April 10: Putting the “rude” into Rudin

Mark ShentonInclude in homepage slide?, Thought of the dayLeave a Comment

On Thursday, Theatermania — one of the big-brand Broadway news websites, owned by the same people who now own WhatsOnStage as well – ran a story about the “tyrannical geniuses” of the theatre industry, as the headline put it, and said why the bad behaviour needs to stop. In a stand-first below the headline, it asked, “Is having created a hit enough of a reason to stand with someone who made lives miserable in the process?”

The story was written by Theatermania’s managing editor David Gordon, who is also the president of the Outer Critics Circle, an organisation that represents writers for “out-of-town newspapers, digital and national publications, and other media beyond Broadway”; the “inner circle” are meanwhile catered for by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle (an elite club of designated critics whose membership still affords them Tony voting privileges) and the Drama Desk (who also present their own annual awards, but whose members are drawn more widely). But each of these organisations exists to bestow some kind of formal legitimacy to a ragbag of critical and reporting voices that cover the Broadway landscape and beyond.

Gordon’s story was illustrated by a picture he’d taken himself of the front-of-house of the Shubert Theatre when it was the home for the smash-hit 2017 production of Hello, Dolly!, but it was not referenced in the story in any way; neither was its lead producer Scott Rudin mentioned.

But the association was obvious to anyone who follows Broadway with any interest, as the day before the Hollywood Reporter had published a cover story, adorned with a picture of the the producer behind the shards of a smashed glass, with a single word: BULLY in red below his image, with a subhead: “Even as other Hollywood abusers are being shamed or sidelined, producer Scott Rudin has been given a pass for his volcanic behaviour – until now. Former employees speak out: ‘Everyone just knows he’s an absolute monster’,” it declared.

And in the body of the story, many past employees — witnesses as well as victims of his wrath — were interviewed. One had an Apple computer monitor smashed on his hand, after failing to get him a seat on a sold-out flight.

“The screen shattered, leaving the young man bleeding and in need of immediate medical attention. One person in the office at the time described the incident as sounding like a car crash: a cacophonous collision of metal, glass and limb. The wounded assistant headed to the emergency room, and Rudin called his lawyer, according to another staffer there that Halloween afternoon. Everyone else huddled in the conference room, shaken.”

It then quotes Andrew Coles, a then-assistant and now-manager and producer himself.

“We were all shocked because we didn’t know that that sort of thing could happen in that office. We knew a lot could happen. There were the guys that were sleeping in the office, the guys whose hair was falling out and were developing ulcers. It was a very intense environment, but that just felt different. It was a new level of unhinged — a level of lack of control that I had never seen before in a workplace.”

His reputation for bad behaviour, though, was hardly a secret. The Hollywood Reporter had itself dubbed him “The Most Feared Man in Town” in a 2010 profile; and five years earlier, another in the Wall Street Journal — headlined “Boss-zilla”, had Rudin himself quoting a statistic of 119 assistants that had come and gone from his office in the previous five years.

That’s a lot of staff turnover. Even more than I experienced during my tenure as managing editor at the Press Association’s arts and entertainment and television listings division at the end of the last century and the first two years of this one, where salaries were frozen in my final year — but not, I hasten to add, for the senior executives, of which I was one; the weekly round of leaving speeches, in which people announced to their peers how delighted they were to be finally out of there, became so demoralising that I had to intervene to stop them happening.

So yes, I know about toxic work places, and I remember that when the Managing Director of my division asked me to reprimand a staff member, I was finally no longer able to defend the way the business was being run and instead applauded him for speaking up. I then went to see my boss to tell her that I’d carried out her instructions to talk to him, and when she asked what I’d said, I replied, “I told him well done”. She looked startled, then angry, and said, “I don’t think we’re singing from the same hymn sheet” I said, too right — and handed in my resignation that I’d prepared before I went to her office upstairs.

Anyway, it turns out few people got to resign working for Rudin; he’d routinely fire them in a series of so-called ‘soft firings’ — described in the story as “a unique phenomenon at Rudin’s company that several sources detailed. An ousted employee would wait in the Starbucks in the lobby for Rudin to cool off and allow the groveling underling to return.” Other times, another person reported witnessing him “pulling a chair out from under an assistant’s seat to fire him so he could fall down.”

But it wasn’t just mere underlings. Occasionally the spats between him and other high profile industry figures would leak out, too.

“He privately clashed with director Sam Mendes and took out an ad in The New York Times to berate a Times theatre writer. His emails — which became fodder for the general public following the Sony hack when he called Angelina Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat” and made racially insensitive jokes about President Barack Obama, saying he probably liked Kevin Hart — are often scathing, says an assistant who was privy to them. In one exchange with fellow EGOT Whoopi Goldberg, he lambasted her because she wanted to play a part in To Kill a Mockingbird instead of another Rudin-produced project, the film adaptation of Aleshea Harris’ acclaimed play Is God Is. He called her an idiot, said she’d never work again in anything important and wished her luck on The View.”

This is a man who clearly doesn’t like it when people say no to him; yet he wields his own power and control over people freely.

I’ve had my own modest experience of this myself. He is extremely controlling, which is no doubt part of his phenomenal success, micromanaging and disrupting everything from when and which press can see his shows onwards. I’ve been the beneficiary of his largesse sometimes; as when I requested if I could buy a pair of house seats for The Book of Mormon soon after it had opened on Broadway and won multiple Tony awards, so I could take my husband to see it for his birthday, he replied inviting me as his guest.

But then for the aforementioned production of Hello, Dolly!, I put in numerous requests for tickets with the office of the show’s appointed publicist, and heard nothing back; until a couple of weeks before the show was due to open. I tried again, and finally was told no: there were none available for me. I appealed to Rudin personally, who replied that he had no inventory, either. So I went online and bought a ticket for one of the final previews – albeit in the back row of the Shubert Theatre stalls – and emailed Rudin to let him know that I’d done so, as I didn’t want to have any embarrassing scenes if he saw me there. I even joked that despite my distance from the stage, I was sure that I’d be able to hear Bette Midler from the other side of Shubert Alley.

He replied in an instant, telling me that this was not a scheduled press performance, so he didn’t want me to come. I, in turn, explained that since his appointed press agent had refused to accommodate me (and I reminded him that he, too, had turned me down), I’d had to make my own arrangements. Within five minutes, I got a call from the now harried press agent, offering to refund me the ticket I’d bought and putting me in for a pair for the night after I’d booked. And Rudin then wrote claiming I’d put in my request too late. On the contrary, I was able to reply with a long e-mail chain of requests I’d lodged going back three months prior to disprove this.

It’s an admittedly small, relatively trivial demonstration of how he exercises his power over people; he had something I wanted, and he was determined to make me work for it.

The story is complicated a little as Rudin’s now husband John Barlow had been a long-time friend of mine, going back to the early 90s; he’d been working at the time as a junior press agent at a Broadway agency, Boneau/Bryan-Brown, when we first met, long before Barlow and he became partners. John had even come to London and stayed with me at a flat in Elephant and Castle that I shared with my then-partner; and we’d all holidayed together in New Orleans. So it was a significant friendship. John would go on to partner in his own agency, Barlow Hartman, with another colleague from Boneau/Bryan-Brown called Michael Hartman, and we continued to see each other.

After John suddenly became involved with Scott — whom he’d first met as a client — we had some meals together, both in New York and in London, joined by Scott. Once, we met at Sheekey’s, after the theatre, located in the alley that bisects Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane, and I’ll never forget a maitre d’ coming over to advise them that their car had arrived. About 45 minutes later, we finally left the restaurant. The car was still there, ready to drive them to the Savoy Hotel where they were staying — roughly ten minutes walk away. This was how the other half lived (and ran up their expense tabs). I’d also been to visit their New York apartment in the luxury San Remo building on Central Park West, and on another occasion had spent a beautiful day at their beach house in Quogue in the Hamptons (on neither of these occasions was Scott himself present).

So as I say, I’ve witnessed this world from the inside. Yet it cut me no slack when it came to requesting tickets for his shows, and the begging game would have to start afresh each time.

I realise that in writing this I may well burn a bridge here and never gain access to a show of his in the future, but here’s the thing: I’m not sure I want to be beholden to him ever again. It comes at too high a price. A very good friend of mine who lives in New York and first shared the Hollywood Reporter story with me told me that he is no longer going to support Rudin shows; its the only protest he feels qualified to make, to not given his entertainment dollars to support a serial bully. And I feel the same now.

Amidst many appalling stories that are now emerging, a devastating thread on Twitter by David Graham-Caso that went up late on Wednesday night lays bare the bullying his own late brother Kevin endured as Rudin’s executive assistant in 2008 and 2009, who subsequently committed suicide.

Later in thread, after #MeToo starts exposing predators and bullies, he recalls a conversation with his brother:

This is utterly heartbreaking stuff, of a young man’s life destroyed by a bully.

Like all the stories that long circulated about Kevin Spacey before they were finally made public, this has been a (not very well kept) industry secret for years.

I wish I could share David Graham-Caso’s confidence that the house of cards — not the one starring Spacey — may finally be about to fall. (Intriguingly, Spacey once played a sadistic film mogul, reputedly based on Rudin, in the 1994 film Swimming with Sharks, about the film industry)

But too many people are still too afraid to speak. As producer Megan Ellison responded to this report on Twitter,

And in a news story for the Daily Telegraph, Ed Power compares Rudin’s story to that of Harvey Weinstein, whose own criminal behaviour as a serial abuser of women has led to his imprisonment, and says,

The producer does not cut as flamboyant a figure around Hollywood as Weinstein did in his prime. Still, behind the scenes he is no less influential – and just as feared. His films have earned 151 Oscar nominations and 23 wins. Alongside the Social Network, his hit parade includes the 2007 Coen Brothers modern classic No Country For Old Men, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and all of Wes Anderson’s recent films. His latest potential blockbuster, an adaptation of bestseller The Woman in the Window, comes to Netflix this year, starring Amy Adams and directed by Joe Wright. 

It goes on,

If anything, Rudin may have been even more influential than Weinstein in that his production empire encompassed both Hollywood and Broadway. On Twitter, the Hollywood Reporter’s Tatiana Siegel claimed that the New York Times had interviewed many of the same sources to whom she had spoken – but that it had never run a story (the newspaper did not respond to her claim). Others with an inside track on reporting on Broadway confirmed the New York Times planned a report on bullying within the theatre industry. This has yet to see the light of day. Was Rudin someone they dared not cross?

The silence, so far, in the theatre industry has been deafening. On TikTok, BroadwayBob posted this video, characterising how Playbill, broadway.com, Theatermania, and Broadwayworld responded to these revelations after the story first broke.

@broadwaybob

I mean: come on. This is why this endured so long.

♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys – Kevin MacLeod

By last night, Theatermania, Playbill and Broadwayworld finally did post something about it (albeit without naming him in the case of the former), the same has not yet been true of Broadway.com (owned by another Broadway producer powerhouse, John Gore). It is in this culture of silence that the Broadway news media becomes complicit. As film maker Sean Abley tweeted,

I’m proud not to allow myself to be silenced. I’ve had my own experience of workplace bullying, as I’ve previously described here, and the continued gaslighting of my experience then has only added to the pain, with the publisher writing to me after that piece ran to say: “While we hold a different view on the events that led to your decision to depart, we have always shared your desire to draw a line and move on.”

There aren’t, however, different versions of the facts that led to this outcome. As I told him by reply,

Your so-called “different view on the events” is classic gaslighting, I’m afraid.
 
I’ve laid out exactly what happened. Nothing is incorrect or made up, at all.
 
In other words, your bullying is continuing right now, right here.

It’s different versions of the same story. Hence the particular resonance I’m experiencing in it; even as I’m at least relieved to know that I’ve never had a computer screen smashed onto my hand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *