UPDATE with more information.
Nine women have provided explicit, on-the-record accounts of being molested or assaulted by Israel Horovitz, a screenwriter whose credits include My Old Lady, Author! Author! and Sunshine, as well as some of the most produced plays in the American canon, including The Indian Wants The Bronx, the 1968 off-Broadway hit that launched the career of Al Pacino.
The New York Times reported this morning that the nine women came forward in light of the accusations by others that have seen a growing list of high-profile men in politics, media and the arts exposed as predators and worse. The most recent were Matt Lauer, fired this week as co-anchor of NBC News’ Today show, and Garrison Keillor, the Prairie Home Companion icon whose connection with Minnesota Public Radio was terminated yesterday.
One of the most compelling aspects of the Times account is that Horovitz was the subject of a similar exposé more than 20 years ago in the Boston Phoenix, and that the accusations were not taken seriously at the time by people in a position to deal with them. That report, by prominent critic and columnist Bill Marx, did not name names, as today’s Times story does. But it remains chilling in detailing the response from the chairman of the board of Gloucester Stage, the Massachusetts nonprofit theater Horovitz founded and served as artistic director.
The company has been the springboard for many of Horovitz’s plays and a training ground for theater artists. Horovitz called the 1993 Phoenix story “character assassination” at the time. The board’s then-president, lawyer Barry Weiner, said he had conducted an informal investigation and concluded that the allegations weren’t actionable. The women, he said, were “tightly wound, if you know what I mean,” adding that such accusations were tossed around “like manhole covers.” In the Times, Weiner conceded that his comments had been “less-than-sensitive.”
Last week, the theater cut ties with Horovitz. “I apologize to the brave women who came forward in 1992 and 1993 but were not listened to,” Elizabeth Neumeier, the Gloucester board’s current president, said in a statement. “We are individually and collectively appalled by the allegations, both old and new.”
For his part, Horovitz, who is 78, told The Times that while he has “a different memory of some of these events, I apologize with all my heart to any woman who has ever felt compromised by my actions, and to my family and friends who have put their trust in me. To hear that I have caused pain is profoundly upsetting, as is the idea that I might have crossed a line with anyone who considered me a mentor.”
The writer’s son, Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys, said in his own statement: “I believe the allegations against my father are true, and I stand behind the women that made them.”
The testimony from the women, several of whom were teenagers at the time of their encounters with Horovitz, range from forced, unwanted kissing and groping to rape. The Times interviewed not only the victims but sought and found corroboration of the accounts. Jocelyn Meinhardt was 19 for example, when she began a summer fellowship in 1989 at the Gloucester theater. On her first night, she said, according to The Times, Horovitz drove her to his home, where he locked the door, kissed and fondled her and, when she began to cry, led her to his bedroom, where she said he raped her.
Similarly, according to The Times, in 1991, when Frédérique Giffard was a 16-year-old au pair for the family, the playwright “groped her breasts and placed her hand on his erect penis.”
“He was a good mentor, until he was the worst, probably most nightmarish mentor you could have,” Meinhardt told The Times. In a revealing coda that can be heard in the testimony of a number of women who have come forward with assertions of abuse, the teacher/mentor relationship sometimes continued despite the assault, and sometimes included sexual encounters. Meinhardt told The Times that she and Horovitz “had sex on two other occasions — consensual, she said, ‘in that I didn’t say no clearly.’ ” They remained friends for years.
Elizabeth Dann was an actress in her 20s when, she told The Times, she was assaulted by Horovitz.
“I heard a word used recently about people like this — they’re dream crushers,” Dann told The Times. “He took this thing that was such a beautiful thing, this young hope, this sense of promise, and he just ruined it.”