I don’t know anyone my age who hasn’t been harassed. My first experience was in college. I was trying to work at the college radio station–me and all the guys. They had the walls plastered with Playboy pinups. I got a little disgusted–actually, a lot disgusted–so I brought in that Cosmo spread of Burt Reynolds–you know, the two page spread of a naked Burt with one hand–and a staple–coyly covering up his genitals. I taped my Burt pic up with the women and you’d have thought I’d set fire to the place. How dare I! Didn’t I know that was disrespectful to men? I just looked at all the yammering males and said, “Seriously!? Look at what you’ve taped to the walls!” Apparently that was alright. Boys will be boys, after all. The teacher in charge of personnel refused to let me even apply for the licensing test. He was going to “show that Barbara Schnell. Who did she think she was?” I didn’t want to work in radio anyway, thank God. I wish I could remember that little pissant’s name. I’d show him who Barbara Schnell is.
The next time was when I was a senior in college. I was working as a bartender at the Pheasant Lounge. It was about midnight on a quiet Saturday when the owner came in, drunk as a lord. He trapped me in the back when I was putting a tray of glasses in the dishwasher. I wasn’t too surprised; he trapped most of the other women I worked with. They usually ended up crying; I don’t know if it went any further. It was the usual “screw or you’re fired” situation. Well, I’m not a crier. I threw a glass at the old fool and stormed out. I was supposed to close up that night. He had to do it himself. Being drunk, that must have been a challenge. But that’s what happens when you threaten to fire someone if they don’t put out. “Screw or walk” loses its force when the victim chooses to walk.
I guess I’d been bothered to one extent or another on every job I’ve had. You learn quickly to talk your way out of ugly situations. Unfortunately, I’d gotten so used to being accosted that I didn’t trust any man at all. I remember a senior partner at a law firm I worked for offered to take me out for a drink after I’d performed some service above and beyond my job description (not sexual!). I tried to get out of it but he said he wanted to thank me. There didn’t seem to be any graceful out of it so I accepted. He took me to his tailor’s Friday night happy hour for selected clients. I had a glass of wine and argued with all the other attorneys (heavy hitters in the city). One guy asked me if I was one of the new associates and I told him I was just a peon. He said he was glad; he’d hate to have to argue against me in court. When my lawyer buddy gave me a ride home I was tensed up, waiting for the pass. He didn’t try to touch me. He said he’d come from a poor background, the Southside of Chicago, and I shouldn’t let the lack of money or family stop me. He offered to sponsor my entry into Bolt at Berkeley. I didn’t even process what he said until later. I was just eager to get out of the car without a hassle. But what a comment on how women were treated. A mentor couldn’t help out a promising candidate without her expecting a quid pro quo. I appreciated the offer but I didn’t take him up on it. I didn’t want to be a lawyer anyway.
I did want to become an actress. That’s why I’d come to California. I remember a producer asking me to dinner to discuss casting (before I got married). We had a nice chat over dinner then he asked me if I had an apartment. I said, “Yes.” He suggested we go to my apartment to discuss the part further. I said, “No.” That ended that. At least I got dinner.
I shot quite a few commercials when I was chubby–worked all the time and nobody bothered me; I was a comic. But after I got married Gordon gave me the time to figure out diet and exercise; I lost 42 pounds. I’m told I was gorgeous. All I knew was that I was skinny for the first time in twenty years and got to buy a whole new wardrobe. And I quit working. I was told skinny women weren’t funny. I replied, “Have you talked to Goldie Hawn lately?” Most casting directors, the women anyway, did their best for me. I’d make it to the callback, things would be going great. I remember goofing around, getting laughs, and I said, “Blame that on my husband.” Silence. One guy said, “You’re married?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Happily?” I said, “Most of the time.” And I never heard from them again. At least no one tried to fondle me. I just didn’t get hired.
I did get fondled when I took an improve class at the Groundlings. I got the bad luck of getting a short, dumpy woman of Asian ancestry for a teacher. And for some reason she hated my guts. She kept partnering me with a goofball who I think came from a showbiz family. The first time he grabbed my ass, I was startled but I thought it could have been a mistake. The second time he did it I figured out it was no mistake; he meant to do it. And the teacher knew it was happening. She enjoyed my discomfort. Then third time she partnered me with him I called him out. We were in front of the class and I pointed my finger at him and declared, “If you touch my ass one more time I’m going to break your f**king arm. Do you understand what I’m telling you?” He stammered that he did and I said, “Then let’s do this.” The teacher just blinked and I glared right back at her. It’s not just men who victimize women; other bitchy women play the game too. I was puzzled as to why the kid thought he could get away with that behavior. I honestly think he had a crush on me. Did he think debasing me would attract me to him? And I can’t guess at the motivation of the teacher. She told me I didn’t pass and would have to take the class again and I told her I’d consider it. Hah! Like I was interested in the Groundlings after that–although she was probably right not to send me further up the ladder. It’s a group performance and you need people of like tastes. I thought the Groundlings humor was sophomoric–I’ve never really liked PeeWee Herman, their star alum–so I wouldn’t’ve fit in at all. But it wasn’t a total waste. I educated one young man. And some other guys in the class later came up and told me never to change. I think they were amused my forthrightness.
So apparently you can stand up for yourself and be admired or you can submit and work. That’s not acting, that’s prostitution. Not interested. I never worried about getting acting jobs anyway. I found other, better ways of making money. And now I’m writing. Nobody gets to grab at you when you’re on your own couch. But I feel sorry for young women. They seem to have to go along to get along and that’s infuriating. That’s what we fought against 45 years ago. It seems worse now than it ever was.
I’ve been musing about the Cosby trial. I remember when he was first accused. A woman who sits next to me at the Ahmanson asked if I thought it was true and I said, “Probably. He has a rep for being a hound. But I can’t take the women who are charging him seriously.” I told her that when I was acting a lot of the young women loved to go to the Playboy mansion parties where Cosby apparently had most of his encounters. They knew exactly what was going to happen at those parties and they fought to get invitations (one actress I took a class with bragged about being one of Wilt Chamberlin’s 4000). And the comment was always that you got the best drugs at those parties. It was the 80s and ‘ludes were popular. So you have to wonder if these accusations were just money grabs. Can you rape the willing? I can’t comment about the young athlete. I have no idea what happened to her. But I’m skeptical about the other charges. And I keep coming back to the women I’ve known who’ve played along for gain. I remember a casting agent telling me that he couldn’t count the times women offered him sexual favors for parts. He said they even sent him unsolicited naked pictures. So it makes you wonder… And it makes me wish those women would quit soliciting. It encourages the bastards to bother the unwilling–you know, women like me. I can’t comment on Weinstein. He has the reputation for being a jerk. Boy, is he paying for it now. But he was in a position of holding people’s future hostage. Pretty sure he deserves whatever happens to him. I also want to point out that the men with the most accusations are all butt ugly. My theory is that some cheerleader dissed ’em when they were teenagers and now they can get back at beautiful women. They should be happy with making money; that’s what nerds do. Quit torturing pretty women. They didn’t do anything to you–anyway they’re doing their damnedest to avoid you. Let them be.
Anyway, I hope the men who deserve it get what’s coming to them. And the innocent men are left alone. But how do you tell the difference? I guess you go by the evidence. If there is any. Don’t have any answers.
This picture of a feral tomcat seemed appropriate. This is Squirt. ‘Nough said.