Harvey Weinstein, the brash outsider from Queens who upended Hollywood, has always liked to think of himself as an underdog.
So there may have been no prouder moment for him than the night of March 21, 1999, when he stood on the stage at the Academy Awards accepting the best picture Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love,” which had won in a stunning upset over Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.”
He was at the peak of his power. Running Miramax with his brother Bob, he could turn art-house fare into mainstream hits, mint award nominations at an unprecedented clip and make or break careers.
A 2015 survey of nearly 1,400 Oscar acceptance speeches by the website Vocativ found that Weinstein was thanked more frequently than God.
Yet some of the applause that night came from people who secretly — or not-so-secretly — rooted against him.
Many in Hollywood felt the victory for “Shakespeare in Love” was as much a credit to Weinstein’s costly and bitterly fought Oscar campaign as to the film’s merits.
And some just found him generally loathsome. Weinstein was, and is, as famous for his temper as for his taste. His reputation for re-cutting directors’ movies was so firmly established, it earned him the nickname Harvey Scissorhands.
And, according to a bombshell report in The New York Times last week, he sexually harassed a series of women, including film stars and employees.
Even so, Weinstein reigned for years as one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, inspiring loyalty as well as fear as he changed the movie business in ways good and bad. Love him or hate him, he was a man you wanted on your side.
Harvey Weinstein is now fighting for his survival.
Now, in the wake of the Times report, which detailed decades of sexual harassment accusations and payouts, Weinstein is finding that few in Hollywood want to be on his side.
Weinstein’s influence already had begun to dim considerably in recent years. The Weinstein Co. has faced significant financial challenges, and new, deeper-pocketed competitors — including Amazon Studios, A24, Netflix and Fox Searchlight — have stolen the awards season spotlight.
As soon as the story broke last week, Weinstein issued a statement of apology, took a leave of absence from his company and then threatened to sue the Times. No one publicly came to his defense. Instead, some in Hollywood admitted they were unsurprised by the stories of Weinstein’s treatment of women, saying they had long been an open secret.
“The only thing I’m surprised about,” one former Miramax executive who worked closely with Weinstein told the Los Angeles Times, “is how long it took.”
Weinstein has long embodied both Hollywood’s highest aspirations and its worst impulses, which may explain in part why the allegations against him have had such deep reverberations throughout the industry.
“If I didn’t exist, they’d have to invent me,” Weinstein once said. “I’m the only interesting thing around.”
From the outset of his career, Weinstein cultivated the persona of a Damon Runyon-esque hustler and relentless climber, an updated edition of an old-school studio mogul.
The Weinstein brothers were 20-something concert promoters when in 1979 they started Miramax Film Corp., naming the company after their parents, Miriam and Max.
Hollywood stars accused of sexual harassment and assault
In 1989, the Weinsteins shot to prominence when they bought the rights to release Steven Soderbergh’s “sex, lies, and videotape” not long after the film won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. The event was not just a seismic moment for Miramax, Soderbergh and Sundance; it set the stage for the commercial boom for independent film in the 1990s.
Over the years, numerous other companies tried to replicate the Weinsteins’ formula combining awards victories and box-office success. But none could match Miramax’s record of 249 Oscar nominations and 60 wins in just 15 years or deliver crossover hits such as “The Crying Game,” “The Piano” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” the first independent film to break $ 100 million at the box office.
Weinstein is often credited with creating the modern Oscar campaign, throwing lavish parties to schmooze awards voters and carpet-bombing academy members with VHS screeners to ensure that his movies were not ignored.
But Weinstein’s touch with Oscar fare hasn’t been as sure in recent years. As the motion picture academy’s membership broadened, the increasingly cash-strapped company has found itself losing ground.
Last year, the Weinstein Co. earned six Oscar nominations, including best picture, for the drama “Lion,” but this year’s slate is far less promising, with only the murder mystery “Wind River” as a long-shot hopeful.
Weinstein has fought his way out of tough corners before, always projecting an indomitable spirit. But as the power that once provided a shield to his bad behavior has waned, some believe a lifetime of karma has finally caught up with him.
Three members of the Weinstein’s Co.’s nine-member board of directors have resigned since the report was published. Four others, including Bob Weinstein, released a statement noting the board has ordered an independent investigation into the allegations.
And on Saturday, Weinstein lost two key members of his legal team: attorney Lisa Bloom and crisis manager Lanny Davis.
Now the man who has always seemed to be spoiling for a fight has the biggest one of his life on his hands: a fight not for a gold statuette or box-office bragging rights, but for his own survival.
With David Ng