As yet another incident of alleged harassment in Hollywood surfaces, one woman is using her story to reach out to others.
One of the former writers for the hit show Mad Men has launched a non-profit to help victims of sexual misconduct, as she herself claims to be have been harassed while working on the programme.
Kater Gordon says that Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner told her “that I owed it to him to let him see me naked” as the pair worked together late one nighton the season two finale of Mad Men in 2008.
Weiner has denied the incident, which was first reported by The Information.
“Mr. Weiner spent eight to 10 hours a day writing dialogue aloud with Miss Gordon, who started on Mad Men as his writers assistant,” a rep for the TV executive told the publication.
“He does not remember saying this comment nor does it reflect a comment he would say to any colleague. During the nine years he was showrunner on Mad Men, Mr. Weiner had a predominantly female-driven writers room. He has long believed in and implemented an egalitarian working environment including the highest levels of production and writing based on mutual respect for all.”
A long-time staff writer on Mad Men tells The Information that Gordon seemed “subdued” after the alleged incident, and it was “obvious something had changed”.
Weiner and Gordon went on to win an Emmy for the episode they wrote together in September 2009, but soon after Weiner informed her that her contract would not be renewed. “He told me I was terrible at everything, from my work in the writers room to on set,” Gordon claims.
Gordon has not worked in television since. Instead she’s moved to Palo Alto, California, and has recently set up a non-profit to help give voice to victims of sexual harassment. Modern Alliance unites organisations across different industries to tackle what it describes as “a complex, widespread problem”.
After her contract with Mad Men was terminated, Gordon tried to disassociate herself from Hollywood altogether. She even attempted to get mentions of her Emmy win removed from professional biographies about her on the internet.
But she says she was motivated to act after a ream of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein emerged in recent weeks. The claims date back decades, and include a number of women who say they were raped by the once-powerful producer. They’ve prompted men and women across a number of different industries to come forward with their own allegations of assault and sexual misconduct. People have also shared their stories of harassment and abuse on social media, using hashtags such as #MeToo.
Gordon says Weinstein’s bullying approach and reports of his temper reminded her of Weiner’s behaviour. “I spent a couple days feeling down and feeling upset and aimless,” she says. “And then I got inspired.”
Gordon joined the Mad Men team in 2007 as Weiner’s assistant, and says the experience was initially a positive one.
“I felt excited to be able to be so close to making – what I thought at the time – was such a great show. And he [Weiner] championed me. It was extremely satisfying,” she recalls. The Information quotes Gordon’s colleagues at the time, who say that Weiner “respected Gordon tremendously” and would often ask her opinion on various storylines for the season two of the show.
He then offered her the chance to co-write the finale, an opportunity he’d also given to his previous writer’s assistants. It was on a night when they were working together on revisions to the script that Gordon claims Weiner said he wanted to see her naked. She says she brushed off the comment, and they continued to work that night to finish the episode.
Gordon says she shared her experience with several unnamed people on the show, who confirmed this when asked by The Information. However, she was reluctant to reveal her experience publicly – until now.
Like so many have said, she initially felt that speaking out about what happened to her would harm her career, and prevent her from getting a credit on the episode she worked on with Weiner. “I thought, ‘I can’t do anything to jeopardize,’” she says. “I need this credit. I saw no value to speaking out. So I did what I thought women were supposed to do.”
But she says the alleged incident changed things on the show, and Gordon could no longer see a way forward in working with Weiner. “I did my best to play along but couldn’t divorce him from the comment, and I lost respect,” she says. “I couldn’t in good conscious support him the way I did the previous year.”
Images: Modern Alliance / Rex Features