Jeff Simon: Ken Auletta’s insider tales were captivating in the 60s. They’re even better in his new book on Weinstein | Columnists

Ken Auletta was the first journalist I ever met.

He wasn’t yet a journalist back in 1963-64, though, merely a man who had journalistic gifts. I wasn’t a journalist yet, either. I was a sophomore at Syracuse University, Auletta the resident advisor of an upper floor of Dellplain Men’s Dormitory at the school. He was a graduate student at the university’s Maxwell School at the time.

That school year, the murder of John F. Kennedy in Dallas sent my friend John and me in eager search of intelligent political conversation that we weren’t getting from our contemporaries at the time.

My friend John and I had never heard conversation like Auletta’s before. It was studded with inside information about pols, media types (before Marshall McLuhan succeeded in turning “media” into an everyday word) and – astonishing, to me – business big shots.

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I’d never met a certifiable, card-carrying Manhattan power-monger before. But then, most people hadn’t. While John and I sat in his room jawing away and watching Auletta put punctilious finishing touches on himself for a date later that Friday, I was busy proclaiming my undergraduate enthusiasm for Norman Mailer’s Kennedy journalism in Esquire Magazine (“Superman Comes to the Supermarket.” )

Auletta, post-assassination, was offering a common political insider’s preference for Murray Kempton’s New Republic funeral piece called “Romans,” which I thought was BS at the time, and still do.

John and I were getting a crash course in Manhattan’s view of America’s liberal establishment.

I’d soon meet real working at The Buffalo News. Eleven years later, Auletta would become the chief political correspondent of the New York Post. He had to go through Howard Samuels’ failed campaign for New York State governor before that.

He’s been a major journalist on a perennial rise ever since. Now in his ninth decade, we finally have what may be the quintessential Ken Auletta book, the biggest book of the season, “Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence” (Penguin Press, 465 pp., $30.)

Two pieces of “Hollywood Ending” cracked me up. They were, so help me, like fancy dress versions of what it was like to listen to Auletta talk 60 years ago.

Try the book’s opening “Prologue” paragraph: “Once he exuded power. Films he produced and distributed garnered 81 Academy Awards and 341 Oscar nominations. Only Steven Spielberg was thanked more often from the awards stage. He boasted of his friendships with presidents Clinton and Obama and of the famous actresses he claimed to have bedded. Inside the office, he terrified the four assistants who served his needs and he bellowed at most of his executives.”

Much later – on page 313 – I found a paragraph that seemed like an elegant 21st century version of what John and I listened to in his Dellplain dorm room: “The prosecution of Harvey would be under the direction of Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., sixty-six, a patrician figure raised on the Upper East Side and schooled at Buckley, Groton, Yale. He was the son of Cyrus Vance Sr., a esteemed former law partner of Simpson, Thacher and Bartlett who served three presidents Including as President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of State. A relative, John W. Davis, was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for president in 1924 before going into the establishment white shoe law firm, Davis, Polk and Wardwell.”

There is, to be frank, a notable streak of enervating material in “Hollywood Ending.” Auletta’s white shoe world is one place I’m less than eager to visit often, and so are detailed, aromatic accounts of Harvey Weinstein’s more vile despoilments of the opposite sex.

But make no mistake, this is THE book, for now, about Harvey Weinstein, the most significant figure in American movies of the past 30 years. And it is, probably, the cardinal text thus far about the “Me Too” movement’s most significant career cancellations and the nondisclosure agreements that protect some of the worst offenders.

Because Harvey (for 20 years, he’s been as commonly called by his first name in movies as Madonna) got his start as half of Buffalo’s rock promotion duo Harvey and Corky, Auletta’s book is of more than a routine than interest here, obviously.

Buffalo figures only glancingly in the text. Maki Becker’s News story about Paula Wachowiak’s early career harassment by Harvey — which Auletta speculates is the earliest such event to be publicly revealed — is offset by the ancient problem of New Yorkers deigning to deal with Buffalo doings: wayward local geography. Auletta is under the impression that Mr. Goodbar is downtown and not, in fact, the Elmwood Village mainstay near Buffalo State College it has long been.

These things have to be forgiven though. TV shows set in Buffalo get the city’s east and west sides confused easily, and a biographer of Leslie Fiedler once confidently declared the critic and scholar’s Morris Avenue home to be in the suburbs when, in fact, if you drive across nearby Main Street, you ‘re in Buffalo’s inner city less than a mile away.

Forget the need for a gazeteer outside the city. What you get in “Hollywood Ending” is a hugely authoritative portrait of Harvey Weinstein’s ascent, decline and fall. For now, let’s just call it definitive and leave it at that. A lot of Harvey’s business conquests are intermixed with harrowing Harvey Temper Hoedowns and ugly compulsive abuses of women.

When Auletta did the de rigeur publicity for the book on CBS “Sunday Morning” earlier this month, he ended by saying of 70-year-old prisoner Harvey Weinstein: “He’ll never get out. He should know he deserves to be in prison.” , and I don’t think he does.”

He is, at his age, in failing health. He has, as Auletta told Lesley Stahl, gone from the top of the world to, as he put it, “baked beans.”

I must say that I was fortunate to be able to avoid Harvey as much as possible in the Heyday of Harvey and Corky. Others at The Buffalo News dealt with him when it couldn’t be avoided. I dealt with his much more reasonable and pleasant underlings.

My one pure and loathsome experience with Mt. Harvey the Scalding Volcano was a full, 10-minute blowtorching by Harvey in Abuse Mode in a telephone call he made to the paper when I had the bad luck to be the only member of the Arts Department available to receive it. After 10 minutes of his paint-peeling personal insults and denunciations of the City of Buffalo, he had the gall to tell me everything I’d just listened to was “off the record.”

To which I responded that he could go blank himself and explained that “off the record” only works when you call it BEFORE you spend 10 minutes saying disgusting and objectionable things, not after.

Auletta keeps telling us that he looked for Harvey’s “Rosebud” (a reference to “Citizen Kane’s” tragically lost and symbolic childhood sled) but I think he misses an incredibly obvious explanation for Harvey’s ugly and compulsive mistreatment of women.

Yes, his mother, Miriam (half of where his firm Miramax’s name came from), was abusive and belittling, but rock and roll of the ’70’s ​​was an arena where women were treated, at best, as a very funky groupie joke until proven otherwise. Tales of touring rockers and female throwaways were commonplace.

By the time Harvey was a big cheese in the film business, his ’70s rock culture view of women was grafted onto Hollywood’s ancient “casting couch” culture into a revolting private kingdom where King Harvey could banish a lot of those who succeeded in denying him what he wanted.

Until, that is, the New York Times began the parade of women eager to bury Harvey under the ugly tales that wound up finishing him – Annabella Sciorra, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Rose McGowan, even office underlings and the vaunted “First Lady of Miramax” Gwyneth Paltrow (Harvey’s frequent claim that he slept with her is not only denied by her but backed up by onetime boyfriend Brad Pitt who threatened the mogul when he heard he was abusing her.)

Auletta’s power focus and relentless insiderism from back in the early ’60s has made him a revealing mainstream historian and profiler for the New Yorker and bestselling author.

And in this book, I’d argue he’s got the subject he was born for. In fact, he almost had it years ago when his Weinstein profile in the New Yorker just couldn’t nail down the first early tales of Harvey’s sexual felonies. That required the New York Times and Mia Farrow’s son Ronan, all of whom won Pulitzer Prizes for it.

Auletta knew what he could finally do with “Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence” presenting the story that eluded him. It’s a full portrait, complete with pungent and aromatic details.

Ken Auletta knew back in the early ’60s that gossip becomes actual news when it can be confirmed. And news becomes history when it can be told by those with a gift for telling it that way.

Auletta had the gifts way back when.

He’s 80, ten years older than his subject. He’s long been married to powerful literary agent Binky Urban in one of New York’s more fabled “power couples.” (Her clients have included Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, Walter Isaacson and Nora Ephron.)

Let’s freely admit at his stage of his life, this is the book that pre-selected Auletta. Meanwhile, the book’s subject has still more sexual prosecution to get through in California, along with a life of lockup, physical decline and baked beans.


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