A Former Child Actress On Hollywood And Sexual Assault

Nov 4, 2017
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Charges of sexual improprieties, abuse and rape have toppled several Hollywood executives in recent weeks and snared a growing number of celebrities, actors and media figures. NPR senior vice president of news resigned following allegations of sexual harassment.

Quinn Cummings joins us. She was a child actress nominated for an Oscar for her role as the young daughter in the 1977 film "The Goodbye Girl" and now a writer. She wrote a piece for Esquire.com in which she recollects what sounds like a culture of routinely ignored sexual assault in Hollywood, much of it abusing youngsters. Quinn Cummings joins us now from NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

QUINN CUMMINGS: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: Please tell us about those pool parties that you used to go to at the home of a talent manager, I guess.

CUMMINGS: My mother had a friend I called David in the essay. And he was a funny, charming man. And he always had clients around. He found them out of the state so they would live with him while they were going on auditions. And they seemed to have a lot of shirtless pictures of them around framed. That seemed to be the greatest bit of work that they did - were these shirtless pictures.

And each year, these boys would come and go, and they'd be between the ages of 12 and 16. And there was this feeling that my mother and I would sort of talk around. Is this weird? This is weird, right? No. No, it's David. It can't be weird. And I think there are a lot of people in Los Angeles dealing with that right now of people they have held in their heads where there's a little bit of a galvanic skin-crawly thing, but they also like this person.

SIMON: Course, your article appeared as Anthony Rapp come forward with his charges against Kevin Spacey. Been a few more Kevin Spacey stories that have also come out since then. Without trying to judge the veracity of each and every story, what's the mix of ambition and vulnerability that makes child actors prey?

CUMMINGS: The same thing which puts women at risk in the business, which is economics. For children, there is a small window of opportunity in which a career is going to happen. You are not a child indefinitely. That makes people ripe for abuse.

SIMON: Yeah. And, of course, the child actors and their parents want success, too, don't they? They're ambitious.

CUMMINGS: They're ambitious. They want what it appears is coming easily to everyone else. I was incredibly lucky. My mother was not a stage parent. The boundaries weren't blurred between her career and mine. There are a lot of parents out there willing to look away to let things happen.

The more heartbreaking one to me - no, it's just a different form of heartbreaking - are the parents who are just ignorant to how this business works. And they can be told something like, oh, we all go out to dinner together. Oh, now it's just me and the boy, or now it's just me and the girl.

SIMON: Among the sentences in your article that chilled me was this one - sexual predation has been part of the movie business since "The Great Train Robbery," and since then, it has been systematically swept under the rug.

CUMMINGS: How has it been swept under the rug? Because it's worked. Because the people who have been victimized have benefited from having been victimized, which is they got a part. They moved one step ahead. Or it didn't work, and they were so ashamed. They were just gone.

How many times over the last few weeks with all the stories we've heard have we heard some variation of, I thought I wanted to be an actor and then this thing happened, and I never wanted to be near it again? How many people has this business killed by destroying who they were?

SIMON: Quinn Cummings, thanks so much for being with us.

CUMMINGS: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.