Filmmaker James Toback has long had a bad reputation with women.
Stories about the writer-director often referred to him as a womanizer, but what that actually meant did not become clear until the Los Angeles Times published an investigation Sunday in which 38 women accused the writer-director of sexual harassment.
Within two days those numbers swelled as more than 200 additional women contacted The Times and, in emails and phone calls, recalled encounters with Toback similar to those detailed in the story. The majority of the new accounts, which have not been verified, told of Toback approaching women on the streets of Manhattan, offering them the chance at a part in an upcoming movie, and a wide range of unwanted sexual advances and behavior.
“Today Show” anchor Natalie Morales, wrote on Twitter: “… add one more. Exact same playbook by James Toback when I encountered him near Central Park.”
“In all honesty, I thought he was just a creep hitting on me with the oldest line in the book,” Morales told The Times, after detailing her experience on “Access Hollywood.”
“Like I said on our show I was just lucky. I saw pretty quickly what he was up to,” she added.
The Los Angeles Police Department has fielded numerous phone calls related to Toback in the last few days, said LAPD Det. Danetta Menifee.
She said the department’s special assault section of its Robbery-Homicide Division is currently sorting through the calls to determine the nature of the complaints and where the encounters occurred and if the LAPD is going to conduct an investigation.
A spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said women are being encouraged to call the office’s sex crimes hotline number in relation to Toback, who lives in New York. Several of the women included in The Times’ investigation confirmed they had contacted the district attorney’s office in the past week to file complaints.
Meanwhile, Toback’s longtime agent, former ICM chief Jeff Berg, terminated his relationship with the filmmaker over the weekend, according to a spokesperson for Berg’s Los Angeles firm, Northside Services.
The Times’ story detailed a pattern of behavior, carried out over four decades, in which Toback approached women in New York and Los Angeles, boasting of his movie credits and relationships with stars such as Robert Downey Jr. Then, under the pretext of meetings framed as interviews or auditions, he asked explicit questions about the women’s sexual histories, often proposing that they remove their clothes.
The encounters often ended, according to many of the women interviewed, with Toback dry-humping them or masturbating in front of them, ejaculating into his pants or onto their bodies.
Toback, 72, denied the allegations to The Times, saying he had never met the women or, if he did, it “was for five minutes and have no recollection.” He also repeatedly claimed that for the last 22 years it had been “biologically impossible” for him to engage in the behavior described by his accusers.
Reached Monday for response to the additional allegations, Toback declined to comment.
Hollywood reacted to the allegations against Toback with blistering anger. “Guardians of the Galaxy” writer-director James Gunn posted a Facebook screed in which he declared he had been warning about Toback’s sexual come-ons for years.
“He has done this to three girls I’ve dated, two of my very best friends, and a family member... twice. Yes, he came up to her twice with the same stupid line, not realizing she was the same person,” Gunn wrote. “This is in addition to many other women I've talked to at parties or dinners about their interactions with Toback.”
Reactions from Hollywood’s guilds were less definitive.
Toback belongs to the Writers Guild of America, East. A representative for the organization did not immediately respond to an inquiry about any potential action to revoke his membership.
Earlier this month, in the wake of the revelations of similar charges of sexual misconduct against film mogul Harvey Weinstein, the group issued a statement calling his actions “deplorable” and saying the guild “has a role to play in moving our industry in the right direction."
Toback, who has directed a dozen films, has not been a member of the Directors Guild of America since 2005. A representative for the DGA, which announced last week it had filed disciplinary charges against Weinstein, declined to discuss Toback's history with the organization or whether any complaints had been lodged with them about his behavior.
Toback told The Times last Friday that his Directors Guild membership lapsed because he didn’t pay his membership dues.
Toback has not been a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for nearly a decade because he failed to pay his annual dues, an academy spokesperson said Monday. Toback had been nominated for a screenwriting Oscar for the 1991 film “Bugsy.”
The Screen Actors Guild maintains a hotline for its members to confidentially report what it refers to as “safety violations including harassment and inappropriate or aggressive behavior.” The guild declined to state whether it had received such complaints against Toback, citing privacy issues.
Publisher Judith Regan told The Times Monday that allegations against Toback didn’t surprise her. She alleged that he threatened to “ruin her” after she filed a lawsuit against him in July for breach of contract, fraud and unjust enrichment.
Regan said Toback failed to deliver a Hollywood memoir she had paid him to write for her imprint, Regan Arts, four years ago. (Toback declined to comment.)
“He’s completely impossible,” Regan said. “I wish I had never met him and, from the looks of it, I don’t appear to be the only one.”
Times staff writer Josh Rottenberg contributed to this story.