Nine Women Accuse Israel Horovitz, Playwright and Mento…

JESSICA BENNETT

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Israel Horovitz at the Gloucester Stage Company in 2009. Nine women have come forward to accuse the playwright of sexual assault and misconduct.

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Maisie Crow for The Boston Globe, via Getty Images

In 1986, Maddie Corman was a 16-year-old actress performing Off Broadway as her mother lay dying in a hospital bed, hours after having a stroke. Backstage, Ms. Corman was consoled by Israel Horovitz, the show’s 47-year-old playwright and her mentor. As she prepared to go on, he pressed her against a wall and forcefully kissed her, she said in a recent interview.

Jocelyn Meinhardt was 19 when she began a summer fellowship in 1989 with Mr. Horovitz at the Gloucester Stage Company in Massachusetts, where he was artistic director. She knew Mr. Horovitz; one of his sons, Adam Horovitz, who would go on to fame with the Beastie Boys, had been her high school boyfriend. That first night, she said, Mr. Horovitz drove her in his convertible — its license plate read AUTHOR — to the family home. He locked the door, then kissed and fondled her. She began to cry. Mr. Horovitz then led her to his bedroom, where she said he raped her.

In 1991, when Frédérique Giffard was 16 and an au pair for Mr. Horovitz, she said he groped her breasts and placed her hand on his erect penis. And last year, Maia Ermansons, then 21, said that when she met to discuss a theater project with Mr. Horovitz — whom she had known since she was a girl — he kissed her hard and cupped her breasts, remarking how “large and beautiful” they had become. Stunned, she replied, “Thank you.”

“I felt close to him like a grandfather, but also he was a somewhat famous guy whose time I felt privileged to have,” Ms. Ermansons said in an interview. “For the man who represented all that, to treat me the way he did, was the ultimate betrayal.”

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Maia Ermansons, in blue and No. 6, in Barefoot Theater Company’s production of Israel Horovitz’s “The Race Play” in 2007.

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via Maia Ermansons

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Ms. Ermansons, left, who has known Mr. Horovitz since she was 11, and Jana Mestecky, who worked for him, both say Mr. Horovitz kissed and groped them against their will.

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Emily Andrews for The New York Times

Inspired by the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K. and others, a total of nine women have come forward publicly for the first time to describe a pattern of sexual abuse and violations of trust by a man they considered a mentor and friend. Mr. Horovitz is an award-winning author of more than 70 plays, including “The Indian Wants the Bronx” (starring Al Pacino in 1968); “Park Your Car in Harvard Yard” (on Broadway in 1991); and “Out of the Mouths of Babes,” which ran Off Broadway last year.

Over his five-decade career, Mr. Horovitz has been an influential player in the theater world. As the founding artistic director of Gloucester Stage, a respected regional theater that called itself a “safe harbor for playwrights,” and as an Obie-winning writer whose work was produced frequently in New York and Paris, he has had the power to offer roles, jobs or a helping hand to generations of actors.

In response to questions this week, Mr. Horovitz, 78, told The New York Times that while he has “a different memory of some of these events, I apologize with all my heart to any woman who has ever felt compromised by my actions, and to my family and friends who have put their trust in me. To hear that I have caused pain is profoundly upsetting, as is the idea that I might have crossed a line with anyone who considered me a mentor.”

His son, Adam Horovitz, said in his own statement: “I believe the allegations against my father are true, and I stand behind the women that made them.”

Mr. Horovitz’s behavior around women had long been the subject of whispers. But since at least 1993, Gloucester Stage officials had known it was more than mere speculation: that year, Mr. Horovitz was the subject of an exposé in The Boston Phoenix in which 10 women accused him of sexual harassment and assault. The women’s names were not disclosed in the article. At the time the board’s president, Barry Weiner, dismissed the accusations and described some of the women speaking out against Mr. Horovitz as “tightly wound.”

Last week, the theater cut ties with Mr. Horovitz after learning of the accusations by Ms. Ermansons.

“I apologize to the brave women who came forward in 1992 and 1993 but were not listened to,” Elizabeth Neumeier, the Gloucester board’s current president, said in a statement. “We are individually and collectively appalled by the allegations, both old and new.”

A Mentor, Until He Wasn’t

The nine women who spoke with The Times described Mr. Horovitz as a complicated man who was, at times, a charismatic mentor and empathic friend. He taught at several universities and nurtured young writers, was generous with his wisdom and dazzled with tales of his famous friends. “He was very dynamic and a real creative force,” said Ms. Corman, the actress.

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Maddie Corman with Jonathan Marc Sherman, center, on the set of the 1986 production during which she said Mr. Horovitz kissed her forcefully. She was 16 at the time. Mr. Sherman, in whom she confided at the time, corroborated her story.

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via Maddie Corman

But he also preyed on them, the women said, striking in moments of vulnerability and manipulating his role as director — as auteur — to take advantage of young women who were professionally dependent on him and often working far from home.

“He was a good mentor, until he was the worst, probably most nightmarish mentor you could have,” Ms. Meinhardt said.

The relationship was complex for Ms. Meinhardt. She said that after she was raped, she continued to work for Mr. Horovitz and went to extreme lengths to avoid being alone with him. But it was impossible: He was her boss. She said she and Mr. Horovitz had sex on two other occasions — consensual, she said, “in that I didn’t say no clearly.” Like some of the other women, she stayed friendly with him for years.

The nine women recounted experiences with Mr. Horovitz that had chilling similarities. Each woman’s story was corroborated independently by people in whom they confided.

Kathleen Nickels was the subscription manager of the Gloucester theater when she was 21, during the 1985-86 season. There, she said, Mr. Horovitz would corner her when she was in the office alone, kiss and fondle her, and once forced her hand down the front of his pants.

Elizabeth Dann and Laura Crook were also in their 20s when they were an actress and an understudy in a 1990 Gloucester production of “Strong-Man’s Weak Child,” which Mr. Horovitz wrote and directed. Along with Kim Senko, the technical director, the women created a “buddy system” to avoid being alone with Mr. Horovitz, who they say harassed them repeatedly. Ms. Senko recounted how he pushed her against a wall in a dark hallway as she locked up the theater and shoved his hand down her pants as he pressed his mouth on hers.

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Laura Crook, left, and Kim Senko in Gloucester, Mass., where they once used a “buddy system” to avoid being alone with Mr. Horovitz at the Gloucester Stage Company.

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Erik Jacobs for The New York Times

Ms. Dann said Mr. Horovitz once advised her to go home, get naked, powder her face white, put red lipstick on and masturbate while she practiced her monologue in the mirror. Another time as they rehearsed the monologue alone, at Mr. Horovitz’s request, he lunged forward, backing Ms. Dann into a wall and forcing his tongue into her mouth. “I said, ‘Oh my god, what are you doing?’ And he said, ‘Oh no no no, respond in character,’” she recalled. The more she spoke up, she said, the more he wielded his power, like putting in her understudy and threatening to replace her with another actor.

Jana Mestecky worked for Mr. Horovitz in her 20s between 1994 and 1996, first as an assistant and later a stage manager. She said that Mr. Horovitz would summon her to his house to drop off scripts — then answer the door naked. He kissed her, fondled her and groped her from behind as she worked, she said, often telling her she “wouldn’t get anywhere with such ‘twisted Southern morals.’” (Ms. Mestecky grew up in Alabama.)

“I respect Israel immensely,” Ms. Mestecky wrote in a journal entry dated February 1994. “Unfortunately he has fallen, like Icarus, from his pedestal.”

A Dream Crusher

For a brief time, it seemed like Mr. Horovitz might face consequences. Prompted by an anonymous note, Bill Marx, a freelance theater critic for The Boston Phoenix, published articles in 1993 about sexual misconduct accusations against Mr. Horovitz from seven actresses and Gloucester staff members and three nannies.

Mr. Horovitz called the claims in The Phoenix “character assassination.” The board’s then-president, Mr. Weiner, who is a lawyer, told The Phoenix that he had spoken to several female employees who had talked of unwelcome hugs and kisses by Mr. Horovitz — but that those descriptions did not fit the legal interpretation of sexual harassment. The women, he said, were “tightly wound, if you know what I mean,” adding that such accusations were tossed around “like manhole covers.”

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The Boston Phoenix article on Mr. Horovitz in 1993.

In an interview, Mr. Weiner characterized those 1993 comments as “less-than-sensitive.” He recently stepped down from an advisory panel at the Gloucester theater.

Mr. Marx, the Phoenix writer, said the story “just seemed to fade away.”

“There were some people who just wrote this off as, ‘Oh, he’s just a little too kissy, a little too touchy, this is just show business,’” Mr. Marx said. “No, he was assaulting them.”

All of the women interviewed by The Times processed their experiences differently. Ms. Meinhardt wrote a play based on it. Ms. Crook journaled. Ms. Giffard, the au pair (and now a lawyer in Paris) kept copies of the faxes Mr. Horovitz and his wife, Gillian Horovitz, had sent her mother, arranging her return to France. (In one, $92 was requested for the cost of a flight change.)

In 2009, Ms. Meinhardt and Ms. Giffard separately confronted Mr. Horovitz about the abuse.

“I said, ‘I was 16 and he was 52, and that the whole thing was completely wrong,’” Ms. Giffard said. “He said he hadn’t realized that he had harmed me. He weakly apologized.”

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Frédérique Giffard said that when she was 16, Mr. Horovitz groped her breasts and placed her hand on his erect penis.

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Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

Mr. Horovitz continued to gain stature over the years. In honor of his 70th birthday, in 2009, the Barefoot Theater Company in New York organized “The 70/70 Horovitz Project” — a yearlong, worldwide performance of 70 of his plays. In 2014, he made his feature film directorial debut in “My Old Lady,” starring Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith. According to his website, Mr. Horovitz is the most-produced American playwright in French history.

But then the Weinstein revelations began. One after the next, the women found themselves typing “Israel Horovitz” into their computers. What they found was Ms. Ermansons, who had written her accusations about Mr. Horovitz on Facebook and Twitter.

In the post, Ms. Ermansons said Mr. Horovitz — whom she regarded “as an honorary grandfather” — had “pulled me onto his lap and licked my lips and tried sticking his tongue in my mouth several times.” She said he told her: “No great woman has ever become great by being a good girl.”

“I felt frozen,” she said in an interview. “I said, ‘I have a boyfriend,’ and he said, ‘I have a wife.’ And then he sort of looked at me, and he was like, ‘You know I’m doing this for you, right? I’m doing this because I love you Maia, do you know that I love you?’ And it goes on and on. I didn’t know if it was a threat or a proclamation.”

A few months later, Ms. Ermansons received a voice mail message from Mr. Horovitz, apologizing for the “terrible, terrible misunderstanding.” She saved it as an MP3.

Soon the women began to find one another. They said they have drawn strength, even a measure of peace, by sharing their numbers.

And yet there is an element of stolen ambition to it all. Ms. Meinhardt was a dramatic writing student at New York University at the time of the alleged assault. Afterward, she won her class’s senior playwriting award and was the recipient of a prestigious scholarship. But she also struggled with depression and writer’s block.

The other women faced different versions of the same. Ms. Mestecky took a year off and moved home. Ms. Nickels left theater altogether. Ms. Dann veered from theater to more commercial work.

“I heard a word used recently about people like this — they’re dream crushers,” Ms. Dann said. “He took this thing that was such a beautiful thing, this young hope, this sense of promise, and he just ruined it.”

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