Thursday, May 01, 2014

Turn It Off, Like a Light Switch

It would appear that the case of sexual predation of teenage boys leveled against certain powerful figures in Hollywood is getting wider. The lawyer at the heart of this case, controversial Florida-based attorney Jeff Herman, is quoted as saying of the new plaintiffs, “They are ready to come forward” and that the case “cuts across all of Hollywood: studios, agents, directors, producers, and actors.”

"And," I thought to myself, "managers."

It was the early eighties. I was thirteen years old. While shepherding me to one weird child-actor event or another, my mother developed a casual friendship with a manager escorting his young clients to the same activities.  "Mitchell" was funny, witty, well-educated; exactly the sort of person you rarely get in a room full of people who happily describe themselves as "Momagers." My mother stayed in touch with Mitchell, to the point where they became friends. We'd go to his house for barbecues. It wasn't onerous for me; there were always kids for me to hang out with. Actually, there were always boys for me to hang out with. Mitchell only represented boys between the ages of twelve and about sixteen, young-looking, similar in features, hairless. I knew they were hairless not only because I’d see them swimming on those hot afternoons but because Mitchell had big blow-up pictures of them mounted throughout the house, brooding into camera, hair swept just so, shirtless and in cut-offs. The pictures were all taken by "Patrick," who had been Mitchell's client when he was in his early teens but was now a professional photographer. Patrick lived in the house with Mitchell, as did a rotating collection of younger boys, shuttled into Los Angeles for months at a time by their parents, to attend school and audition for Hollywood. In all the time I knew Mitchell, I don't remember a single boy getting a part above a walk-on. After a couple of years, they'd stop living there and be replaced by yet more boys, fresher boys.

There was one boy, though, who stayed past the usual sell-by date. I liked "Bryan". He was a couple of years older than me, gentle and funny, easy company to be around.  When I was about sixteen, my mother told me that Mitchell had discovered Bryan had been using drugs in the house. She said that while Mitchell had tried to help Bryan, Bryan had run away and was living on the streets. Two years later, I heard that Bryan had come back to live with Mitchell. We came over and saw him; he was as gentle and funny as always. He was also dying. Bryan was the first person my age I knew who died of AIDS. 

I never saw Mitchell doing anything to those boys. I'll never be called to testify against him or any of the other managers I heard whispered about -- the ones who always seemed to have parentless boys nearby. But here's the thing: I was thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old and I knew something was...weird. Why didn't any adult see fit to question why a grown man needed a constant flow of underage boys? I don't blame my mother for missing what might have been some pretty damning clues. Mitchell was her friend and at that time society understood sexual predators to be strangers in vans. My mom was a recent widow with a teenage daughter so it’s safe to assume all her vigilance was pretty much used up on me. But there were other people who knew Mitchell, and other managers like Mitchell, and as far as I know, no one ever stood up to any one of these grown men and said "This must stop." Like everyone else in town, I knew the names of certain people, the people you'd never let alone with your young sons. And like everyone else, I did nothing. I rationalized. I didn't have evidence. This city loves to gossip. If something was going on, someone would have been arrested by now, right?

And the predators used our desire to avoid social discomfort to continue hurting children. 

Do I think all names we're about to hear will be guilty? Maybe not. Do I think opportunists will make financial hay out of whatever is going to come of this lawyer's case? You betcha. Do I think that some young men who are legally underage are capable of making decisions sexually and may consider a relationship with an adult to have been consensual? Oh, absolutely. But I'll tell you this: when each name of a famous or important person come out, someone in the business is going to read it and think "Yeah. I knew that.” I wonder how many will add “...And I should have tried to stop it."