In the days after The New Yorker published its first story about Harvey Weinstein, the investigative journalist who wrote the expose got a phone call from a screenwriter and actress who had a story to tell about another powerful entertainment figure — Les Moonves.
Illeana Douglas would become a leading source in the first of two New Yorker stories in which a dozen women offered accounts of forcible attempts at intimacy, and in some cases of allegations of assault, by the CBS’s former chief executive, who they say retaliated against those who rebuffed his advances.
Moonves resigned on Sunday, issuing a statement that the “untrue allegations” were “not consistent with who I am.”
In an interview with editor David Remnick for The New Yorker Radio Hour, Douglas discussed why she contacted writer Ronan Farrow, what happened in her encounters with Moonves and what CBS should do to address a culture of misogyny at the media company.
Douglas said she was urged by her attorney and other performers to call Farrow, whom she described as “the patron saint of actresses.” She said his investigation into the once-powerful Hollywood producer’s sexual misconduct was a watershed moment for women in show business.
“There was just a collective moment for women,” Douglas said. “We threw down the doors and said we’re not going to take this anymore.”
Douglas said she met Moonves in 1996, when she was at the height of her professional career, having signed with powerhouse talent agency CAA, starred in the film Grace of My Heart, and produced two films.
“I was filled with piss and vinegar when i came out to Hollywood, you know?” Douglas said. “And I was fully intent on having a big, fat television deal.”
Douglas described pitching her concept for a workplace comedy in a room filled with network executives, and Moonves, over the course of several phone calls, convincing her bring her project to CBS.
“When [Les Moonves] says, ‘This isn’t the person that I am,’ I agree with him,” Douglas said. “Because the person I had multiple meetings with was charming, he as funny, he told me all about CBS. That was the guy I wanted to be in business with. I thought of him as a father figure.”
The TV project ultimately fell apart over a disagreement about a plot twist in the pilot episode. But Moonves signed Douglas to an acting contract, and discussed the possibility of offering her a couple of pilots.
“He said, ‘We make stars at CBS. You’re going to be a big star!'” Douglas told Remnick. “I drank the Kool-Aid. I was in. I couldn’t wait to go to work.”
Moonves placed a subsequent call to Douglas’ agent, expressing concerns about her attitude. Douglas said she was eager to convince Moonves that she was a student of show business, who was eager to learn all facets of the business.
“I wanted to go to his office to tell him, with the utmost respect, that I would be giving my all,” Douglas said.
Douglas arrived at Moonves’ office, hooping to discuss what she thought of as flaws in the material. But immediately, the conversation veered to the personal. He asked whether she was single, and she stumbled to return the conversation to work.
“The next thing I know he was on top of me with his tongue down my throat,” Douglas said. “And at that point, I understand show business. I got warnings about the casting couch. But I didn’t perceive this as the casting couch. This was a man who I admired and respected and who had gained my trust, and now he was on top of me and I didn’t know how to get out of this.”
Douglas tearfully recounted how she grabbed her briefcase and headed for the door.
“That’s when the terror begins,” Douglas said, clearly fighting to maintain her composure. “That’s when the repercussions begin — that your boss, the person you admire and the network you admire, blocks your way and says, ‘We’re going to keep this between you and me, right?'”
Douglas said she was determined not to say a word about the encounter, to keep the secret “locked up tight,” until Moonves fired her. She said she was heartbroken when she learned that two year later, Moonves had done the same thing to his doctor.
This is CBS’s moment, Douglas said, to be a pioneer.
“There is a deep seated history of misogyny at CBS,” Douglas said. “In my opinion, what would be really impressive is that the new head of CBS says, ‘I’m going to turn the page on this and I am not going to let an environment happen where women go to work and don’t feel safe.’ … An executive who has the courage to say, ‘I am going to make a stand and I am not going to tolerate this kind of behavior.'”
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