. Assistants were routinely required to book flights and cars for many a perfectly willing female, depositing them at a Central Park South hotel on Harvey’s way home, back when he lived on Central Park West in the showfolks-y Brentmore.
The assistants did as they were told. “This is an actress who is choosing to have some kind of sexual relationship with Harvey in an effort to advance her career. Did that gross me out? Yes, it did,” one ex-assistant told me. “Also, adults are allowed to make decisions.... These people appeared to be doing this with their eyes wide open.” (Their actual names would surprise you.)
Actors’ careers are athlete-short, and the right part can make all the difference. Successful actors and those whose careers had hit a speed bump would call Harvey’s office regularly. Some of Harvey’s success can be chalked up to good (or good enough) relationships with talent. He organized lavish gifts: a $100,000 necklace for the birthday of an A-list actress who hasn’t peeped since the scandal broke, says the former assistant who arranged it.
Whom Harvey was sleeping with was the subject of much conjecture among some of the staff, who nicknamed the front-runners “Harvey’s Hookers.”
Small wonder reviews like these for the Weinstein Company drifted onto the Web site Glassdoor, a kind of Yelp for job seekers.
Everyone is a little scared of Harvey.
Assistants who became VPs overnight was too often.
Sexual harassment was the norm.
Land of Imaginary titles.
Some of the higher ups here are extremely volatile (to put it mildly).
Some employees … tell you to avoid eye contact [with Harvey and Bob].
And then there were the hapless assistants who had to procure Harvey’s meds, such as Caverject, for erectile dysfunction. Shortly after Christmas 1999, Harvey Weinstein was medevaced out of St. Barth’s with what the company only ever allowed was a bacterial infection. At the time, Harvey blamed something he ate. But for years after, a tracheotomy scar from the scary, near-death experience was impossible to hide. He had been stricken with Fournier’s gangrene, an acute infection of the genital region that diabetics and middle-aged men are prone to. Some patients need skin grafts to repair the affected area, while extreme cases can require an orchiectomy, the removal of the testicles. Deterioration of sexual function is another common side effect.
“My body has trauma. Vets tell me I have PTSD,” Harvey wrote in his unreleased 2017 public statement, attempting to explain all he’d been through psychically, what lay behind his anger and sex addictions. Through a spokesperson, Harvey said he’s had numerous operations and is “lucky to be alive.”
All of which explains accuser Jessica Mann’s first impression that Harvey was perhaps intersex, lacking testes (also corroborated by actress-model trial witness Lauren Young), and appeared to have scarring as if from burns in his nether region.
“They want to have it both ways. If he has a vagina, then he couldn’t rape her, so it can’t be both stories,” says a spokesperson for Harvey.
A paraplegic with no function from the waist down can get an erection with Caverject. But a peculiarity of this drug is that, once injected directly into the penis, it takes from 5 to 20 minutes to take effect and lasts only about an hour. All of which could account for the incredible dispatch with which Harvey is said to have approached some of the complainant women.
He had been stricken with Fournier’s gangrene, an acute infection of the genital region.
In recent years, Harvey worked Europe’s festival circuit accompanied by various actress-model assistants stationed in London, holed up in hotel suites the size of small apartments, rigged with a fax machine, extra phone lines, and so forth. Many meetings occurred in these rooms for privacy’s sake. Says one major talent manager, “I guarantee you that, for everything that was inappropriate, there were a hundred appropriate things going on.”
The boot-camp bible for Weinstein employees, passed from generation to generation, catalogued the preferred rooms. And if they weren’t available? “We were expected to just make it happen,” says an ex-assistant. “Never take no for an answer.” That included getting somebody into Canada without a passport. That included getting Mayor Giuliani’s office to lift the barricades off some street so Harvey could use a more private entrance to an event.
The attorney general’s lawsuit references a tier of payroll employees with desks in every company location known as Harvey’s “roster,” who had no apparent role other than to broker introductions to women. A London member of the roster was flown to New York City to school Harvey’s assistants in “wearing skirts or dresses, looking feminine, showing more leg or a shoulder, wearing high heels, smelling ‘good,’ and introducing him to women.”
Some would say of the phalanx of employees around him that Harvey created a caste of deputy bullies, much as the lawyers firing off letters for him were bullies by extension: “You would see them getting so abused that your heart would go out to them,” says someone who worked with the company on its 2015 Broadway show, Finding Neverland. “But then, suddenly, they would be his loyal henchmen, yelling at somebody [on his behalf] or doing something underhanded. It always just felt like they were so complicit in their own misery.”
Harvey created a caste of deputy bullies.
Like the female junior executive he had elevated to executive producer on his Broadway show but would dismiss at every turn as she was starting to assert herself as a creative professional. At a marketing meeting with the P.R. firm O&M Co., brought in to promote Finding Neverland, Harvey was told Broadway talent doesn’t usually get magazine covers. He lost it and started shoveling cookies into his face, his executive producer gently pushing less glycemic fruit instead, while Harvey barked, “I don’t want any fruit! I want a cookie!”
After the agency resigned from the account, she called to explain, “He’s back on the sugar, and we can’t get him off of it.”
Granted, Finding Neverland was Harvey’s first outing as the sole lead producer of a Broadway show. But he was consumed by the success of another notably aggressive and temperamental moviemaker who had theater down cold. “All Harvey talked about was Scott Rudin,” says publicist Rick Miramontez. “Harvey wanted to be Scott Rudin. He would say, ‘Scott Rudin would never do this.’” When he started a fight with The New York Times over whether the show should be reviewed in Boston, he’d say, “Even Scott Rudin’s going to have to thank me for that.” (Through his spokesperson, Harvey said he admires Rudin and calls him “one of the best producers on Broadway.”)
Longtime senior female employees who worked for the company advised one executive to e-mail human resources every time something discomfiting went on with Harvey. “Nothing will happen, but save the e-mail. One day you might need it,” she was told. She says she did that. A couple times. “But nothing ever happened. I suspect that H.R. saw the e-mail and deleted it or stuck it in my file. No one saw it.”
No one ever imagined there would be a reckoning. And Harvey never imagined he’d be left wondering whether his own brother played a primal role.
Phoebe Eaton is an investigative journalist, playwright, and author of In the Thrall of the Mountain King: The Secret History of El Chapo, the World’s Most Notorious Narco