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Hollywood knew all about Scott Rudin's bullying: Why didn't they stop it?

Producer Scott Rudin and Trent Reznor.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This week, The Hollywood Reporter published their investigation into the alleged bullying and occasionally violent behavior of mega-producer Scott Rudin. The report into Rudin, who is arguably best known for producing films like Lady Bird, The Social Network, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, described him as "an absolute monster." Many former employees described working with him as a traumatizing experience. One alleged incident involved Rudin apparently smashing an Apple computer monitor on an assistant's hand in a fit of rage after they failed to get him a seat on a sold-out flight. One former executive alleged that she was fired because of her medical condition and that Rudin "threw a laptop at the window in the conference room [...] then another time he threw a glass bowl at [a colleague]." Playwright Jeremy O. Harris said that Rudin was "loudly racist" while others claimed that the producer would take away credits from employees when they quit out of pure spite.

These are immensely serious allegations, and the sheer glut of them detailed in The Hollywood Reporter’s piece makes for an unnerving read. What makes it all the more insidious is how, for those in the know, these stories were utterly unsurprising. The temper and bullying of Scott Rudin have been as open an industry secret as stories of Ellen DeGeneres’s meanness. Indeed, Rudin’s reputation has been detailed numerous times before in various high-level publications. In 2014, The New York Post called him "Hollywood's biggest a-hole" following the leaked Sony emails wherein he was found to have attacked numerous stars. The piece claimed that Rudin "has pushed assistants out of moving cars" and that the average Rudin employee lasts "four weeks." A 2019 write-up called him "the most feared man in town." A 2005 Wall Street Journal profile came with the headline "Boss-zilla!" Rudin himself estimated the number of assistants he had fired through in the previous five years at 119. Nobody has ever said that Scott Rudin was a nice guy. The stories have been consistent for a long time now: Not only is he hard to work for, but the chances are you'll be humiliated and possibly put in harm's way under his employment.

While reports on Rudin’s vile treatment of his employees are nothing new, this piece by The Hollywood Reporter feels like the first time that nobody has tried to spin his bullying as “tempestuous” or some sort of fun quirk of his industry prowess. We saw this journalistic euphemizing in full view with Harvey Weinstein before the 2017 investigations that fully exposed his systemic abuses and led to his downfall. He was nicknamed “the big bad wolf” on the cover of Rolling Stone. Journalist Peter Biskind once described a moment where Weinstein reportedly put a writer from the New York Observer in a headlock. Even before the details of him sexually harassing staff and haranguing them into signing NDAs became front-page news, it was common knowledge that working for Miramax or The Weinstein Company under his rule was, to put it kindly, difficult.

With Rudin, Weinstein, and other powerful Hollywood men, this belligerent behavior was consistently downplayed or shrugged off as the price you had to pay to be successful in a tough business. Indeed, it’s a myth as old as Hollywood itself. Louis B. Mayer, the co-founder of MGM, had a notorious temper who allegedly coaxed his actresses into sexual relationships and even groped a teenage Judy Garland. David O. Selznick, perhaps best known for producing Gone with the Wind, terrorized that film's cast during production and barraged the director with endless memos about Vivien Leigh's breasts. Harry Cohn, President of Columbia Pictures, demanded, or at the very least expected, sex from actresses in exchange for employment. That doesn’t even take into account the endless stories of “genius” filmmakers who berated cast and crew, threw objects at people’s heads, or generally bullied their way through productions, all in the name of their supposed art.

We have been smothered over the decades by these reports, and the past few years have seen the cycle continue as investigations revealed the deep-rooted toxicity at the heart of the industry. What remains so scary is how predictable so much of this has been, even as it remains shocking. Hearing that Scott Rudin allegedly injured an employee with a computer screen remains horrifying, but when you’ve heard years’ worth of stories about his rampages, and read the man himself brag that he’s tough to work for, does it really surprise you?

What has made Rudin in particular a Teflon figure when it comes to his extensively discussed nastiness? The matter is dishearteningly simple: he makes a lot of people a lot of money. His films are successful. He’s one of the most profitable producers on Broadway right now thanks to record-breaking hits like Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. He’s one of the few living people to have won the EGOT. His roster of upcoming movies includes titles from beloved auteurs like Joel Coen and Wes Anderson. Too many people have too much money riding on Scott Rudin for him to truly face the consequences of his action. For all the hubbub over the entertainment world changing its tune in a post-#MeToo world, we haven’t seen much tangible action to back up the pretty-sounding statements of humility. Weinstein is in jail but that’s it, and now we face bad-faith screeds about supposed “cancel culture” coming for accused men rather than concern for the victims.

It’s tough to admit but one of the reasons that Weinstein fell from grace is because, at the time of his exposure, he was in a weakened state. The Weinstein Company hadn’t had a hit in a while. There were no Oscar hits in the making. Filmmakers weren’t lining up to work with him like they did in the ‘90s. That’s not to say that he wasn’t still incredibly powerful or capable of using his clout to hurt those he abused, but he wasn’t useful anymore, not like he was when he could guarantee you awards recognition and box office profits. Scott Rudin is still extremely useful. His name may be tainted now but not so much that Hollywood will ignore him. They knew what he was like, but he wasn’t allegedly throwing phones at A-list stars or leaving them traumatized. As long as it was only the naïve college grads under the age of 25 bearing the brunt of his cruelty, everyone else could play blissful ignorance.

Being a victim of bullying, abuse, and harassment is still seen as an expected workplace hazard for many in the entertainment world. It’s seen as the price you pay to get onto the road to success. Buck it up and accept the screams. If you’re not thick-skinned enough for it then get out of the business. It’s the pernicious lie that has defined Hollywood almost as much as the glitz and glamour, and those at the heart of the industry will let it continue until it becomes too embarrassing to ignore. As of the writing of this piece, nobody has filed charges against Rudin. Until that happens (and it may never actually happen), it’ll be pathetically easy for his colleagues and contemporaries to look the other way.