Thursday, April 18, 2024

Review: Ken Auletta’s “Hollywood Ending” is More Like A Beginning, Finds No “Rosebud Clue” in the Case of Harvey Weinstein


Ken Auletta is a famous and legendary figure in New York literary circles. He’s a respected reporter and researcher and he’s married to one of the biggest literary agents. He writes for the New Yorker. Everyone respects him, especially, apparently, the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd, who wrote him a gushing, embarrassing Valentine in Thursday’s paper. (I felt like I needed to take a shower and smoke a cigarette after I read it.)

Auletta’s been waiting 20 years to write a book about Harvey Weinstein, every since he was stymied in his attempts in 2002. Now here it is. “Hollywood Ending,” with an extensive section of annotations, will be published next Tuesday by Penguin Press. And guess what? I’m mentioned in it, just once, on page 152. Auletta is correct. I never received a penny from Harvey Weinstein (although he says many other reporters did over the years).

“Hollywood Ending” is a surface account of Weinstein’s life, career, accomplishments and dreadful misdeeds. It relies too much on the word of Harvey’s ferret of a brother, Bob, and on existing materials. Auletta is a terrific writer, so he weaves together all this information in a compelling way. But he never lands a punch on Harvey. There’s no smoking gun, no big revelation, nothing new unless you’re interested, again, in what Bob Weinstein has to say. I knew Bob back in the day, he was a bad guy, so I am not buying his wares. (I am convinced he knew everything that was going on, in detail.) But even Bob tells Auletta toward the end of the book: “You’re looking for a Rosebud clue why Harvey did all he did. You’ll never get that.”

Auletta told me when he talked to me two years ago that he was interested in Harvey’s childhood. His reporting there is excellent. He’s also very good assembling jigsaw puzzle pieces from Weinstein’s eventual trial and its aftermath. If you didn’t pay close attention to the trial (and that was me, because of the pandemic and family issues), here’s the blow by blow.

But it’s the stuff in the middle I felt lacking. The Harvey Weinstein story is not black and white. Auletta’s wife, Amanda “Binky” Urban, tells Dowd that the writer only looks for the gray areas. Yet in “Hollywood Ending,” the gray is kind of missing. A lot of people’s names from the Miramax/Weinstein Company era are absent. I mean, a lot. So are a lot of great stories I and others did report about what went on over 30 years. And some things are just wrong — like the great dust up with New York Observer writers took place the night before the 2000 election, not the night of. That kind of thing. I should know. I followed Weinstein into the middle of Church Street in Tribeca as he threatened to kill Observer writer Andrew Goldman.

Everyone who covered Miramax knew Weinstein cheated, cavorted with beautiful young things, that sex was in the air. We figured the women who participated in these exchanges understood the usual ground rules. No one — no one — had any idea violence and force were involved. It never crossed our minds, and none of the women ever said anything until 2015 when an Italian model made claims against Weinstein. (And even that seemed specious at the time given her history).

But reading the book, we still don’t quite know how we got here, why a man who was on the top of the world, with Oscars galore, fame, power, and money had a need to destroy it all, himself, his family. Harvey could be duplicitous, cunning, and underhanded. But he could also rise to heights and occasions like no one else, and achieve greatness. And then there was the hidden sexual violence. Unfortunately, “Hollywood Ending” is more like a beginning, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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