Susan Sarandon speaks out in the November issue of Elle magazine about a harrowing experience she endured during an audition when she was a young actress. “I just went into a room, and a guy practically threw me on the desk,” she tells the magazine. “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.” The incident doesn’t seem to have done any lasting damage to Sarandon’s psyche or her career, but the abuses heaped upon many actresses is still shocking. Sarandon is just one of the well-known actresses in recent years who have shared scary stories of sexual harassment.
Take The Girl, the upcoming HBO docudrama about director Alfred Hitchcock’s creepy obsession with the star of The Birds, Tippi Hedren. The movie shows Hitchcock forcing a kiss on Hedren, demanding that she make herself sexually available to him 24/7, and terrorizing her on set when she refused. Hedren told Andrew Goldman of the New York Times last weekend that he ruined her career in retaliation:
I said, I’ve got to get out of the contract. He said, I’ll ruin your career. And he did. He wouldn’t let me out of the contract. I’d be a really big star if he hadn’t stopped my career. There were so many people who wanted me for their films. All he said was, “She isn’t available.” That’s a mean, mean man.
Hedren says she’s not the only one who Hitchcock abused, but other actresses have declined to speak up.
Gwyneth Paltrow shared her own casting couch experience with Elle a few years ago. “When I was just starting out, someone suggested that we finish a meeting in the bedroom,” she told the magazine. “I left. I was pretty shocked. I could see how someone who didn’t know better might worry, ‘My career will be ruined if I don’t give this guy a blow job!’”
It wasn’t, of course. But it could have been. Lisa Rinna said in 2010 that she lost a major TV role because she “wouldn’t bend over a chair in a producer’s office for ‘just a quickie.’” And most casting couch stories never make it to the gossip blogs. It’s only women who eventually earned enough money and power who are able to openly share their stories and be taken seriously. It’s extremely easy for powerful men to dismiss unknown young women as unreliable fame whores.
Sarandon, for her part, got the last laugh: She’s a gorgeous millionaire Oscar winner, and she’s dating a 35-year-old, um, ping-pong entrepreneur. The man who accosted her is a nameless footnote to a great career.