Throughout the seventies, Harvey Weinstein, his brother, Bob, and their friend Corky Burger worked as concert promoters in upstate New York. In the early eighties, Harvey and Bob decided to try out the film industry. Most movie lovers will know how that story goes. Miramax started out on a very tight budget. After the breakout success of The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, the Weinstein brothers grew their business slowly through the 1980s, producing foreign and artistic films. By the end of the decade, after receiving accolades for The Thin Blue Line and Sex, Lies, and Videotape, they controlled a large and profitable company.
While Miramax was an enormous success, by many accounts it was also a brutal place to work. Myrna Chagnard, who is described in Peter Biskind’s Vanity Fair article “The Weinstein Way” as a “hard woman with a don’t-fuck-with-me attitude,” says she almost had a nervous breakdown after working for Harvey and Bob.
“It almost destroyed me,” Chagnard said. “I went on workmen’s comp and stayed out for three or four months. I was a basket case.”
Former Miramax publicist Mark Urman said, “The culture at Miramax was very fierce. It was all about aggression. Nothing was ever good enough. Nothing was ever enough, period.”
And Eleanor Reznikoff, another former publicist said, “Working there was like having your feet held to the fire. My first experience with Harvey was when he was flying out for a premiere. He would usually arrive the day of the screening, and he called from the plane and said, ‘When my plane lands, if I don’t have 25 tickets in my hand, you’re fired!’”
Employees were genuinely afraid of both brothers. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the scariest, Bob was probably at 9.5. And Harvey? Off the chart.
Alison Brantley, former head of acquisitions, said that when Harvey became angry “he would kind of puff up, like the barometric pressure had changed, so you’d think he was going to explode. . . . It wasn’t like he was going to throw chairs. It was more you thought he was going to go right for you, strangle you.”
Harvey was aware that his behavior was problematic, and he has—more than once—told reporters he knows he is considered an “asshole.” He has blamed his ill temper on a poor diet and once agreed to see an anger management specialist, but he has never offered to hand over the reins of power.
After Disney acquired Miramax for $60 million in 1993, people in the industry hoped the Weinsteins might finally be forced to change their tune—that their new corporate bosses would surely demand they curb the cruelty and tone down the outrage. Alas, this never happened: as long as Miramax continued to generate box office hits and profits—which they did—Disney let the brothers run things the way they always had.
If anything, things got uglier. In 2000, Harvey reportedly dragged a New York Observer reporter out into the street and shouted, “It’s good that I’m the fucking sheriff of this fucking lawless piece-of-shit town.”
Top Disney executives may have considered the Weinstein brothers “pigs,” as one observer put it, but because they attracted Hollywood’s top talent—and made piles of money—they were left alone. There were no repercussions for the Brothers Mean.
It’s not uncommon for top executives and board members who work with men like Harvey and Bob Weinstein to look the other way. For most, this level of raging, threatening, and generally acting like petulant boys in ill-fitting suits wouldn’t fly. But the main objective in the highest echelon of Hollywood is to generate growth and profits, and values such as basic civility and common courtesy come second—or last.
Running people into the ground until their physical or mental health is at risk is a practice not uncommon to mean men like Harvey Weinstein, and people do stick around—until they literally can take no more.
It’s my opinion that men who can’t fathom the possibility of running a company in a collaborative manner show a lack not just of humanity, but also of emotional intelligence. The Weinsteins might be billionaires, they might have an army of minions, and they might not care one whit that their reputation as SOBs precedes them. The world may remember the Weinstein brothers for their work, but how will they be remembered by those who had the dubious pleasure of their acquaintance?