NOTE FROM LB: Yesterday, longtime friend and co-worker Harry Thomason, producer, director, former member of the Clinton Administration – and one of the influences behind my creation of Cloud Creek Institute for the Arts in beautiful, rugged home state of Arkansas – suggested that his Facebook friends take a look at an article his wife, the incomparable writer Linda Bloodworth Thomason had written for The Hollywood Reporter.
A suggestion from Harry is always something to take seriously, so off I clicked to see what Linda was writing about. The good news is that the article is about show business, not politics so you can all relax. More good news is that it’s extremely timely, well-written, and honest as hell.
The bad news is that it’s painfully honest. But that’s the thing about showbiz. Being part of it can bring great rewards…but the price all too often is, indeed, great pain.
Bottom line: From my point of view, this is a “must-read” for everybody who wants to know what it’s like to succeed in Hollywood. (And, yeah, I probably should have put quotation marks around “succeed.” Anyway:)
by Linda Bloodworth Thomason
“People asked me for years, ‘What happened to you?’ Les Moonves happened to me.”
This is not the article you might be expecting about Les Moonves. It’s not going to be wise or inspiring. It’s going to be petty and punishing. In spite of my proper Southern mother’s admonition to always be gracious, I am all out of grace when it comes to Mr. Moonves. In fact, like a lot of women in Hollywood, I am happy to dance on his professional grave. And not just any dance — this will be the Macarena, the rumba, the cha-cha and the Moonwalk. You get the idea.
I was never sexually harassed or attacked by Les Moonves. My encounters were much more subtle, engendering a different kind of destruction. In 1992, I was given the largest writing and producing contract in the history of CBS. It was for $50 million, involving five new series with hefty penalties for each pilot not picked up.
Designing Women was my flagship CBS show, and Evening Shade had just been lauded as the best new comedy of the season. CBS chairman Howard Stringer and president Jeff Sagansky attended many of the Designing Women tapings, reveling in the show, quoting the lines and giving us carte blanche to tackle any subject, including sexual harassment, domestic violence and pornography. They even greenlighted an entire episode satirizing Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination. It was, to say the least, exhilarating. Little did I know that it would soon all be over.
By 1995, Mr. Stringer and Mr. Sagansky were gone and a new, unknown (to me) president named Les Moonves had taken over. By then, I was producing a new pilot, prophetically titled Fully Clothed Non-Dancing Women. I was immediately concerned when I heard that Mr. Moonves was rumored to be a big fan of topless bars. Then, someone delivered the news that he especially hated Designing Women and their loud-mouthed speeches. He showed up at the first table read and took a chair directly across from mine (actress Illeana Douglas, who later accused him of sexual harassment, sat next to me). Having been voted most popular in high school, I felt confident that I would be able to charm him. I was wrong. He sat and stared at me throughout the entire reading with eyes that were stunningly cold, as in, “You are so dead.” I had not experienced such a menacing look since Charles Manson tried to stare me down on a daily basis when I was a young reporter covering that trial. As soon as the pilot was completed, Moonves informed me that it would not be picked up. I was at the pinnacle of my career. I would not work again for seven years.
During that period, because my contract was so valuable, I continued trying to win over Moonves. And he continued turning down every pilot I wrote. Often, if he would catch me in the parking lot, he would make sure to tell me that my script was one of the best he’d read but that he had decided, in the end, not to do it. It always seemed that he enjoyed telling me this. Just enough to keep me in the game. I was told he refused to give my scripts to any of the stars he had under contract. Then, I began to hear from female CBS employees about his mercurial, misogynist behavior, with actresses being ushered in and out of his office. His mantra, I was told, was, “Why would I wanna cast ’em if I don’t wanna fuck ’em?” And he was an angry bully who enjoyed telling people, “I will tear off the top of your head and piss on your brain…!”