Harvey Weinstein was spotted carrying a book on Tuesday during the first day of jury selection at his rape trial in Lower Manhattan.
“The Brothers Mankiewicz” tells the stories of Herman and Joseph Mankiewicz, two icons of classic Hollywood who each struggled with their respective demons. Sydney Ladensohn Stern, the author, said she was stunned to learn that Weinstein was reading her book.
“My first reaction was hyperventilating,” she says.
She was also curious about why he was reading it, and what message he might be trying to send.
Stern has written about how Weinstein and the #MeToo era influenced her research. She knew she would have to address the condition of women in early Hollywood, and assess it through a modern lens.
“I was appalled by a lot of what I read about the way women were treated,” she says. “Darryl Zanuck in particular was horribly abusive. His treatment of women stood out to me in the volume of it.”
She would also have to delve into Joseph Mankiewicz’ philandering.
“With Joe, they were mostly affairs. They were consensual,” she says. “I considered him manipulative. I think the main victim there was his wife, or his first two wives… He wasn’t running around raping people. He was seducing them. He was a serial seducer.”
But she says there is no parallel between that and what Weinstein is accused of.
“The dimensions of what we’ve heard about Weinstein beggar the imagination,” Stern says. “It’s all out of proportion — even to Zanuck.”
The other potential parallel is the fraternal relationship. Stern says she does not know enough about Weinstein and his brother to make any conjectures, but that the Mankiewicz brothers had a complicated relationship.
“They were brothers in every sense,” Stern says. “They were competitive. They were loyal — everything.”
Weinstein has carried books that had some broader significance to court before. When he surrendered to police in May 2018, he had a biography of Elia Kazan, the director who was vilified in some quarters for his testimony to the House Un-American Activities committee. This was interpreted at the time as Weinstein taking a shot at the media.
Whatever message Weinstein might have been trying to send on Tuesday remains a puzzle.
“It is so interesting,” Stern says. “I can’t imagine his choice was unthought.”
Then again, she points to a 2013 piece in New York Magazine, in which Weinstein claimed to have won a bidding war for a film after learning that the director was a Joseph Mankiewicz fan. Weinstein bragged that he could name five Mankiewicz films, and said that sealed the deal.
“Sometimes a book is just a book,” Stern says.
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