Lasseter apologized last week to those who have been “on the receiving end of an unwanted hug” or any other gesture “they felt crossed the line.” People who had regular contact with the executive say Lasseter’s behavior extended well beyond the childlike exuberance hinted at in his statement to uninvited kisses or a hand that would stray to the leg during staff meetings.
“He’s very tactile in a weird way,” said one former female executive who, like others, spoke with Deadline on condition that she not be named in the story for fear of reprisals. “He would rub my leg in a meeting … It was creepy and weird. It got to the point where I wouldn’t sit next to him in a meeting, because it undermined everything I said.”
There’s evidence Disney may well have been aware of troubling behavior on the part of the digital animation pioneer. Indeed the Pixar co-founder attended some wrap parties with a handler to ensure he would not engage in inappropriate conduct with women, say two people with direct knowledge of the situation.
Lasseter was observed passionately kissing a female subordinate at a 2010 Miramax party, according to an executive who witnessed the amorous display and another source who corroborated the account. The incident at the Oscar night celebration, attended by celebrities and Pixar and Disney executives, prompted high-level discussions about Lasseter’s conduct.
The woman declined comment to a reporter who knocked on the door of her seaside home.
Two sources recounted Lasseter’s obsession with the young character actresses portraying Disney’s Fairies, a product line built around the character of Tinker Bell.
At the animator’s insistence, Disney flew the women to a New York event. One Pixar employee became the designated escort as Lasseter took the young women out drinking one night, and to a party the following evening.
“He was inappropriate with the fairies,” said the former Pixar executive, referring to physical contact that included long hugs. “We had to have someone make sure he wasn’t alone with them.”
One female executive with Disney’s consumer products group found herself the focus of Lasseter’s attentions, say sources who observed their interactions.
During one trip to New York City for the annual Toy Fair, Lasseter and a group of executives met in the lobby of Trump International Hotel and decided to go out for a “nightcap.” As the group walked out onto Columbus Circle, one person saw Lasseter pull the female executive tightly to him and move his hands over her body.
The female executive later sought to laugh off the encounter, saying she didn’t think her job description included “being groped by John Lasseter,” the observer said. “But you could tell she was pissed.”
The woman subsequently left Disney and did not respond to emails and calls seeking comment.
Disney and Pixar declined to address questions on the record about Lasseter’s conduct, but behind the scenes, a chorus of denials have been leveled.
Karen Lee Ziner in Rhode Island contributed to this report.