Literature and Harvey Weinstein

People tend to forget that Harvey Weinstein, now on trial in Manhattan on two counts of predatory assault, two counts of rape, and one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree, was once in the book business as a founder/partner of Talk Miramax Books along with Tina Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker.

The arrangement went like this. In the 1990s, Harvey and his brother, Bob Weinstein, founders of the independent movie house Miramax, had sold out to Disney but still ran the company. Through Miramax, Harvey Weinstein launched Talk magazine with Tina Brown in 1998 (without asking permission of Disney, which was bold and, when the costs got out of hand, problematic). Talk then sprouted the book company, Talk Miramax.

Talk Miramax published about thirty books in its short life. The idea was to find literary properties that would provide content for magazines and movies—it was the magical age of media convergence. Tina and Harvey signed up Simon Schama and Martin Amis and paid $3 million for Rudy Giuliani’s memoir. The spending was lavish.

By 2002, the magazine was caput. The book publishing company lasted a few years longer, as did the idea of media convergence. All of them lost tons of money.

One historical curiosity: before the whole thing collapsed, a former Miramax employee named Rachel Eve Pine published with Talk Miramax what was supposed to be a roman à clef/satire of the Weinstein world. Called The Twins of Tribeca, it billed itself as “an all-access pass to the tantrums, whims, follies, neuroses, and unimaginable egos” of big-time movie people. As far as I can tell without actually reading the thing, the book missed the real story at Miramax. Its genre, “gossip lit,” led by The Devil Wears Prada, didn’t last the aughts, either.

Another historical curiosity: Weinstein himself signed a contract with HarperCollins for a memoir, “an ultimate close-up look at the evolution of Miramax Films into one of the great Hollywood success stories,” with the proceeds supposedly going to charity. That project appears never to have advanced beyond the press release.

These days, of course, Weinstein and Miramax are fueling the #MeToo literary genre, including She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (below), and Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill. (There is also a Harvey Weinstein art therapy coloring book available on Amazon. We’re not sure who would find that soothing except maybe Harvey.)

Meanwhile, media journalist Ken Auletta (author of the interesting but already dated Googled) is finishing up a biography of Weinstein. Expected next year, it will begin with the disgraced mogul’s early days in Flushing, New York, and run right through the Hollywood years to the rape trial.

Auletta has history with Weinstein. He wrote a 2002 profile of the producer for the New Yorker. While reasonably tough, the piece, like The Twins of Tribeca, missed the important stuff. (Aueletta also whiffed on Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos sham, but so did a lot of people).

Why would Auletta want to devote a few years of his life to the biography of a despicable man? Judging from what he has said recently, he intends to use Weinstein as a window on Hollywood, the industry that enabled him, etc. That’s a legitimate story. In fact, that would have been a better framework for Auletta than the cradle-to-grave biography of an asshole, but that’s between him and his publisher.

Sadly, it does not appear that anyone is lined up to write the story of the Weinstein trial which recently opened in Manhattan. It needs a Dominique Dunne or a Jeffrey Toobin, whose brilliant The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson remains one of our favorite works of court reportage. We suspect the publishing world is underestimating what a circus the trial is going to be. The outcome is genuinely up in the air.

One person in the Weinstein orbit from whom we’d like to hear more is Tina Brown. Her The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992, published three years ago, was an engaging and reasonably frank account of her years at that magazine. Weinstein did not figure in that book but one imagines she kept a diary of her time at Talk, too. The Talk Years: 1998-2002 would be a decent sequel.

Or maybe Maer Roshan should write the account of those years. A former Talk employee, he did a great interview with Brown in the Hollywood Reporter in 2017. It begins with this mindboggling scene:

A few days after 9/11, I accompanied Tina Brown and Harvey Weinstein to a smoldering Ground Zero. Our purpose was to distribute food, procured from a nearby restaurant co-owned by Weinstein and Robert De Niro. Weinstein carried a stack of paper plates and Brown clutched a bunch of bananas while I struggled behind them with an enormous vat of hot soup. A bit later, while Harvey chewed on a bagel grabbed from the firemen’s table, Tina, in heels, picked her way across the rubble, scribbling furiously in her notepad.

It was one of many surreal moments during my year as editorial director of Talk, the ill-fated magazine Brown had started with backing from Weinstein’s Miramax. When she hired me, Tina confided that she had been keeping journals since her school years. So I assigned her to pen a monthly diary for the magazine, a task she undertook with zeal. A few days after our first outing she called to announce that she was back at Ground Zero. She’d convinced a rickshaw driver to cart her there, evading the ban on vehicles and most pedestrians.

Roshan goes on to ask Brown questions like: “My first day at Talk, I heard Harvey threaten you on the speakerphone from his yacht in Capri. I wondered why you didn’t quit.” We’d read his take on those times.

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