More than 30 women come forward to accuse director James Toback of sexual harassment

He prowled the streets of Manhattan looking for attractive young women, usually in their early 20s, sometimes college students, on occasion a high schooler. He approached them in Central Park, standing in line at a bank or drug store or at a copy center while they worked on their resumes.

His opening line had a few variations. One went: “My name’s James Toback. I’m a movie director. Have you ever seen ‘Black and White’ or ‘Two Girls and a Guy’?”

Probably not. So he’d start to drop names. He had an Oscar nomination for writing the Warren Beatty movie, “Bugsy.” He directed Robert Downey, Jr., in three movies. The actor, Toback claimed, was a close friend; he had “invented him.” If you didn’t believe him, he would pull out a business card or an article that had been written about him to prove he had some juice in Hollywood. That he could make you a star.

But first, he’d need to get to know you. Intimately. Trust him, he’d say. It’s all part of his process.

Then, in a hotel room, a movie trailer, a public park, meetings framed as interviews or auditions quickly turned sexual, according to 38 women who, in separate interviews told the Los Angeles Times of similar encounters they had with Toback.

During these meetings, many of the women said, Toback boasted of sexual conquests with the famous and then asked humiliating personal questions. How often do you masturbate? How much pubic hair do you have? He’d tell them, they said, that he couldn’t properly function unless he “jerked off” several times a day. And then he’d dry-hump them or masturbate in front of them, ejaculating into his pants or onto their bodies and then walk away. Meeting over.

The women’s accounts portray James Toback as a man who, for decades, sexually harassed women he hired, women looking for work and women he just saw on the street. The vast majority of these women — 31 of the 38 interviewed — spoke on the record. The Times also interviewed people that the women informed of the incidents when they occurred.

As is often the case with crimes of this nature, none of them contacted the police at the time. When contacted by the Times, Toback denied the allegations, saying that he had never met any of these women or, if he did, it “was for 5 minutes and have no recollection.” He also repeatedly claimed that for the past 22 years, it had been “biologically impossible” for him to engage in the behavior described by the women in this story, saying he had diabetes and a heart condition that required medication. Toback declined to offer further details.

The women interviewed during the Times’ investigation offered accounts that differed from Toback’s recollections.

“The way he presented it, it was like, ‘This is how things are done,’” actress Adrienne LaValley said of a 2008 hotel room encounter that ended with Toback trying to rub his crotch against her leg. When she recoiled, he stood up and ejaculated in his pants. “I felt like a prostitute, an utter disappointment to myself, my parents, my friends. And I deserved not to tell anyone.”

“In a weird sense, I thought, ‘This is a test of whether I’m a real artist and serious about acting,’” remembered Starr Rinaldi, who was an aspiring actress when she Toback approached her in Central Park about 15 years ago. “He always wanted me to read for him in a hotel or come back to his apartment, like, ‘How serious are you about your craft?’”

“And the horrible thing is, whichever road you choose, whether you sleep with him or walk away, you’re still broken,” Rinaldi continued. “You have been violated.”

Like Harvey Weinstein, Toback, now 72, was a big, hulking man with a reputation, so much so that he titled his 1987 semi-autobiographical movie “The Pick-up Artist.” He has been a writer/director since 1974; his most recent film, “The Private Life of a Modern Woman” starring Sienna Miller, premiered at this year’s Venice Film Festival. Media profiles often referred to him as a womanizer. Lurking underneath were darker rumors of creepy behavior, reported in 1989 by Spy magazine and, more recently, by Gawker.

According to the 38 women who spoke to the Times, the scope of Toback’s behavior was far more serious.

“He told me he’d love nothing more than to masturbate while looking into my eyes,” said Louise Post, who met Toback in 1987 while attending Barnard College. Post, now a guitarist and vocalist for the indie rock band Veruca Salt, added: “Going to his apartment has been the source of shame for the past 30 years, that I allowed myself to be so gullible.”

In the wake of Oscar-winning producer Harvey Weinstein being fired after reports revealed decades of sexual misconduct, many women have been coming forward with tales of harassment, abuse and assault. On the Twitter hashtag campaign #MeToo, Toback has his own special universe. The Veruca Salt account tweeted on Monday: “Us too: by bosses, boyfriends, male babysitters, taxi drivers, strangers and movie director/pig #jamestoback #metoo.”

Scott was an 18-year-old senior at Manhattan’s Hunter College High School when Toback approached her at a deli across the street from her campus. He told her he was working on a movie called “Black and White,” that it starred boxer Tyson and he was casting complete unknowns. He asked if Scott was interested in acting. She was about to attend the University of Southern California to study screenwriting. She thought she had made a fortuitous connection.

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Toback invited Scott to a taping of the “Charlie Rose” show, where he was part of a panel. After the taping, he told her, they could talk more about the movie. But as they walked the streets of Midtown, the conversation quickly veered into sexual territory, including queries about masturbation and pubic hair.

“It was disgusting and embarrassing,” Scott said. “I tried to extricate myself from it without causing a scene.”

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