My book writing career started when Michael Korda, editor in chief of Simon & Schuster, bought a novel about a hyper inflationary catastrophe à la Weimar, co-written with my father, Herbert Stein. That was in about early 1976. The book was called On The Brink. It came out as the U.S. was facing high inflation and was well reviewed and sold decently.
Then I wrote a book about the interesting way that the political views of producers and writers about the military, business owners, clerics, wealthy people in general, meshed seamlessly with the negative way they were portrayed on TV shows. That was bought and published by Basic Books. It was blasted in the liberal media but loved by conservatives. That came out in about 1977 and had required a lot of research. It had the title, The View From Sunset Boulevard.
I then wrote a humorous diary, DREEMZ, of my first year as a scriptwriter in Hollywood. The name came from the license plate of my snazzy car. It was well reviewed. A kind man at the New York Times called it “stunning.” That came out in about 1978. It had a lot of sex stories in it, although none at all graphic. I well recall sending it to my beloved Mother, whom I called for her reaction. “This isn’t your mother,” she said, “your mother is in shock.”
That was in about 1979. I was hard working.
A famous editor contacted me and asked if I wanted to write a book for his house. Indeed, I did. I had already started research on a three generational saga (they were big at the time) about a wealthy Los Angeles family. I pitched the story, which began with an immense brush fire that burned the Malibu Beach Colony. The fire had been started by two teenage boys smoking pot — then illegal — and rolling over on their motorbike in a field of dried grass.
The editor loved the idea we discussed and contacted my agent and made a deal that seemed to me to be generous at the time. I started work on it and quickly wrote about 50 pages. I was then living in Los Angeles. My pages flew off to my editor and he called me to say he’d like to see me about it next time I was in New York but in the meantime to get him a first draft as soon as possible. He was enjoying it. “It’s like the story of a royal family,” he said.
In a few days I boarded my plane and headed off to see my editor. It was winter and it was cold. I was staying, if I recall rightly, at The Berkshire Place hotel, but I could have that wrong.
I had dinner with my editor and he drank a fair amount and then told me he had some issues with my pages and could he discuss them with me. “Of course,” I said. “I can come to your office any time.”
He replied that since we were both there, we might as well go over it immediately. I said I would go to my room and get my manuscript. He said he’d like to come with me. I suggested he wait and we work in the lobby but he said it was all very hush hush and we should go to my room.
We did and I took out my pages and handed them to him as he sat at a coffee table. “The problem,” he said, “is that I just don’t like this very much. I think it’s not your best work.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “If you wouldn’t mind, can we go over it in your conference room at your office?”
“I know we can get it straightened out,” said the editor. “But it’s starting to snow and it’s late and maybe we can work on it right now. Or in the morning. I don’t like to travel in the snow.”
“The morning is fine,” I said.
“Look,” he said, “let’s just stay here in your room tonight and sleep on it and then go over it in the morning.”
“I don’t think so,” I told him. “As you can see, there’s only one bed here.”
“I know, but this is just between us and I know we can make this into a big seller but I really want to stay here with you tonight in your room.”
With that, he grabbed my forearm and gave me a squeeze.
“No,” I said. “I’ll call the desk and see about getting you a room but you are positively not sleeping with me in my bed in my room tonight or any other night.”
“We could do great things with this,” he said. “But it’s got to be a two-way street.”
“No,” I said. “I’m tired and I think you had better go now.”
“You don’t understand,” he tried again. “I’m in charge. I can make things happen. Otherwise, it’s just a bad book and I’m not sure we can go forward with it.”
“With all due respect,” I said, “it’s time for me to go to sleep, by myself.”
He mournfully left. His secretary called me the next day to tell me he would not have time to see me on this trip. Within a week, my contract had been killed. I never talked to the editor again, God bless his soul. I was making a living writing scripts so I did not need the money and I was unhappy with the whole issue of the book by then. Somewhere in a file cabinet, those pages about the teenagers on their bike starting a fire must languish. But it gives me a feeling of empathy for the women now coming forward in the wake of the Weinstein affair. It feels awful to have power used against you in an attempt to get sex. It feels just rotten.
Much more recently, my life has shifted so that I give a great many speeches for a fee. About eight years ago, I had dinner in an important East Coast city with a woman lecture agent from a powerful agency. I don’t drink, but she certainly did. She was not young and she got visibly very drunk. I hate being around drunk people so I told her I had to leave. “I hear you have a fabulous apartment near here,” she said. “I’d like to see it.”
“I’ll show it to you tomorrow,” I said.
“No, I want to see it now.” We had a car and driver who apparently spoke little English. “I want to go there and f–k you. Right now. You have no idea how much good I can do you.”
“Out of the question,” I said. “I have a wonderful wife and I am devoted to her. And I’m tired and it’s just not my thing.”
“She never has to know.”
“No,” she insisted. “Let’s go right now.”
“Out of the question,” I said and, since we were very close to my apartment, I said, “I’ll just get out right now. Good night and you might want to try AA.”
She started to cry as I got out of the car. I heard she was fired for misconduct a few months later, although the complaints certainly had not come from me. This is the first time I have ever written about either of these cases. The lecture agency has behaved extremely well to me. Whatever anger she felt about being scorned did not translate into missed speeches, as far as I could tell.
Now, I am an older, plump man. But at one point I was a thin, stylish young man and I got attention. But I didn’t want attention then and I don’t want it now from men or women who want to use economic power to get sex from reluctant persons. It just feels creepy. My heart goes out to the women under Mr. Weinstein’s spell who suffered. Sex is one thing. Compulsion is another.
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