Director James Toback told women that he could put them in movies. But then, they say, he sexually harassed them.
Glenn Whipp reports: He prowled the streets of Manhattan looking for attractive young women, usually in their early 20s, sometimes college students, on occasion a high schooler. He approached them in Central Park, standing in line at a bank or drug store or at a copy center while they worked on their resumes.
His opening line had a few variations. One went: “My name’s James Toback. I’m a movie director. Have you ever seen ‘Black and White’ or ‘Two Girls and a Guy’?”
Probably not. So he’d start to drop names. He had an Oscar nomination for writing the Warren Beatty movie “Bugsy.” He directed Robert Downey Jr., in three movies. The actor, Toback claimed, was a close friend; he had “invented him.” If you didn’t believe him, he would pull out a business card or an article that had been written about him to prove he had some juice in Hollywood. That he could make you a star.
But first, he’d need to get to know you. Intimately. Trust him, he’d say. It’s all part of his process.
Then, in a hotel room, a movie trailer, a public park, meetings framed as interviews or auditions quickly turned sexual, according to 38 women who, in separate interviews told the Los Angeles Times of similar encounters they had with Toback.
During these meetings, many of the women said, Toback boasted of sexual conquests with the famous and then asked humiliating personal questions. How often do you masturbate? How much pubic hair do you have? He’d tell them, they said, that he couldn’t properly function unless he “jerked off” several times a day. And then he’d dry-hump them or masturbate in front of them, ejaculating into his pants or onto their bodies and then walk away. Meeting over.
The women’s accounts portray James Toback as a man who, for decades, sexually harassed women he hired, women looking for work and women he just saw on the street. The vast majority of these women — 31 of the 38 interviewed — spoke on the record. The Times also interviewed people that the women informed of the incidents when they occurred.
As is often the case, none of them contacted the police at the time. When contacted by The Times, Toback denied the allegations, saying that he had never met any of these women or, if he did, it “was for five minutes and have no recollection.” He also repeatedly claimed that for the last 22 years, it had been “biologically impossible” for him to engage in the behavior described by the women in this story, saying he had diabetes and a heart condition that required medication. Toback declined to offer further details.
The women interviewed during The Times’ investigation offered accounts that differed from Toback’s recollections.
“The way he presented it, it was like, ‘This is how things are done,’” actress Adrienne LaValley said of a 2008 hotel room encounter that ended with Toback trying to rub his crotch against her leg. When she recoiled, he stood up and ejaculated in his pants. “I felt like a prostitute, an utter disappointment to myself, my parents, my friends. And I deserved not to tell anyone.”
“In a weird sense, I thought, ‘This is a test of whether I’m a real artist and serious about acting,’” remembered Starr Rinaldi, who was an aspiring actress when Toback approached her in Central Park about 15 years ago. Read the rest of this entry »