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Casting couch

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Color black casting couch and a brown table with a cellphone on the top.

Similar  Casting (performing arts) , Film producer , Film industry

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The casting couch, casting-couch syndrome, or casting-couch mentality is the trading of sexual favors by an aspirant, apprentice employee, or subordinate to a superior in return for entry into an occupation, or for other career advancement within an organization. The term casting couch originated in the motion picture industry, with specific reference to couches in offices that could be used for sexual activity between casting directors or film producers and aspiring actors. It is not to be confused with the adult entertainment industry where such actions may be a prerequisite, although many pornographic films and pornographic websites play on the casting couch theme and allude to similarities one may find in casting couch scenarios in the film industry.

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The term is now often used to refer to other industries besides entertainment, though careers which are highly desirable and traditionally difficult to break into, such as the movie, television and music industries, have been the subject of casting couch stories in popular culture. Such trading of favors can be an abuse of power—possibly even statutory rape—and can become a wider sex scandal if deemed newsworthy.

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United States

  • The legend of the Hollywood casting couch coincided with the rise of the studio system in the 1910s. Many moguls were rumoured to have been enthusiastic practitioners and it has been claimed that many actresses attempted, with varying degrees of success, to attain stardom via this route.
  • In her memoir Past Imperfect: An Autobiography (1978), actress Joan Collins described her experience of the casting-couch behaviour of two 20th Century Fox execs in the 1950s.
  • In her memoir Child star (1988), actress Shirley Temple claimed that one producer exposed himself to her in 1940 when she was 12.
  • In her book You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again (1991), Oscar-winning producer Julia Phillips attempted to expose many of the underground Hollywood institutions and confirmed that a "casting couch" mentality was alive and well in Hollywood.
  • In a 1995 article, journalist Peter Keough described Hollywood as "a town where everyone is selling body and soul for fame and fortune and all – especially women – are considered commodities".
  • In a 1996 interview, actor Woody Harrelson declared "every [acting] business I ever entered into in New York seemed to have a casting couch ... I've seen so many people sleep with people they loathe in order to further their ambition."
  • In 2003, Italian actress Asia Argento stated that Hollywood producers expect oral sex from young starlets in exchange for roles. Her semi-autobiographical film Scarlet Diva (2000) features a scene along these lines with painter Joe Coleman playing a lecherous producer.
  • Robert Hofler's book The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson (2005) alleged that one Hollywood agent was a gay casting-couch predator.
  • At a 2005 class reunion, producer Chris Hanley told his former classmates that "almost every leading actress in all of [his] 24 films has slept with a director or producer or a leading actor to get the part that launched her career".
  • In her autobiography Ich habe ja gewusst, dass ich fliegen kann (2006), Austrian actress Senta Berger (b. 1941) claimed that in a New York hotel suite in 1965 a producer (b. 1902) exposed himself to her beneath his silk dressing gown and offered to forgive her for the atrocities of the Nazis if she slept with him.
  • In 2006, a New York City producer was accused of sexually harassing several members of the cast of the off-Broadway play Dog Sees God.
  • In 2007, an article in Vanity Fair denounced Lou Pearlman, disgraced former manager of boy bands such as Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, for improper casting couch-behavior.
  • In 2009, Megan Fox stated that leading film directors made sexual propositions while casting for film roles.
  • In a 2009 interview with OK! Magazine, actress Charlize Theron claimed that when she was 18 she was propositioned at an audition by a pajama-clad Hollywood director. "I thought it was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night at his house in Los Angeles, but I thought maybe that was normal."
  • In a 2009 interview, actor Mickey Rourke declared: "There's definitely something called a casting couch... if you take a girl from the Midwest with a pretty face and instead of inviting them in for an audition in the morning, the directors invite them for dinner at night? ... I can recall with certain women, we'd go out, I'd park the car on Sunset and by the time I'd got to the curb there'd be three or four producers handing them cards. ... There's ways you get a job and ways you get a job."
  • In a 2010 interview with Elle magazine, Gwyneth Paltrow revealed that early in her career a film executive suggested that a business meeting should finish "in the bedroom".
  • In April 2010, actor Ryan Phillippe admitted on the Howard Stern Show that he had had to flee a "creepy" casting-couch session when he was 18 or 19.
  • In a 2010 interview with Access Hollywood, actress Lisa Rinna said a producer had asked her for "a quickie" when she was a 24-year-old candidate for a role on a prominent television series. At the same interview, Rinna's husband Harry Hamlin claimed that a female casting director attempted to seduce him in the late 1970s when he was 27.
  • In 2011, Corey Feldman alleged that children were also victims of the casting couch. Paul Petersen said that some of the culprits are "still in the game" and Alison Arngrim claimed that Feldman and Corey Haim were given drugs and "passed around" in the 1980s.
  • In the November 2012 issue of Elle, Susan Sarandon spoke of a "really disgusting" casting-couch experience in New York City in the late 1960s or early 1970s. "I just went into a room and a guy practically threw me on the desk. It was my early days in New York and it was really disgusting. It wasn't like I gave it a second thought. It was so badly done."
  • Theresa Russell has alleged in multiple interviews that she was propositioned by a legendary producer Sam Spiegel during her first casting session for The Last Tycoon. According to his biographer, Spiegel had previously made liberal use of the casting couch during the making of The Chase (1966).
  • In 2015, in an interview on Access Hollywood, iconic actress Rita Moreno declared that Buddy Adler, former production head for 20th Century Fox studios, made constant calls to her which she refused to accept, as she "knew what he was after."
  • In July 2016, television executive Roger Ailes was accused of sexual harassment by former Fox News Channel anchor Gretchen Carlson. More than twenty other women, including Megyn Kelly and Andrea Tantaros, have since come forward with similar allegations about Ailes' predatory casting couch-like behavior in the television industry over a 50-year period.
  • In October 2016, Cher posted on Twitter that she had had a “scary experience” with an unnamed and now deceased "gross" rich, important film producer at his house. She stated that she walked out and they never spoke again because "no job is worth that".
  • Also in October 2016, Rose McGowan tweeted that she had been raped by a studio head who then bought the distribution rights to one of her films. She was then shamed while her rapist was adulated despite the rape being an open secret in Hollywood.
  • On 1 November 2016, defence lawyers for Bill Cosby, who has been accused of sexual assault by over 60 women, wrote that, "Even if proven (and it could not be), the age-old 'casting couch' is not unique to Mr. Cosby, and thus not a 'signature' nor a basis for the admissibility of these witnesses' stories, let alone a conviction."
  • In March 2017, actress Jane Fonda claimed: "I've been fired because I wouldn't sleep with my boss".
  • Europe

  • On an episode of The Word in 1994, English actress Kate O'Mara claimed American producer Judd Bernard pulled down her panties during a hotel-room audition for the Elvis Presley vehicle Double Trouble (1967). In her autobiography Vamp Until Ready: A Life Laid Bare (2003), O'Mara described this alleged casting couch incident (p. 61) and "many other close encounters with... this very unpleasant and humiliating procedure" (p. 32), including a well-known television casting director (pp. 32–33), the boss of Associated Television at Elstree Studios (pp. 34–35) and the director of Great Catherine (pp. 41–42).
  • In 1998, writer-director Bruce Robinson described how as a 20-year-old young actor he was given a role in Romeo and Juliet (1968) after Franco Zeffirelli went down on him in Rome.
  • In 1998 and 1999, producer Alain Sarde and actor Robert de Niro were two of the high-profile filmmakers involved in two Parisian court cases exposing the borderline between the casting couch and prostitution for aspiring models and starlets.
  • In 2002, actress Lesley-Anne Down (b. 1954) spoke of finding fame in the late 1960s: "The casting couch was in full swing, people expected it... My teen-age years were pretty intense, a lot of pressure and a lot of horrible old men out there". In a 1977 interview, she had also said: "I was promised lots of lovely big film parts by American producers if I went to bed with them... Believe me, the casting couch is no myth". In 2015, Down discussed her experiences of sexual harassment in the 1970s by an unnamed legendary Hollywood actor and also by producer Sam Spiegel, saying that she had never really enjoyed her acting career: "Partly that was because of all the lecherous men, studio executives, producers and directors. There was so much running away and hiding under tables. Anyway, I started when I was ten and I’ve been doing it for 50 years."
  • In 2005, French film director Jean-Claude Brisseau was found guilty of sexually harassing two actresses between 1999 and 2001 during auditions for Choses Secrètes (2002).
  • In 2007, actress Helen Mirren claimed director Michael Winner had treated her "like a piece of meat" at a casting call in 1964. Asked about the incident, Winner told The Guardian: "I don't remember asking her to turn around but if I did I wasn't being serious. I was only doing what the [casting] agent asked me – and for this I get reviled! Helen's a lovely person, she's a great actress and I'm a huge fan, but her memory of that moment is a little flawed."
  • In 2008, actress Ingrid Pitt described the unwelcome advances of two producers in hotels.
  • In August 2012, actress Julie Delpy spoke out about casting-couch paedophiles in France in the 1980s.
  • In October 2012, filmmaker Ben Fellows published claims that the casting couch was rife in the worlds of British television, theatre and advertising when he worked as a child actor and model in the 1980s. He claimed "the problem is both institutional and systemic in the entertainment industry."
  • In 2013, Myleene Klass stated that, "I don't think there's a single person in the entertainment industry that hasn't, at some point, experienced the casting couch thing". Earlier, in 2010, she revealed a major Hollywood star wanted to sign a sex contract with her.
  • In 2013, Thandie Newton told CNN of how, aged 18, she was auditioned by a male director and a female casting director. "The director asked me to sit with my legs apart – the camera was positioned where it could see up my skirt – to put my leg over the arm of the chair and before I started my dialogue, [I was told] to think about the character I was supposed to be having the dialogue with and how it felt to be made love to by this person. It turned out the director used to show that video late at night to interested parties at his house – a video of me touching myself with a camera up my skirt." She declined to name the director.
  • In 2014, it was claimed that incarcerated former public relations guru Max Clifford's "casting couch" at his Mayfair office was "his daughter's specially adapted disabled toilet cubicle".
  • Asia

  • In 2014, actor Shashi Kapoor said that casting couch existed in India in the 1960s for newcomer leading men by established leading heroines. Therefore, he was grateful to star Nanda for not subjecting him to the casting couch when she agreed to star with him when he was an unknown actor.
  • A typical "casting couch" case occurred in India in 2004, when actress Preeti Jain filed a police complaint alleging that film director Madhur Bhandarkar had sexually exploited her for many years and made false promises to cast her in a lead role in his next film. She stated that she was never given any role in any of his films. According to Jain, Bhandarkar repeatedly had sex with her between 1999 and 2004 at Natraj Apartment at Yari Road, Hotel Seaside at Juhu and at Bhandarkar's friend's (Akbar) flat at Mount Mary Road, Bandra.
  • In 2005, India TV's India's Most Wanted, an investigative TV show, caught Indian Idol host Aman Verma and longtime Bollywood actor Shakti Kapoor in a "sting" operation and accused them of abusing their positions to force women to have sex with them. They even produced video evidence of Kapoor making advances to a planted girl, in which Kapoor tells the girl that superstars Aishwarya Rai, Rani Mukerji and Preity Zinta slept with people such as Subhash Ghai, Yash Chopra and Yash Johar to get where they were. Verma, Kapoor and most of the Bollywood industry have defended themselves, calling India TV's claims unfounded and sensational and claim that the video footage of Kapoor is misleading.
  • In 2006, Chinese actress Zhang Yu (张钰) released 20 graphic sex videos that she made herself to document her allegations that she won many of her roles through the casting couch. The videos were released on YouTube but have been subsequently removed.
  • In 2009, Indian actress Suchitra Krishnamoorthi reported an incident in her blog where she narrowly escaped sexual advances from a producer while casting for a film role.
  • In 2009, Korean actress Jang Ja-yeon, star of Boys Over Flowers, committed suicide and left a suicide note claiming to have been beaten by her agent and to have been forced to have sex with media executives, directors, program directors and CEOs.
  • References

    Casting couch Wikipedia


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