Director James Gunn: I tried to warn people about James Toback

Earlier today Ed noted that over the weekend the LA Times published a story saying that director James Toback had been accused of sexual harassment by 38 women. James Gunn, the director of both Guardians of the Galaxy movies, took to Facebook and revealed that he has a family member who was approached by Toback.

When I lived in New York, in the ‘nineties, this dude was EVERYWHERE. I have personally met at least FIFTEEN WOMEN, probably more, who say that he’s accosted them in NYC. He essentially goes up to women and says, “Hey, I’m James Toback, and I’m a famous director, and I feel like there’s a connection between us.” Then he shows them some article on himself or some other artifact to prove he is who he is, and tries to get them to go somewhere else with him.

He has done this to three girls I’ve dated, two of my very best friends, and a family member… twice. Yes, he came up to her twice with the same stupid line, not realizing she was the same person. This is in addition to many other women I’ve talked to at parties or dinners about their interactions with Toback.

Gunn claims he has been warning people about the director for years and thought, until recently, Toback’s career was over:

So I did what I could do in my impotent state – for over twenty years now, I’ve been bringing up James Toback every chance I could in groups of people. I couldn’t stop him, but I could warn people about him.

Recently, I thought the guy had disappeared into obscurity and old age, but then I saw an article in the Huffington Post about him, entitled, “James Toback Gets Us, He Truly Gets Us.” I almost vomited. Did the person who wrote the article even do a basic Google search on Toback? It seemed like he was more current than I had thought, with a movie at the Venice Film Festival starring Sienna Miller. I had hoped his exploits had become well known enough that producers wouldn’t finance his films and actors wouldn’t work with him.

So since then I’ve been hoping the Weinstein/O’Reilly stuff would bring this vampire into the light (him and a couple others, frankly).

That line about “a couple others” suggests Gunn is aware of at least two more individuals who have been carrying on in a similar way. Why won’t he name them? In an addendum to the post, Gunn writes that in the past he’s written about Toback on Facebook and on his personal website but he adds he probably wouldn’t take that risk again (i.e. with someone else).

I put myself in legal jeopardy doing so, and I’m not sure I would do the same today. If I actually SAW something, it would be a different story. But simply sharing secondhand stories is legally complicated, and could open me to being sued.

James Gunn has a lot more to lose than he did a few years ago so it makes sense that he’s concerned about a lawsuit. Also, he says there is no substitute for people with first-hand accounts coming forward to tell their stories. He’s right about that. Hearing second hand that someone said this is different from hearing all the details. One of the women who came forward to describe her interaction with James Toback in great detail is Sari Kamin. A sample of her account:

One night after dinner at Sarabeth’s on the Upper West Side, Toback told me he needed to experience a real connection with me so I was to accompany him to a hotel room. I was scared, and I didn’t want to go but I did. I told myself he wouldn’t hurt me and if I could just get through this part then I was going to be in a movie and I would be a successful actress. I knew I wasn’t willing to sleep with him, but I didn’t know what it was he wanted from me. Maybe just someone to talk to, and I knew I could endure that. I would power through this evening because the outcome would be so worth it.

There is an unspoken understanding in the entertainment industry that if you are truly committed to finding success you will do whatever what it takes. When you’re a woman, this means making sacrifices. Whenever I was with Toback, I sacrificed my comfort. I never not for one moment enjoyed spending time with him, but I did it over and over again because I understood that if I stepped aside there would be someone else standing in my place, watching him slurp down bowls of pasta and listening to him brag about the frequency with which he jerked himself off. I was lucky to be there. I was privileged to be at his table. He had chosen me and my life was going to change for the better. If I could just grit my teeth and pretend I was happy to be there (I was an actress after all) it would all be more than worth it.

And that’s how she wound up in a hotel room getting naked for Toback so he could ponder how to shoot her in nude scenes (he claimed). Like Weinstein, Toback used his Hollywood clout for all it was worth. But Weinstein and Toback are just two of the most extreme cases, i.e. people who did this sort of thing often. But we know from James Gunn there are at least a couple more like this who haven’t been revealed yet. Nor has anyone identified the people who sexually abused actors Corey Feldman and Corey Haim when they were children.