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Arts & Entertainment

Following accusations that Warner Bros. CEO traded film roles for sex, a look at the long, lurid history of the Hollywood casting couch




Kevin Tsujihara, then CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., speaks at Warner Bros. Pictures' “The Big Picture”, an Exclusive Presentation Highlighting the Summer of 2015 and Beyond at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas during CinemaCon.
Kevin Tsujihara, then CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., speaks at Warner Bros. Pictures' “The Big Picture”, an Exclusive Presentation Highlighting the Summer of 2015 and Beyond at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas during CinemaCon.
Michael Buckner/Getty Images for CinemaCon

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Long the elephant in the room that everyone knew existed but few would willingly acknowledge, the Hollywood casting couch has been an unfortunate yet undeniable part of moviemaking for almost as long as the film industry as we know it has existed in Los Angeles.

From the organization of the major studios in the 1920s on, the blueprint has been more or less the same: men in powerful positions in a male-dominated industry offering the role of a lifetime to a young actress who maybe just moved to L.A. or has been grinding for years to make it as an actress part time. All she had to do was sleep with him in return.

The latest instance of this comes after The Hollywood Reporter’s story that broke earlier this month detailing text messages between Warner Brothers CEO Kevin Tsujihara and a young actress who he said he’d push for roles for amid a sexual relationship the two were apparently having. On Monday, Warner Bros. announced that Tsujihara would be stepping down from his role. They did not name a successor.

Tsujihara told Warner staffers in a memo that he had spent the past week and a half “reflecting on how the attention on my past actions might impact the company’s future” and that it had “become clear that my continued leadership could be a distraction and obstacle to the company’s success.” He did not deny the allegations in his memo, but his personal attorney told THR that Mr. Tsujihara “had no direct role in the hiring of this actress.” She did land roles in the 2016 WB film “How To Be Single” and 2018’s “Ocean’s 8.”

What is the history of the “casting couch” in Hollywood? Can it be traced back to a single person or studio, or is it more a product of a different time in Hollywood history? How prevalent is the “casting couch” in the industry today, more than a year after Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo?

Guest:

Cari Beauchamp, Hollywood historian, documentary filmmaker and and author of several books, including “Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood” (UC Press, 1998); she tweets @caribeauchamp