In the week since Ron Meyer stepped down as vice-chairman of NBCUniversal, the mystery of why he had to go and what was really at the center of this scandal, which has now engulfed several Hollywood titans, has only deepened. In recent days more information has come to light about the world of Ron Meyer, but the more information that comes out, the less sense the entire affair, and his downfall, seems to make. It all may say more about how Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, boots an executive to the ground in what many in Hollywood see as a particularly brutal manner.
The revelations come amid a rare sense of sadness in which the town speaks of the events befalling one of its most universally beloved figures—a marked departure from the festival of Schadenfreude which typically envelops these downfalls, as it had with his former CAA co-founder Mike Ovitz, in his slow slide down the totem pole. Meyer is a valuable commodity with an enviable Rolodex, and within hours of his departure he was fielding calls not only of commiseration but of future business opportunities. It also comes at a moment when, thanks in part to the coronavirus’s economic impact on the town’s fortunes, many of Hollywood’s institutions are crumbling, and new players are seizing on the weaknesses. Just this week, all of the big three talent agencies—CAA, WME, and UTA—were scrambling to contain an exodus of young agents decamping to start their own firms. One of those firms is being bankrolled in part by Steve Cohen, the billionaire hedge-funder and jumbo donor to Donald Trump.
We are well into the beginning of the end of the generation of moguls that ascended to power in the late 70s. Meyer may have been the last of them standing unscathed. Many of the men—and they are largely men—who created current-day Hollywood now live in various degrees of exile. It’s akin to the lukewarm shoulder the Democratic Party now gives to Bill Clinton, for many of the same reasons. The era of these super-exec boomer leaders who were above the laws of man and God has passed.
Back in the 80s, hard-charging figures such as Ovitz turbocharged the film industry and turned it into a modern, globe-swallowing, diversified, fantastically lucrative money machine. But that upstart attitude has calcified into bureaucratic bloat and complacency, leaving the studios easy prey for the tech world and outsiders like Philadelphia-based Comcast and Dallas-based AT&T, which took over Warners. Needless to say, the sense of entitlement that these masters of entertainment felt, the immunity from scrutiny, that page has truly turned.
All of it has made for strange days where no one seems to have the full script. The Hollywood Reporter noted this week that Meyer’s former employer “has hired outside counsel to investigate ‘Ron’s behavior,’” including, the magazine wrote, a $2 million settlement with Charlotte Kirk, the 28-year-old actress at the center of this and other scandals.
In recent days more information has come to light about the world of Ron Meyer, but the more information that comes out, the less sense the entire affair, and his downfall, seems to make.
The amount of the settlement is eyebrow-raising in that it matches the figure, according to The Hollywood Reporter, that former Warner Bros. C.E.O. Kevin Tsujihara may have paid Kirk as compensation emerging from his dalliance with her, the exposure of which led to his downfall at that studio in March 2019. And it may be dwarfed by the rumored amount settled on Kirk by another conquest-for-movie-parts name, the Australian billionaire James Packer, with whom Kirk also had an affair. (Both Kirk and Tsujihara have denied that there was ever any settlement. Packer did not respond to a request for comment from the trade Web site the Wrap, which also reported on the whole hoo-ha.)
And all of it has Hollywood buzzing with questions in search of answers. Among them:
Why would a divorced man need to pay a $2 million settlement for a two-week affair that took place a decade ago? Why did another C.E.O.—one with a reputation at the time for a spate of public non-buttoned-down incidents—allegedly feel the need to pay a similar sum? Is this just business as usual in Hollywood off-the-books romances circa 2020? Or is there something more to this?
Questions abound around Meyer’s risk-taking as well. Whether whispers of his gambling debts, which played a role in an earlier era of his life—as described by Ovitz, his longtime estranged partner, in his memoir—have possibly resurfaced and played a role in his final act. To be clear: Meyer has denied any recent gambling problems. But chatter continues, as it will when so many loose threads remain dangling.
Even more to the point: What did not one but two directors feel they had on Meyer that was so damaging that it merited, it has been reported, separate blackmail schemes? (One of these directors—Kirk’s fiancé—has strongly, very strongly, denied any part in a blackmail scheme.)
And, others ask, if all that happened was that Meyer paid to cover up a decade-old affair, why did that necessitate his not only leaving his day job but also resigning as chair of the Academy Museum’s board—a step as close to being forced into exile as one can suffer in Hollywood?
Why would a divorced man need to pay a $2 million settlement for a two-week affair that took place a decade ago?
And at the center of all this is the enigma of Charlotte Kirk, about whom the more we know, the less sense her life story makes. An English girl of middle-class background and big dreams, by her late teens she was somehow flying off for weekends in Dubai and Istanbul, if her Facebook posts of the time are to be believed. She was a young woman who by 19, despite a career still firmly on the launching pad, could find her way inside a Hollywood Foreign Press Association event and strike up a relationship with Meyer, who at the time was C.O.O. of one of Hollywood’s major studios.
And then, from there, become enmeshed in the lives of another studio chief and a host of Hollywood players and money people, including director Brett Ratner and high-flying check-writers James Packer and, as The Hollywood Reporter claims, Steve Tisch, producer of Forrest Gump, among other films. In a land where beautiful actresses desperate for their big break are more common than face-lifts on 50-year-olds, Kirk’s web of contacts ranks as a breathtaking accomplishment. Indeed, there are reports of other upper-echelon Hollywood powers who have succumbed to Kirk’s apparent charms. She may now be one of the best-paid, least-seen actresses in Hollywood history.
And there’s this: the fact that despite all those connections, and no doubt many more still unreported, none of it led to anything more than the bittiest of bit parts in films.
It has been suggested by some who travel in these circles that the allure of Charlotte Kirk to these powerful men was that while being young—and she was very, very young—and attractive, she projected a certain savoir faire, a sophistication. She knew the score; she was someone you could count on, they dreamed, not to make trouble about a little fling.
If that was the calculation on Charlotte Kirk, it stands as one of the most epic misjudgments in Hollywood history. One made, astonishingly, by more than one man.
And from the woman at the center of it all, whose rich history on social media shows a hunger for stardom and fame radiating palpably from every pixel, in this year of enormous notoriety there has been nothing but silence. There was one statement a year ago in which she invoked her struggle to be taken seriously as an actress along the lines of her heroine Scarlett O’Hara, writing, “I will never stop fighting; fighting to define myself, fighting for the best roles and fighting for the career I love and was born to do.”
And since then, not a word as the mystery around one of the most impactful femmes fatales in Hollywood history only deepens. Surely more details will emerge. Will lessons be learned? Once again, William Goldman’s words are more than appropriate: “In Hollywood, no one knows anything.”
Richard Rushfield lives in Los Angeles and is editor of The Ankler