Beyond Weinstein: The Fraught History of the 'Casting Couch' and Hollywood Sexual Harassment

Image of Adolph Zukor via AP Images, badge by Jim Cooke.
Image of Adolph Zukor via AP Images, badge by Jim Cooke.

As sexual harassment and assault accusations mount against Harvey Weinsten, the old trope of the casting couch—a tidy way of referring to female actors sleeping with powerful producers to get better roles—has been once again brought into focus. But is the phrase itself merely a cute rephrasing of the abuse women performers have faced since, well, forever?

This week on DirtCast, we welcome our dear coworker—and resident amateur historian—Kelly Faircloth to discuss her recent research into the history of the casting couch, something with roots that go at least as far back as the restoration, but truly took hold during the golden age of Hollywood. She finds that the casting couch was equal parts a real threat, a chance to diminish the talent of women actors (by attributing their success to sex), and a dog whistle to keep the young women of the ’20s and ’30s from moving to the big bad city in search of financial independence.


“There was so much cultural concern in the early ’20s about our girls,” Kelly says. “You see this in so many different ways—you see this in the flappers, you see this in eugenics type scientific racism, you see it in all these places with this anxiety of what’s happening to our girls?!, ...And it played really well for newspapers to be like, Look at Hollywood Babylon! Look at Sodom and Gomorrah!

Turns out (as most women already know), abusers are everywhere—whether you go to Hollywood or stay on the family farm. On that happy note, listen to the episode!

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Our show is produced by Levi Sharpe with editorial oversight by Kate Dries. Mandana Mofidi is our Executive Director of Audio. Our theme music is by Stuart Wood. This episode was mixed by Jamie Collazzo. Listen to our politics podcast, Big Time Dicks, here.

Managing Editor, Jezebel