Theater Commentary: Horovitz and Sexual Harassment — Why Did it Take Over 20 Years?

Does anyone really believe that there is no sexual harassment going on in Boston area theater companies today?

Dramatist Israel Horovitz Photo: The St. Andrews Connection

Dramatist Israel Horovitz. Photo: The St. Andrews Connection

By Bill Marx

After the November 30 New York Times article appeared, I have been asked by a number of people: Why did it take over 20 years for Gloucester Stage Company to confront Israel Horovitz and the accusations of sexual harassment? Malfeasance on all levels is the short answer. I need to look back at when I wrote the pieces for The Boston Phoenix to explain — and then suggest why the failure to follow up on my reporting remains relevant.

As I was interviewing actresses at the Gloucester Stage, I learned that the Boston Globe was talking with some of the same women. I assumed that the paper might come out with the story first, given that it was a daily. But I kept working on the piece. On August 6, the day my first article was published, the Globe published a story mainly from the point of view of Barry Y. Weiner, then the head of the Gloucester Stage Board. He admitted he had heard complaints from women at the theater but, instead of going to the Board, he asked the then general manager to spy on Horovitz. The guy said he had seen nothing, so he ignored the charges. Now that my article had appeared, though, Weiner announced that he was going to the Board.

Specific mentions of the women were confined to the bottom half of the Globe piece. There was one quote: “There’s a real fear,” said one woman, when asked why she didn’t go public in print or go to court. “We’re just scared. We’ve talked about Anita Hill. What good did going public do her? No good at all. I don’t personally believe any woman would make this up. But that doesn’t mean any man is going to believe it.”

At least the men at the Globe didn’t. When my second article came out the next week, detailing even more accusations against Horovitz, The Boston Globe responded with two pieces: the dramatist’s riposte to the charges, in which he insisted on his innocence, accusing The Boston Phoenix of  “character assassination” and a report that GSC had issued “a written sexual harassment policy.” That was the final word from the Globe about the accusations. The paper had talked to some of the women I had spoken with, but it chose to side with Horovitz and drop the issue. There was no pressure on the board, so the possiblity of action faded away. I was not interviewed for The Boston Globe’s coverage in 1993 – and was not spoken to in the paper’s rehash of the recent New York Times piece. Competitive Hissy Fit? Incompetence? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Why did the paper stonewall? My feeling is that the actress in the Globe article had it right: men “were not going to believe it.” They were in control, at the newspaper and elsewhere. Horovitz’s behavior was excused as an example of “boys being boys.” But burying the voices of the women was also partly about the spell cast by celebrity. Horovitz was a local (Wakefield, MA) Jewish boy made good, an award-winning playwright whose dramas were produced in New York and Europe. Wearing a beret, he tooled around Gloucester in a sports car with “author” emblazoned on the license plate.  A charming self-promoter and name-dropper, Horovitz boasted he had hung out with Samuel Beckett (a claim questioned by some who knew Beckett).

Boston’s mainstream media clings to hometown celebs. Why look seriously into the accusations of anonymous females? The Globe and other interested parties had an interest in maintaining the status quo. Horovitz was a valuable ‘legend” (as he was hozannaed in a 2017 Globe item). For the GSC, his theatrical fame generated prestige and contributions. He was part of North Shore royality. It is not, as critic-at-large Ed Siegel in the ARTery finesses it, about the quandary of how to separate the artist from the art. (Horovitz produced amiable entertainment — he was no Picasso.) This is yet another case study about our worship of power and indifference to the powerless. It is also about how celebrity corrupts those who want to be close to, and protect, success.

But this is not just about a breakdown in the media. It is about the pathetic failure of the GSC Board. I asked (via e-mail) current Board President Elizabeth Neumeier why she believed the 1993 reports of sexual harassment at GSC were ignored:

From what I understand took place at the time, in the fall of 1992 the Board President spoke personally with three or four women who told him about “some hugging and kissing that they said was untoward and inappropriate.” Whether or not “French kissing” a woman against her will fit the legal interpretation of the charge of sexual harassment under the standard existing in the early 1990s, that was the wrong question to ask. Young women had come forward – not all were anonymous – to ask for help because of how they were being treated by the Artistic Director of the Gloucester Stage Company and they received no help from the Board. They should have. Promptly. According to the press reports, the Board President did not speak to Mr. Horovitz regarding his conduct until the Boston Phoenix investigation in July 1993. I have no information about when the Board President spoke to Mr. Horovitz or what was said, but clearly the complaints were not treated as worthy of prompt action.

Horovitz’s family, Actors Equity, and the theater community itself also enabled his behavior. Some actors and actresses on Facebook dismissed the NYTimes article as “old news.” Then why in the hell didn’t they and other theater people in the know do something about it? Why not hold an off-the-record meeting with the GSC Board, with a large enough group to minimize fear of reprisal? How about dropping a dime to the New York Times? If enough people had believed what the women said over 20 years ago and then acted on it – or at least tuned in from time to time — an enormous amount of pain and damage might have been prevented here and in Europe.

To Boston’s shame, it took over two decades and a NYTimes story to expose Horovitz. Does anyone really believe that there is no sexual harassment going on in Boston area theater companies today? That there is only one creep? Times have changed, WBUR, WGBH, and The Boston Globe —  with journalistic resources come responsibility. Do your jobs. We have just had a tragic lesson about what happens when you don’t.

Texts of Boston Globe and Gloucester Times articles published at the time of my Boston Phoenix articles.

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.

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