Oscar-nominated writer-director James Toback has been accused of sexually harassing at least 38 women stemming back to the 1980s.
A Los Angeles Times report explains that while some of the women were looking for work in the entertainment industry at the time of the alleged incidents, others were simply women Toback approached. 31 of the women agreed to speak on the record, and they all detailed various incidents in which Toback allegedly made lewd suggestions, steered conversations into sexually explicit territory, and in the worst instances, rubbed against them until he ejaculated into his pants or on their bodies.
“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.”
Although Toback is not a widely recognized name outside of the film community, his writing credits include “Tyson,” “The Gambler,” and “The Pick-Up Artist.” He has made enough films with prominent actors like James Caan and Robert Downey, Jr. that he was able to impress women who thought they were making a good connection in the industry.
Terri Conn was 23 and acting on the soap opera “As the World Turns” when, according to her, Toback approached her on the street. Wanting to act in an edgy independent film, Conn agreed to meet with Toback in Central Park to discuss his process. Once there, Conn reports that Toback told her the best way to get to know someone is to see their soul, which is best achieved by looking into their eyes while experiencing orgasm. At that point, Conn said he took her to a somewhat secluded area, knelt down in front of her, and began humping her leg while staring into her eyes.
“I was shocked and frozen and didn’t know what to do,” Conn said. “I thought if I resisted, it could get worse. He could overpower me.” He quickly ejaculated into his khakis, got up and asked her to meet for dinner later to continue the process. Conn declined his phone calls and never saw him again.
Writer Sari Kamin also recounted her experience with sexual harassment by Toback in the Times’ piece, as well as in a previously written blog post. Kamin was a 23-year-old aspiring actress in 2003 when she met the director in a Kinko’s. He flashed his Academy card and told her about his film “Two Girls and A Guy.” Intrigued, she met him for dinner several times. Each time, he would allude to a “type of connection he would need to experience with his actresses in order to effectively work with him.” She elaborated: “He never defined what exactly this connection was but my fear of what it could mean made me feel sick to my stomach.”
Eventually, Toback asked her to accompany him to a hotel room. Kamin agreed, thinking that if she “could just get through this part then [she] was going to be in a movie and [she] would be a successful actress.” At the hotel, Toback allegedly asked her to remove her clothes, citing a desire to know she could handle sexual scenes. Despite feeling uncomfortable, Kamin began to undress until Toback began rubbing his crotch on her and engaging in crude conversation.
“Are you trying to get off?” she said she asked. “Absolutely,” he replied. At that point, Kamin threw her clothes back on and ran from the room.
Other women named in the Times’ piece include Starr Rinaldi, Louise Post, Karen Sklaire, Anna Scott, Echo Danon, and Chantal Cousineau. All of them recounted incidents in which they experienced some form of harassment from Toback.
Before the Los Angeles Times’ piece broke, Toback denied the allegations from Kamin to Variety and said, “All I can tell you is I’ve never heard of this woman, and it’s totally defamatory on her part to invent them.
“This is totally distressing to me,” he continued. “I’m 72 years old, but I’m not even close to having Alzheimer’s, and I don’t have trouble remembering things in great detail.”
Toback called the actions described in Kamin’s post “grotesque,” adding, “I will say because of various articles from years ago that were written, it’s very easy to concoct things. I totally condemn all the behavior she depicts. I would never dream of the substance or the specifics of the actions she describes.”
He also refuted claims that he’s the man depicted in Kamin’s post. “It is a person not only not in love with film and filmmaking, it is a person who has contempt for film and filmmaking,” he said. “The act of effectively selling a role for sexual favors could only be done by someone with no regard whatsoever of the quality of his work. It is hard enough to create good work when exercising the highest and strictest standards in casting and other aspects of directing. It would be impossible — in addition to morally despicable — even to be toying around with the notion of selling roles, whether for sex, money, amusement, depravity, or anything else other than demonstrated talent.”
Toback went on to commend women who have come forward with their stories of sexual assault and harassment surrounding Harvey Weinstein. “What’s going on in the world now is revolutionary,” he said. “They’ve been in the passenger seat or in the back seat or even in the trunk with guys driving. Now is their time to drive.”
He added, “It’s a bad time to say these things because one is supposed to be empathetic to charges like this, but I can hardly be expected to be empathetic to defamation, slander, and lies. While I am sympathetic to the concept of ‘Me too,’ I am afraid that it invites not just legitimate anger and complaint, but also faceless and invented slander.”
The allegations come in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, in which a similar number of women have come forward alleging a decades-long pattern of sexual harassment. Weinstein has been universally shunned, with the DGA and PGA beginning expulsion proceedings and the Motion Picture Academy also expelling him. Police investigations have been opened into Weinstein in London, New York, and Los Angeles, and his wife began divorce proceedings shortly after he was fired from the Weinstein Company.