By Request: Out of the Past — Sexual Harassment, Trouble at the Gloucester Stage Company
Let us hope that today’s revelations will be taken more seriously than charges of sexual harassment and assault were back in 1993.
Editor’s Note: Given today’s revelations concerning sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment industry, I have had a number of requests to make stories I wrote for The Boston Phoenix — published in the issues of August 6 and August 13, 1993 — available. To my surprise, they could not be found in digital form. Below are transcriptions of the pieces, along with two sidebar articles. Let us hope that the lack of serious response (from all quarters) that greeted these reports will not be repeated. We need genuine change — now. I must add a deeply felt acknowledgment: thanks to my fellow Boston Phoenix critic Skip Ascheim for helping me research and edit both pieces. Also, here is a link to my recent response to the NYTimes article on accusations of Horovitz’s sexual harassment, then and now.
— Bill Marx
SEXUAL HARASSMENT, Trouble at the Gloucester Stage Company (August 6, 1993)
By Bill Marx
Six women who were involved with the Gloucester Stage Company as actresses or staff between 1989 and 1992 say they were sexually harassed by internationally known playwright and screenwriter Israel Horovitz, founder and artistic director of the company.
Horovitz, 54, whose most celebrated plays include The Indian Wants the Bronx, The Widow’s Blind Date, and Park Your Car in Harvard Yard (which recently ran on Broadway), has won numerous awards, including two Obies, an Emmy, and Boston’s Elliot Norton Award. When asked about the allegations, he refused to comment.
The allegations range from offensive language to inappropriate kissing and repeated acts of sexual fondling. Most of the women said they repeatedly told Horovitz to stop, in one case resorting to physical violence. Two of the women said they had spoken to the theater’s board of directors, Barry Y. Weiner, about the problems last fall. To their knowledge, no action has been taken.
Weiner, contacted by the Phoenix, dismissed the women’s claims as overreaction, saying that today people throw around charges of sexual harassment “like manhole covers.” (See “Board Denies Charge” below)
All six women spoke to the Phoenix on the condition that their names not be published. Some stated that they would feel embarrassed or humiliated to be identified publicly. Others expressed concern about possible repercussions for their careers in the theater. All, however, have agreed to come forward in the event of litigation.
The Phoenix investigation began last February, when this reporter received an anonymous letter containing allegations of sexual abuse of women by the artistic director at the Gloucester Stage Company. The letter also claimed that one employee had told board president Weiner about the situation in the fall of 1992.
In all, the Phoenix has interviewed 13 women associated with Gloucester Stage who were either personally harassed or molested, or who knew of such behavior directed toward others. Several women referred to warnings they had received about Horovitz’s advances; some described a “buddy system” by which they would attempt to keep each other out of harm’s way. The harassment occurred repeatedly over a four-year period and usually involved women in their 20s or younger.
One woman first worked at Gloucester Stage in 1989, when she was 18. She was warned at the time by the stage manager to “beware of Israel,” but nothing happened between them that season. However, when she returned for the ’91 season, Horovitz began to make physical advances, particularly when she was alone in the theater. It began with a French kiss. “He kissed me on the mouth,” she said, “and he put his tongue in my mouth and I recoiled in shock, and he kind of smiled at me and I kind of looked at him. I was very confused.”
Soon, the woman said, Horovitz became more persistent and aggressive despite her demands that he stop. She said his hugs became tighter and his hands groped underneath her clothing. The worst instance, said the woman, was when Horovitz called her into the theater after a show. “As we came around the corner he sort of propelled me up the wall and he started to kiss me and he put one hand under my shirt on my breasts and the other hand down the front of my pants. I freaked out. He didn’t back away, I had to move him.”
The woman said Horovitz approached her in an improper manner countless times. Part of what made the experience so terrifying was that she never knew when he would become sexually aggressive. “There were times,” she said, “that you were alone with him and he wouldn’t do anything. And then there were times he would.”
Another woman in her 20s, who was an understudy in a 1990 production at Gloucester Stage, said she had been warned by an actress at the theater that she shouldn’t let Horovitz get her in a room alone. When Horovitz, who directed the play, asked her to rehearse with him alone in an offstage room, “all of a sudden his hand was in my shirt, on my breasts, and his tongue was down my throat.” Another time Horovitz took her aside and “said some really nice things about my performance, and went to hug me and put his hand up my shirt and I went, ‘Oh my God, haven’t we been through this?’ And he’s groping away.” A few weeks later, Horovitz cornered the woman in her dressing room “and I went kind of ballistic on him. He was trying to kiss me and I just really got pissed and the adrenalin went and I just literally slammed him against the door. He said, ‘You hurt me.’ And I said, ‘Yes, and you hurt me.’”
The woman stated the Horovitz made improper advances to her numerous times during the three seasons she worked at the theater. “The hardest thing,” she said, “is that he abuses you and turns around and is strictly platonic and very caring and builds up that safety again, and as soon as it is built, grabs your boobs. Or tries to give you some tongue.” She also remembered a remark Horovitz made after seeing her with her mother at the theater, “something about how it was so embarrassing for my mother to be there because what I had been wearing had given him a hard-on.”
Another actress in the same production said she was repeatedly asked to rehearse with Horovitz alone. “It was in a little stairwell,” she said, “and he’s saying, ‘Now just do the lines, do the monologue,’ and as I’m doing that, he leans over and kisses me on the lips and sticks his tongue in my mouth. Tries to work it in there. And I kind of pushed him away and I said, ‘What are you doing?’ And he said, ‘Now, now, in character, what would you do if [a character in the play] did this to you?’ “The woman said she became “afraid of that area, of going back there.” She also said she was horrified that Horovitz was manipulating the creative process by taking advantage of her vulnerability and destroying the special trust between performer and director.
After that, the woman said, Horovitz left her alone for a few days. But then he asked her to rehearse alone with him again. This time he sat with her on a couch, and after she delivered her monologue he said he was pleased and asked her for a hug. She said, “He pressed himself up [so I could] feel that he had an erection. And I pulled away and went, ‘Oh, God,’ as if I had a sick stomach and he then kind of laughed and went to grab my butt. With that I ran out of the room.”
Another time, she said, “we were having a conversation, and he reached over and grabbed my breast and I said, ‘What are you doing?’ as I pushed his hand away and he said, ‘Oh, I can’t help myself.’ “
A Gloucester Stage staff member said nothing happened until 1992, her second season with the theater. She, too, had been warned to be on her guard. Once, when she was in the office alone, Horovitz suddenly appeared behind her. “He was in my space,” she said, “really too close to me. And he put his arms around me, and kissed me, and stuck his tongue in my mouth. It happened really fast, and I was really shocked.” The same thing happened “three or four” times in the small box-office space. She remembered that once “he came into the box office really fast, just showed up out of nowhere, and was trying to kiss me, and I was trying to stand back and be rigid. A customer came up to the window and he jumped back. It made him physically jump and be on his guard and embarrassed. And of course he backed off.”
She also remembered that his language was, at times, inappropriate for an office setting. Once, with other people present, Horovitz began giving her a back rub. When she started to relax, she said, “he looked at me and said, ‘You’re just a whore.’ It was so inappropriate and so weird.”
Another woman, a production assistant during the last two seasons, was also warned, by both interns and members of the staff, that she should “watch out for Israel.” At the start of her second season, she said, he would often “touch me quite a bit. He would make the rounds at the office, like he would come over [and say], ‘How are you doing?’ and you would get a full-mouth kiss and hug and rubbing your back up and down every time he came in. His voice would be very charming.”
She also claims he did the same to other women, kissing them, giving them back rubs or hugs from behind. “It’s really inappropriate in an office setting,” she said, “with people coming in and out, and young girls in high school, etc.”
Another young actress auditioned for a play produced by Gloucester Stage last season. The role was that of a good-hearted but promiscuous woman. The actress, as is customary for auditions, dressed for the part. She began to feel uncomfortable when Horovitz, who had asked to audition the woman along with the production’s director, asked her to take off her jacket. Then, to her surprise, Horovitz said, “Say that line to my dick.” It was, she said, “a very humiliating experience.”
In the course of the Phoenix investigation, two other women shared stories of being sexually harassed by Horovitz, in 1986 and 1989, but declined to be quoted, even anonymously. The six women quoted above, as well as six of the seven other women contacted, said that Horovitz had a considerable reputation among local actresses for improper behavior. One actress stated that “he had a tendency to French-kiss actresses. His behavior toward a number of women at the theater was unagreeably aggressive.” A female playwright from the New York area also said she had been warned about his improper behavior toward women, both in New York and upon her arrival in Gloucester for a summer play-writing program in 1992.
The women who experienced Horovitz’s unwanted attentions developed various tactics to fend him off. According to the “buddy system,” two or more women would look out for each other, each keeping the other in sight or making her presence known if Horovitz attempted something improper. One woman, discovering that it was difficult to get kissed when wearing a floppy hat, wore broad-brimmed hats throughout the summer. Another discovered that Horovitz didn’t like make-up, particularly a certain shade of bright red lipstick. She passed the information along, and tried to wear nothing but that kind of lipstick whenever possible. Another woman, in order to make Horovitz stop touching her, told him that she had “issues” about intimacy. She and others moved furniture around so that it would be difficult for Horovitz to come up behind them. They also used tactics ranging from humor to firmness, anger, and distance.
One of the women who spoke to board president Weiner last fall was assured that he knew what was going on and that “it was really wrong and that it had to be stopped.” According to the other woman who spoke to Weiner, he claimed that he was “fully aware of everything that’s going on.” Weiner, she said, assured her that he would “talk to Israel about it before the next season.”
The women who spoke to the Phoenix had been reluctant to come forward with their stories for a number of reasons. Some were intimidated by Horovitz’s celebrity and his perceived power to prevent them from being employed. Some feared becoming known as vindictive troublemakers. One actress said, “The last thing I need is for every male producer and director in the state, and on the East Coast for that matter, thinking twice, that I may misconstrue something they may do.” Others were afraid of losing their jobs at Gloucester Stage. One woman said that she sensed that “if I said, ‘Israel, keep your hands off me,’ I would probably end up fired.”
Most were humiliated and embarrassed by his treatment, some wondering if they somehow provoked his behavior either by their clothing or by their actions. Others felt guilty that they had done nothing at the time, and wanted to put the incidents behind them. One said that she felt “nobody would believe us.” Another actress said, “Suddenly you are being forced to prove that you are a decent person and what happened to you shouldn’t have happened.” Most of the women said that they didn’t want to hurt Horovitz’s wife and family by speaking out. They were also afraid that, by speaking out, they might jeopardize the existence of a theater already in financial straits.
Many of the women’s stories refer to the fear of being alone with Horovitz. “We were desperately afraid of him,” said one woman. “We wanted a simple solution to present itself. We lived for moments when Israel would leave town.” Another woman described meeting with others and comparing experiences with Horovitz. They ended up in tears as they discovered that Horovitz was mistreating most of them sexually. The “buddy system” evolved out of this meeting.
There was also the sense that Horovitz was betraying his position as the artistic head of the theater. “Here was someone I trusted,” said one actress, “someone I wanted a good relationship with, and he kept pulling me back into this small space. I mean, there was a feeling of terror, and at the same time, here I am admiring his work. He really abused his power.” Some left the theater, in part because of their disgust with the sexual pressure.
The women said they are speaking out now because of both accumulated anger and frustration at the apparent lack of action by the board. For some it has taken years to come to terms with Horovitz’s behavior. And they talked of a sense of responsibility to the young women who will work at Gloucester Stage in the future.
The attitude of one actress is typical. She said she always wanted to ask Horovitz, “What would you say to your daughter if she came to you and said that this was happening to her? What would be your response? That she’s asking for it? Or would you be outraged that someone touched your daughter that way? Well, we are all someone’s daughter.”
BOARD DENIES CHARGES (August 6, 1993)
Barry Y. Weiner, president of the board of the Gloucester Stage Company, told the Phoenix he spoke with “at least three or four women” employees of the theater last fall who said they had “been harassed by Israel in some way.” But Weiner, a trial lawyer, said that these days “people throw the charge around like manhole covers.” He said that what the women told him about, “some hugging and kissing that they said was untoward and inappropriate,” didn’t fit the legal interpretation of the charge of sexual harassment.
The conversations took place when Weiner called a number of theater-staff members to ask them to evaluate the performance of the business director (the theater’s highest management position). The women, who, he said, were her friends, told him that she was fine but Horovitz was the management problem. It was then that they mentioned the problem of sexual harassment.
Weiner suggests that the women’s dissatisfaction with the business director’s possible dismissal may be behind allegations of sexual abuse. He said that the business director was “very emotional about everything” and that the women he spoke to were also “tightly wound, you know what I mean.” He insists they had a chance during their conversations in the fall to tell him if they “were put in fear” by Horovitz’s behavior. He says that “one of the gals” told him about “French kissing,” but nothing more serious than that.
Weiner said that none of the women he spoke to said they had ever told Horovitz they had this problem with his behavior. He said he listened to their concerns but does not recall reacting in any other way.
Nor did Weiner speak to Horovitz, who was out of the country at the time. He did speak to the business director, who “repeated … what her buddies had said,” adding nothing to the evidence. He then brought the “vague and general complaints” to the attention of the board.
Weiner also said that — following the business director’s dismissal — he spoke to the new business director, Ian McColl, and asked him to call if there “were any possible allegations of sexual abuse.” As late as last month, Weiner said, McColl reported “absolutely no” problems of that sort.
Weiner said he first spoke to Horovitz after hearing about the Phoenix investigation late last month. He said Horovitz was “surprised and disappointed.” He is an “awfully good guy,” Weiner said, and, like many in the movie industry, he’s “huggy and kissy. He gives me a kiss, and I’m over six feet tall.” Weiner says this kind of behavior does not deserve the label of sexual harassment.
Several other board members contacted by the Phoenix failed to return calls. Andrew Updegrove, a lawyer, said he had resigned from the board. When asked if he’d ever received a complaint about Horovitz’s conduct from a woman at the theater, he said, “I’d rather not be taking this call.”
— Bill Marx
A WIDESPREAD PROBLEM (August 6, 1993)
Many women in the Boston theater community say they’re continually walking the thin line between keeping a career afloat and themselves out of harm’s way. Fielding the occasional improper advances of producers, actors, and directors is just another part of the job. Or, to be more accurate, part of keeping a job.
What makes the situation even more difficult is that the theater is a very physical place. “There are occasions when, in the theater, everyone always hugs and kisses,” said one actress. “We’re very touchy-feely-gropey kind of people, physical people. There are different boundaries than normal humans in their daily lives.”
The perception of different boundaries makes it easier for those in power to stretch the rules. It also makes complaining about improper conduct a more ambiguous and dangerous exercise. Many women, particularly those just starting out, don’t want to be seen as prudes or troublemakers. The tradition of “kissy-kissy” is often used to excuse or rationalize abuse.
Sexual language and physical contact are also part of the artistic process. For years, male directors, acting teachers, and producers have included erotic language and touching in their creative approaches. When one actress found Israel Horovitz trying to incorporate a French kiss into a rehearsal, she thought, if only for a moment, that this was part of his teaching technique. “There was a small part of my brain saying, Is this part of the process? Could it be part of the process? Here is someone who should know a lot, but it just didn’t feel right.”
And intimidation, overt or implied, underlies the practice of improper behavior. It’s difficult to get work in the theater, and actresses will put up with a lot, often in silence, in order to hold onto a job. According to one woman who worked under Horovitz, “He never said anything about blackmail, but you felt it. Nothing was ever said, but I think you do feel that way, anybody in that situation feels that way.”
There seems to be a gap between the ability of Actors’ Equity Association, the national actors’ union, to protect the rights of its members in this area (Equity actors can file grievances) and the realities of women, many of them non-Equity, struggling to survive in a competitive business that trades on sex appeal. Equity officials, asked about their policy on sexual-harassment complaints, were unable to supply a statement.
— Bill Marx
ACT II (August 13, 1993)
Charges against Horovitz extend beyond the theater
By Bill Marx
Four more women have come forward with charges of sexual harassment against playwright Israel Horovitz, artistic director of the Gloucester Stage Company, following the accusation by six women reported by the Phoenix last week.
All four said their decision to speak up was prompted by anger over Gloucester Stage board president Barry Weiner’s response to the first allegations. Weiner, who had downplayed what he told the Phoenix were “vague and general complaints,” said the accusations came up last fall when he was inquiring about the performance of the then-business director. He suggested the charges he heard then against Horovitz stemmed from the women’s solidarity with her.
Three of the latest allegations, however, are not from people connected with the theater, but from women who were employed as nannies to Horovitz’s children in 1991 or later. The fourth woman to come forward this week is an actress who said she was sexually harassed by Horovitz in 1987, which is earlier than the period covered by the first six complaints.
As in the other cases, the new allegations range from offensive language to inappropriate kissing and repeated acts of sexual fondling. All of the women said they repeatedly told Horovitz to stop, often having to push him away. All were in their 20s at the time of the alleged advances.
In a statement to the Phoenix this week, Weiner said that “anyone familiar with the theater’s board knows that we take the issue of sexual harassment seriously. Harassment of any sort has no place at the Stage Company, but nobody has come to the board with clear-cut charges. We don’t even know the identity of the people who are making the allegations. Without this information, it’s not possible to effectively pursue the matter. At the same time, we need to be mindful of people’s reputations. It’s very frustrating.”
Hinda Sterling, an ex-board member who stressed that she has no present involvement with the Gloucester Stage, said she was “happy that the women had come forward” if there is any substance to their charges. She added, however, that she wished the women had talked to the female members of the board before taking their charges to the press. Sterling was on the board during the time some of the alleged incidents occurred, but she said she had no knowledge of anyone charging Horovitz with improper behavior during her tenure.
A local representative for Actors Equity, the national actors’ union, said it had received no complaints about harassment at Gloucester Stage.
Horovitz last week declined comment to the Phoenix, but did issue a denial to the daily Variety, terming the allegations “rubbish.” He declined to discuss this week’s report, but through a spokesman issued a statement “categorically” denying the charges. Horovitz, too, has expressed frustration at responding to anonymous allegations.
According to some connected with the theater’s latest production, Horovitz has made public statements to cast, staff, and audience in which he denied the allegations, but said that theater people tend to be affectionate and physical. He said he does hug and kiss people, and he’s sorry if he has offended anybody. He has asked audiences to judge him by his work, not by what they may read in the papers.
All four women spoke to the Phoenix on the condition that their names not be published, as did the six women quoted last week. Some expressed concern about public humiliation or the reaction of their parents. Others still work in the New England area and fear repercussions to their careers. All, however, agreed to come forward in the event of legal action.
Three men — two actors and a set designer — have also contacted the Phoenix, claiming that during the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s several women complained to them about Horovitz’s aggressive sexual behavior.
One former nanny told the Phoenix that Horovitz “would act half the time like he was my father or something, and then he would turn around and give me a kiss on the lips, or pat me on the ass, or hug me while I was getting out of the shower in my bathrobe.”
One incident allegedly occurred in New York in October 1992, after Horovitz’s wife had left for London, the woman said. Horovitz led the woman to believe he was going out for the evening, but he came back with a video. As they were watching the movie, she said, “he rolled on top of me and his hands were all over me, and he tried to kiss me. He put his hands under my clothing and in my clothing. I pushed him off and said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’, and he said, ‘I can’t help myself.'”
The woman said Horovitz kept up his unwanted attentions. She recalled doing the ironing in the upstairs hallway and “he would be walking by me and he would put his hand on my ass or try to kiss me, and his wife would be downstairs cooking dinner.” It finally became so uncomfortable she decided to leave. “At first, I laughed it off to my friends: a dirty old man is after me,” she said, “but I didn’t realize how it would make me feel: really angry with him.”
Another former nanny told of being repeatedly kissed on the lips and fondled. In February 1992, she said, when Horovitz’s wife was away, she was watching a movie with him when he suddenly started holding her hand, telling her how “lonely” he was without his wife. He stopped to answer a phone call from his wife. He hung up and resumed stroking her hand. She tried to end the scene by going off to bed, but Horovitz insisted on a good-night kiss and she said, “I thought, ‘Oh, no’ and I went to give him my cheek because I did not feel like a confrontation, and he kissed me on the lips and tried to put his tongue in my mouth.” After that incident she decided to leave. When she confronted Horovitz with the reasons for her decision, she said, the playwright told her she “probably had a problem with men.” The nanny who succeeded her said Horovitz referred to the first nanny as a “lesbian.”
Another former nanny claimed Horovitz treated her fine at first, but then began to make unwanted sexual advances. She decided to leave after several incidents of kissing and hugging. On her last day, Horovitz told her that the family would miss her, and offered a good-bye kiss. She thought he was going to kiss her on the cheek, but then, she said, “he kissed me on the mouth and tried to stick his tongue down my throat.” She said she was shocked and pushed him away, and Horovitz told her, “Well, you don’t work for me anymore.”
The actress who came forward this week said that when she worked for Gloucester Stage, in the fall of 1987, she found Horovitz “particularly friendly.” He would often try to kiss her on the mouth and she frequently felt him rubbing her shoulder. As a naïve young actress, she said, she chalked it up to the affectionate nature of theater people, though she did her best to stay away from Horovitz. On the closing night of the season, he asked to walk her to her dressing room, where she had to pick up her things.
“It seemed a little odd,” she said, “but his two-year-old son was in tow, so I just walked along. And as soon as we went backstage, and it was a dark, closet-like area, he pulled me to him and kissed me full on the mouth and pushed his tongue into my mouth. I screamed and stumbled into his two-year-old.” The theater never hired her again.
The four women, particularly the former nannies, felt Horovitz had taken advantage of their vulnerability. The Horovitz family hopped from New York and Gloucester to London and Paris, and these women often had no friends or contacts in these cities. One ex-nanny said she resented that she couldn’t see the Horovitz children after what happened to her because she didn’t want to see their father again.
The women said they were troubled by the apparent indifference of the Gloucester Stage board to the initial charges. They said they want to make it clear that others have been harassed as well. “When I read Israel’s reaction, ‘I haven’t done anything,’ “ [quoted by Weiner in the The Boston Globe story], said a former nanny, “…I mean, he must believe that on some level, but he must also know it’s true, and I’m glad it’s being pointed out to him.”
Bill Marx is the editor-in-chief of The Arts Fuse. For over three decades, he has written about arts and culture for print, broadcast, and online. He has regularly reviewed theater for National Public Radio Station WBUR and The Boston Globe. He created and edited WBUR Online Arts, a cultural webzine that in 2004 won an Online Journalism Award for Specialty Journalism. In 2007 he created The Arts Fuse, an online magazine dedicated to covering arts and culture in Boston and throughout New England.