Heavyweight Hollywood director James Toback accused of being serial abuser of women by his alleged victims

Director James Toback attends the photocall of the movie The Private Life of a Modern Woman at the 74th Venice Film Festival on Sept 3, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (WASHINGTON POST) - James Toback is the latest powerful man in Hollywood to be accused of sexual assault.

Thirty-eight women told the Los Angeles Times that the director - best known for directing Two Girls and a Guy and writing the Oscar-winning screenplay for Bugsy - sexually harassed them, often by using his stature as a Hollywood director to convince the aspiring actors to come to his hotel room.

The Times detailed the accusations in a lengthy 2,700 word piece in Sunday's editions. Many of the women allowed the use of their names.

The allegations are somewhat different than those levelled against disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Toback, who isn't as well known as Harvey Weinstein, approached women on the streets. He had to explain to them who he was.

"My name's James Toback. I'm a movie director. Have you ever seen Black and White or Two Girls and a Guy?" he said, according to the Times.

He then often told these women they could potentially be in his next movie, and invited them up to his hotel room, where he would ask them personal questions about their sex lives. Some of his accusers said he then began rubbing his groin against their legs, while others said he masturbated in front of them.

Toback denied the allegations, telling the newspaper that he had never met any of these women, or if he had, he didn't recall it because it "was for five minutes".

He also said it was "biologically impossible" for him to engage in the described behaviour, due to medication he was taking.

The exposé comes just weeks after articles in the New York Times and the New Yorker alleged that Weinstein, one of Hollywood's most powerful producers, used his position to sexually harass and assault women he encountered through his work, at least since the 1980s.

The pieces prompted dozens of women, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, to publicly accuse Weinstein of abuse.

Weinstein's story seized national attention because he's a household name. Though he's worked with many famous actors like Robert Downey Jr, James Caan and Heather Graham, the average moviegoer likely wouldn't recognise Toback's name.

But women in the business apparently knew plenty about him, according to the Times account.

"It's a common thread among many women I know... after someone mentions they were sexually abused by a creepy writer-director, the response is, 'Oh, no. You got Toback-ed,'" Karen Sklaire, a New York drama teacher, actor and playwright who said a 1997 meeting with Toback ended with him grinding against her leg, told the Los Angeles Times. "The numbers are staggering."

Louise Post, the frontwoman of the indie rock band Veruca Salt, felt ashamed of her encounter with Toback thirty years ago."He told me he'd love nothing more than to masturbate while looking into my eyes," Post told the Los Angeles Times. "Going to his apartment has been the source of shame for the past 30 years, that I allowed myself to be so gullible."

Then in 2008, he allegedly tried to rub his crotch against the leg of actress Adrienne LaValley. She pulled away, and he stood up and ejaculated in his pants.

"The way he presented it, it was like, 'This is how things are done,'" LaValley told the newspaper. "I felt like a prostitute, an utter disappointment to myself, my parents, my friends. And I deserved not to tell anyone."

Starr Rinaldi, once an aspiring actress, recalled a similar experience about 15 years ago."In a weird sense, I thought, 'This is a test of whether I'm a real artist and serious about acting,'" Rinaldi told the Times. "He always wanted me to read for him in a hotel or come back to his apartment, like, 'How serious are you about your craft?'"

"And the horrible thing is, whichever road you choose, whether you sleep with him or walk away, you're still broken, You have been violated," added Rinaldi.

Journalist Sari Kamin wrote a Medium post last week claiming Toback sexually harassed her in 2003, when she was a 23-year-old aspiring actress.

Toback allegedly approached her in a Kinko's and asked her to dinner. Over several dinners, he asked her personal questions about her sex life, even though it made her uncomfortable. Eventually, he invited her to his hotel room, hinting that he could cast her in a movie.

"In 2003, James Toback was a 60-year-old man who had made dozens of movies that starred actors like Robert Downey, Jr. and Warren Beatty and I was a 23-year-old woman who wanted to believe I was being discovered," Kamin wrote.

"Toback took me to a hotel and paid US$600 (S$817.62) in cash at the front desk," she continued. "He led me to a suite and asked me to take off my clothes. I didn't want to so I protested, but he looked at me with judging scorn and asked how I would ever be able to trust him as a director if I was going to be modest now. He explained that when he made the movie, there would be scenes where I'd be expected to undress. He needed to know that he could work with me."

After she undressed, Toback allegedly began rubbing his groin against her bare leg, at which point she grabbed her clothes and fled.

Toback's alleged sexual behaviour was far from secret.

In 1989, Spy magazine published an explicit article describing it. The piece explored the way he allegedly harassed young actresses, though it referred to the women as "pickupees", not victims.

Toback tried to stop publication of the piece."If you print this piece, I promise it will be the single thing you regret most in your life," Toback told the magazine. "Think of your very worst nightmare. It'll be worse than that."

Others have also spoken out against the director, such as Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn.

"When I lived in New York, in the 'nineties, this dude was EVERYWHERE. I have personally met at least FIFTEEN WOMEN, probably more, who say that he's accosted them in NYC," Gunn wrote in a Facebook post.

"It's important to say, I don't have any firsthand information about any of this. But the stories are so eerily similar, and I've heard them again and again from some of the people I trust most in the world, I know the chances of them being untrue... well, it would just be impossible."

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