Hollywood Hypocrites: Industry Vet Herb Freed on Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood’s Casting Couch Era

Herb Freed on set.

I came to Los Angeles from New York to direct movies in 1972. I had entered the film business seven years earlier, after resigning my post as rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom in Lake Mahopac, N.Y. I began to study film at New York University privately and my first assignments were to produce and direct television commercials. I labored in that vineyard for more than five years. Among my clients were U.S. Steel, Pepsi-Cola and others, but I was button-holed as the director who excelled in beauty commercials. I made TV spots for Cover Girl, Breck, Clairol and Revlon. Why? I have no idea.

 

In 1970 I moved up to movies. My first feature film, A.W.O.L., was shot in Sweden out of my New York office. It was a success so I followed the path tread by other directors and moved to L.A. with my first wife, Anne Marisse, a successful Broadway actress.

Thanks to the acclaim for A.W.O.L., I was invited to a dinner party at the home of Bernie Cornfeld, a close friend of Hugh Heffner. Like Heff, Cornfeld had dinner parties every night with the Hollywood elite and at least a dozen beautiful, aspiring young actresses. Anne came with me that first night and was appalled. I resented the attitudes of many of the male guests towards the girls but, unlike Anne, I discovered that it was a great opportunity for me to meet investors, talent agents, and occasional movie stars. In fact, my next film was financed by someone I had met at Bernie’s. Many high rollers were drawn to the parties because they knew there would be a number of attractive women there.

Image courtesy of Amazon

The revelations about Harvey Weinstein are so reminiscent of the casting couch period in Hollywood. I remember the period well. I was happily married, but as the only rabbi among the dinner guests at events that stars and “available” girls attended, I was treated like a father confessor. A number of aspiring actresses poured out their hearts and anger to me about the way they were treated and what was expected of them. There was little I could do beside stop attending or suggesting they should consider not attending those infamous celebrity parties.

My attitude about disrespect for women? Despicable! Whether it comes from the President of the United States or a self-proclaimed liberal movie mogul, it is beyond shameful. It is disgusting and—I believe—criminal. We liberals are quick to decry the cruel treatment of women in Muslim countries. We fault Israel, a great democracy, for allowing the ultra-Orthodox to seek special privileges for males. Those of us who were and are staunch Hillary Clinton supporters are outraged by the unfair treatment she received from haters all of all stripes.

It was abhorrent to watch the blustering leader of our country brag about how powerful he feels when he can grab any woman by their genitals without worry because he is a “star.” I am not equating him with Harvey Weinstein. One is bad, the other is worse.

Freed (center)

Weinstein, however, is Jewish and his behavior goes against Jewish tradition. Hasidic rabbis used to chant on Friday evenings to remind their flock that the Sabbath was descending and holiness would reign for the next 24 hours. What is the proverb they would recite? Eshet Chayil, “A Woman of Valor”! Jews are reminded every Sabbath that the women in our lives – who raised us and deprived themselves so that we could fare better in a highly competitive world – are the most powerful forces for good in our lives. Whom do we immediately recognize as having value far above rubies? Who teaches us about love? No man, no rabbi, no father, is ever recognized for those lofty duties only women can perform. Women guide our spirits and provide joy and hope throughout our lives.

To treat a woman – any eshet chayil – as inferior in any way is not only ungodly. It’s unmanly. It’s indecent and must not be tolerated.

 

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