Indie film impresario Harvey Weinstein, a towering figure in Hollywood, was fired from his company Sunday night after allegations that he sexually harassed women for decades.
Weinstein's ouster, which comes just days after accusations against him were made public, marks a humiliating fall for one of the movie industry's most powerful — and controversial — men.
He was credited with remaking the business of independent cinema and backing Oscar-winning films including "Shakespeare in Love" and "The King's Speech." Weinstein, 65, helped make the careers of film luminaries such as Quentin Tarantino and created the modern Oscar campaign. But the scrappy Queens, N.Y., native was also known for his volatile temper and outbursts at employees and filmmakers that would bring people to tears. The alleged inappropriate sexual behavior that would ultimately be his undoing was widely described as an "open secret" in Hollywood circles.
Weinstein is the latest high-profile entertainment and media figure whose career was unraveled by alleged sexual impropriety in the workplace. Those accused of such misconduct have included comedian Bill Cosby, former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes and former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. Each denied wrongdoing.
Weinstein was ousted after the New York Times published a story Thursday detailing allegations that the Oscar-winning movie and TV producer had sexually harassed numerous actresses and employees over a span of more than 20 years, including Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan. Weinstein had reached at least eight settlements with women who accused him of harassment, including multiple former employees of the Weinstein Co. and his previous business, Miramax, according to the article.
"In light of new information about misconduct by Harvey Weinstein that has emerged in the past few days, the directors of The Weinstein Company ... have determined, and have informed Harvey Weinstein, that his employment with The Weinstein Company is terminated, effective immediately," the company said in a statement.
The board members said Friday they had hired a law firm to investigate the sexual harassment allegations. At the time, the company said Weinstein was taking an indefinite leave of absence but stopped short of calling for his ouster as some had demanded. His brother, Bob Weinstein, and David Glasser, the company's president and chief operating officer, were put in charge during his absence.
But it quickly became clear that Weinstein Co., which is based in New York and has about 150 employees, would not be able to survive if its co-founder stayed in place, according to people close to the company who were not authorized to comment on the matter. Filmmakers threatened to pull their projects if the executive was not dismissed. And few directors and producers, if any, would have been willing to bring their film and TV projects to the company given the toxicity of its co-chairman.
Adding to the chaos, employees and outsiders were dumbfounded by Weinstein's attempts to defend himself in public. In an initial statement responding to the allegations, he appeared to apologize for unspecified past behavior. Yet he also blamed his alleged conduct to coming of age "in the '60s and '70s, when all of the rules about behavior and workplaces were different," an excuse that was widely viewed as tone deaf and offensive.
The board of directors had wanted to reach an exit deal with Weinstein so that he would resign voluntarily, but could not come to an agreement. They were left with no choice but to fire him, said one knowledgeable person.
"There is zero tolerance in corporate America for sexual harassment and discrimination," said C. Kerry Fields, a professor of business law and ethics at the USC Marshall School of Business. "Society and corporate boards have changed for the better and Harvey Weinstein has not."
The executive, who founded the Weinstein Co. in 2005 with Bob Weinstein and served as its co-chairman, lost key supporters inside and outside the company as he came under pressure to leave. Over the weekend, Los Angeles attorney Lisa Bloom quit representing Harvey Weinstein after she faced criticism for working with him. Crisis manager Lanny Davis also stepped down from Weinstein's team.
On Saturday, MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski threatened to pull out of her book deal with Weinstein's publishing imprint unless he resigned.
Meanwhile, allegations about Weinstein's alleged misbehavior continued to mount, putting more pressure on the board to act.
A report surfaced late Friday in the Huffington Post contending that Weinstein had made unwanted sexual advances toward a TV journalist, Lauren Sivan, a decade ago in New York, including cornering Sivan at a restaurant and masturbating in front of her.
Another account in Britain's the Times on Sunday alleged that Weinstein propositioned a female writer to share a bath with him at his London hotel.
At first, Weinstein Co.'s board had been divided on how to respond to the allegations. Four Weinstein Co. board members resigned their positions last week: billionaire Dirk Ziff, Avenue Capital Group CEO Marc Lasry, Technicolor executive Tim Sarnoff and hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones.
The statement announcing Weinstein's removal was signed by Bob Weinstein, along with three board members: Lance Maerov, Richard Koenigsberg and Tarak Ben Ammar.
The allegations and Harvey Weinstein's response have put such a stain on the firm that the company is likely to change its name, the knowledgeable person said.
With few exceptions, entertainment power players including studio executives, producers and actors said little in public about the accusations against Weinstein, despite past outcries against offenses in other industries.
The allegations against Weinstein were particularly awkward for Hollywood and Democrats because over the years Weinstein has given generously to Democrats and liberal causes, donating tens of thousands of dollars to the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
The lack of public response from the entertainment industry reflects the power Weinstein wielded in the industry for decades.
Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News personality who accused Ailes of sexual harassment, praised Weinstein's firing. "Women's voices heard," she wrote on Twitter. "Again and Finally.
The Weinstein brothers established their reputation as purveyors of quality cinema in the late 1970s. Through their company Miramax — a portmanteau for their parents, Miriam and Max Weinstein — they turned titles including "Sex, Lies and Videotape," "My Left Foot," "The Crying Game" and "The Piano" into art-house hits.
Walt Disney Co. purchased Miramax in 1993, and a year later the brothers released "Pulp Fiction," which catapulted them to a new level of Hollywood renown and helped establish their long relationship with Quentin Tarantino. They won their first best picture Oscar with "The English Patient," released in 1996, followed by "Shakespeare in Love" and "Chicago." The brothers left Disney in 2005, ending an acrimonious relationship with the parent company.
Harvey Weinstein was known as a master Oscars strategist, and was also known to sometimes bad-mouth the competition. His reputation among auteurs suffered as he frequently insisted that directors re-cut their movies to make them more commercial, earning him the nickname "Harvey Scissorhands."
Now, the Weinstein scandal could serve as a wake-up call to the entertainment industry, where the so-called casting couch has long been part of Hollywood culture. Silicon Valley is facing sweeping changes in the ways technology firms are dealing with sexual harassment and discrimination as venture capital firms demand that corporations clean up their act, Fields said.
"It will soon affect Hollywood," he said.
9 p.m.: This article was updated to include additional reaction to Weinstein's firing.
5:03 p.m.: This article was updated to include additional context.