Brownstein: A Montreal man's disturbing encounter with Harvey Weinstein

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John Goldner left Montreal for California decades back to pursue the classic Hollywood dream of fame and fortune. Instead, he had an encounter of the creepiest kind with Harvey Weinstein. With that encounter, went his dream.

The world is now well aware of Weinstein, who is to stand trial in New York in January on charges of rape, sexual abuse and sexual misconduct. Those alleged crimes played a huge role in kicking off the #MeToo movement globally after dozens of women came forward with allegations against the American film producer. Back in the 1980s, though, Goldner had no idea who Weinstein was.

Goldner is the second Montrealer to talk about a disturbing experience with him. Montreal actor Erika Rosenbaum recently went public in a documentary with shocking charges against Weinstein.

Goldner, a screenwriter and author now back living in Montreal, headed to California in 1981 to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena. And he was able to land a few stage roles in nearby Santa Barbara.

But what he felt might have been the opportunity of an actor’s lifetime turned out to be anything but.

“One day in 1984, a hefty man about six feet tall, with a round face and short wavy hair, slipped into Santa Barbara,” recalls Goldner, 64, in an interview. “Then he began posting notices on various bulletin boards downtown and at the city college. It was an open casting call for Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.”

Goldner had three auditions with the man, whom he was then unable to identify.

After the second audition, Goldner learned he had landed the pivotal part of Happy Loman. But following an alarming experience with the director/producer, Goldner realized that the production was never going to happen, that it was all a ruse.

John Goldner is the second Montrealer to come forward with a disturbing tale about American film producer Harvey Weinstein. Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette

It was only two years ago — in a chance Facebook exchange with an old Santa Barbara friend, another would-be cast member in the play — that Goldner learned the director/producer was none other than Harvey Weinstein, well before he was to garner international fame.

“I briefly recounted to him what happened to me at the second encounter. I was successful in getting the Happy Loman role and was asked to come back a third time for a table read, which is customary procedure. That went fine, and at the end of the table read, I was called aside by this director. He said he would like to get together with me and the actor playing my brother for a preliminary rehearsal to work on our relationship.”

The director/producer asked Goldner and the other actor if they would be available in a few nights. They were.

“He began by asking us to lie on the floor to start with some relaxation exercises, which, again, was not entirely unreasonable for actors to do. So we complied, lying down on our backs with our heads facing away from him. But then he asked us to raise our pelvises in the air as high as we could.  I thought that sounded a little strange as an acting technique.

“I couldn’t see him. But I complied for a few seconds, before deciding to look, and tilted my head beyond my torso to see what he was doing. He was sitting in a chair next to us and masturbating.

“I jumped up immediately and shouted that he was a pervert. The other actor bolted immediately. I was very, very upset. I confronted him verbally. I wanted to hit him, but he was pretty big. So I just left the room. I realized then the production was bogus and that he had no intentions of putting the play on. But I didn’t tell anybody, the police or any of my friends.”

Goldner returned to Montreal a few months later. He went back to school, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Film Production from Concordia University. He later delved into screenwriting and wrote the book Hockey Talk: The Language of Hockey from A-Z. He is working on a documentary about a diverse café in the Plateau.

“Over the years, I would picture the face of that director, but then I would just let it go, thinking there was nothing I could do about it.”

It wasn’t until 2017 when, after reaching out to the Santa Barbara buddy whom Goldner had invited to the original open casting call, that he was finally able to put the pieces together.

“It was then that my friend told me this director/producer was Harvey Weinstein,” Goldner says, “At first, I thought he meant this as a euphemism for Harvey Weinstein. ‘No euphemism,’ he said. ‘It was him!’

“That’s when it all came together. I was simply flabbergasted. Then I pictured that face, and I was and am 100 per cent certain that my friend was right.”

I ask Goldner why he is only coming forward now.

“I had no intentions of doing so, because I didn’t think it was particularly relevant to this community, but I read your Gazette column about Erika Rosenbaum and I felt I had something to say relating to that piece,” Goldner says.

The Sept. 9 column was an interview with Rosenbaum about her featured role in the documentary Untouchable. Rosenbaum goes into graphic and terrifying detail about her ordeal, which she says happened nearly two decades back.

Like Weinstein’s other accusers, Rosenbaum feared angering him and getting blacklisted. But unlike some of the others’ accounts, she says she managed to escape after an incident in which she claims the partially naked and bleeding producer ambushed her in his hotel bathroom and tried to pleasure himself while holding on to her.

Goldner concedes that he got away relatively easy.

“I had a brush with Weinstein years ago, and as unpleasant as it was, he never actually touched me. He didn’t physically aggress me. There are numerous people who have suffered much more than I have. Many women have come forward to report their stories. I support them and I believe them.”

What makes Goldner’s story intriguing is that he appears to be the first man to come forward with such allegations.

“Men don’t want to be seen as victims. I think many men who might have experienced this kind of aggression think that by exposing it, it may cast aspersions on their masculinity or sexual preference. I have no such fears.

“If I were to speculate about Weinstein’s motivation, I think he has a very conflicted and ultimately twisted relationship with beauty. Like many sexual aggressors, it’s not about satisfying a sexual desire as much as it is about power and humiliation.”

Curiously, one of Goldner’s screenplays deals with a young prodigy who goes on to win the admiration of millions before slowly descending into madness. Art imitating life here?

“Oh, God!” Goldner mutters. “I hadn’t thought about that, but I guess it could be seen that way.”