Book Review: Hollywood Ending

I embedded a brief review of Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill in a 2020 Saturday Odds & Sods post. It’s one of the books that Ken Auletta praises in his outstanding and disturbing new biography of Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood Ending.

Ironies abound in Auletta’s book. He almost had the goods on Harvey Weinstein for an epic New Yorker profile in 2002. But none of Harvey’s victims would go on the record. That would take nearly 20 years.

Auletta helped Ronan Farrow land at the New Yorker *after* NBC caved to the Weinstein propaganda machine by firing Farrow. Auletta admires Farrow’s work and that of the NYT’s Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. He builds upon it and his own reporting to produce the definitive biography of the monster of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein.

Weinstein is a paradoxical figure. In addition to being a sex pest and bully, Harvey was a great movie producer. He championed independent films that the studios wouldn’t touch in an era of comic book movies and franchise tent poles. His favorite film director as a young man was the French humanitarian and visionary Francois Truffaut. I told you ironies abound in this book. But none of that matters because he couldn’t keep his bathrobe closed or his pants zipped up.

Ken Auletta believes that Harvey Weinstein was scarred for by life by his upbringing. His father Max was a mousy little man who regarded himself as a failure. His mother Miriam was a screamer who forever insulted her sons Harvey and Bob. In public, Miriam was a charmer, behind the scenes she was a monster.

Like many insecure but succesful people from troubled families, Harvey oscillated between extreme egomania and insecurity. He ate his way through life, then lamented that his obesity made him unattractive to women. Harvey is an ugly man inside and out who used to power to get laid. As he became more powerful, he grew bolder and became the rapey motherfucker we know and hate.

Harvey Weinstein reminds me of two men: one a dead movie mogul, the second a reality show host who rose to political power.

Harry Cohn is the first man. He was the absolute dictator at Columbia Pictures for 40 odd years. He was a crude man who championed some classy directors such as Frank Capra and George Stevens. Like Harvey, Cohn used strong arm tactics against his adversaries, gaining many enemies in the process. He was also the man who perfected the casting couch. He thought he had a divine right to have sex with any woman in his employ. Sound familiar? Harvey hated being compared to Cohn but he was Harry’s second coming.

The second man is, of course, Donald Trump. Harvey is not stupid but shares many terrible qualities with the Impeached Insult Comedian. The original title for this post was Harvey Weinstein: Trump With A Brain. Like the Kaiser of Chaos, Harvey has a vile temper and is utterly self-absorbed. Harvey, however, is a talented man in his chosen profession: known for his deft hand in the editing room and with scripts. Donald Trump’s only talent is turning everything to shit.

As with Harry Cohn, Harvey would HATE the comparison to Trump. He’s a staunch liberal politically but a tinpot dictator and sexual predator in his business life. No good deed can turn that negative into a positive.

Harvey Weinstein went from one of the most powerful and feared men in the film industry to being alone and abandoned even by his kid brother and business partner Bob. Bob claims he only knew about Harvey’s casting couch exploits and not the rapes. Bob could have known but he didn’t want to. Besides, Miramax then the Weinstein Company were full of enablers thinking only of their careers and Harvey’s gifts as a movie producer.

Ken Auletta is an excellent writer and formidable reporter. High praise time: He’s not a lawyer but his coverage of Weinstein’s legal problems and New York criminal trial are spot on. He took the time to learn the lingo and walk the walk. I never once thought of him as an amateur lawyer.

I’ve read most everything Ken Auletta has written for the New Yorker and 3 or 4 of his other books. He’s a fine prose stylist who has an uncanny ability to render the complex understandable. That’s an invaluable attribute, especially since he writes mostly about business.

It’s Harvey Weinstein’s fate to be compared to men he despised- Cohn and Trump-and to have his participation in many classic movies ignored because he’s a convicted rapist. It’s like Sartre’s No Exit, a self-constructed hell.

It’s a fitting end for a man who was described by his first criminal lawyer Ben Brafman as “the worst person I’ve ever met.” Brafman previously represented former Gambino family hit man Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. Sammy knew he had done wrong. Harvey still insists he’s innocent.

Grading Time: I give Hollywood Ending 4 stars and an Adrastos Grade of A.

The last word goes to Imagine Dragons: