The Los Angeles Times reports that 38 women have come forward to accuse director James Toback of sexually harassing them. Thirty-one of Toback’s 38 accusers spoke to the Times on the record, including a high school student, aspiring actresses who quit the business after meeting Toback, a “well-known actress” who requested anonymity because she feared retaliation years later, and Louise Post of indie-rock band Veruca Salt. (That’s 38 accusers so far: Glenn Whipp, who reported the story for the Times, tweeted that 15 more women contacted him with further allegations against Toback since the story was published.) Toback directed The Pick-up Artist and Two Girls and a Guy, and was nominated for an Academy Award for writing the screenplay for Bugsy. He’s been working in film since writing the 1974 James Caan film The Gambler; his most recent movie, The Private Life of a Modern Woman, premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 4 of this year.
The women’s stories of their alleged encounters with Toback follow a common outline: Toback would approach a young woman, introduce himself as a film director, and say she was perfect for the project he was working on. According to his accusers, after a spiel about his résumé—Toback allegedly carried articles about himself around to prove he was who he said he was—he would explain that he needed to get to know them better before casting them, and set up a meeting in a more private location. At those meetings, according to the women, Toback would steer the conversation in a sexual direction, boasting about famous women he’d slept with and asking embarrassing sexual questions; pubic hair was allegedly a common topic. Then, the women say, Toback masturbated or rubbed himself against them to completion. In at least three of the incidents the Times reports, Toback allegedly requested the women pinch his nipples and look in his eyes as he came. As with Harvey Weinstein, Toback’s behavior was allegedly an open secret in Hollywood, as drama teacher, actor, and playwright Karen Sklaire—who says Toback dry-humped her leg during a 1997 meeting—explained:
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 Tobacked.” … The numbers are staggering.
It’s far from the first time news has broken about James Toback allegedly harassing women. In 1989, Spy published “The Pickup Artist’s Guide to Picking Up Women: A Case-by-Case Look at Movie Director James Toback’s Street Technique,” by Vincenza Demetz (a pseudonym). Twenty-eight years ago, Demetz discovered the same common threads in multiple stories of alleged encounters that the Times is reporting today. Toback’s alleged M.O. was so depressingly monotonous that the magazine ran his accusers’ stories in a giant four-page foldout table, with column headers like “The Credentials,” “Pitching the Project,” and “Trust Me.” The chart also included the following disclaimer:
A Word of Warning: This chart contains frank, explicit language, including the phrase, uttered by a man, “Just touch my nipples and I’ll come.” What follows is not for the squeamish.
The Spy story—which was about unwanted sexual advances during what were presumed to be business meetings—doesn’t seem to have caused much of a stir at the time in other media outlets, but it does show up, heavily euphemized, in later profiles of the director. In 2000, a New York Times article called it a chronicle of “Mr. Toback’s own exploits as a pickup artist”; a 1997 profile in the Los Angeles Times noted, presumably as a compliment, that “his own libido is so legendary that Spy magazine once published a fold-out chart of his conquests.” Gawker also published similar allegations about Toback allegedly sexually harassing women in 2008, 2010, again in 2010, and in 2012. Eight of the 12 movies Toback has directed were released after the Spy article; two were released after the Gawker articles.
But the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandal has inspired women to come forward once more. For Louise Post—today the singer and guitarist for indie-rock band Veruca Salt, but in 1987, when Toback allegedly told her he’d like to masturbate in front of her, just a college student at Barnard—Weinstein’s public fall from grace forced her to face that part of her past. “Today, I cried for the first time since then about it,” she told the Times. And actress Adrienne LaValley heartbreakingly explained why she hadn’t told anyone about her alleged encounter with Toback before now:
The way he presented it, it was like, “This is how things are done.” I felt like a prostitute, an utter disappointment to myself, my parents, my friends. And I deserved not to tell anyone.