In the search to expose The Next Harvey Weinstein, the Los Angeles Times goes for the most obvious low-hanging fruit this side of Warren Beatty: Beatty’s buddy James Toback, the elderly writer-director-public nuisance:
I’m not sure why this is considered breaking news, since Toback has been notorious for hitting on hundreds of pretty girls walking down the street every week with his “I’m film director James Toback, I want you for my new movie” line for decades.
Toback has been an annoying figure on the fringes of my magazine-reading consciousness since the 1970s. Ever since I was a college student, I’ve been reading film critics explain that while, on paper, James Toback might sound like a total putz, if you had hung out with him like yours truly had, you too would realize he was a genius with important insights into how the rules of society are just a facade.
Toback hung around with Beatty, for whom he wrote the screenplay for Bugsy, perhaps the only movie he was directly involved in that was generally successful. (A couple of his early movies have been remade recently and did okay.)
His other buddies have included various black jocks such as running back / movie star Jim Brown and boxer Mike Tyson. Toback appears to be the source for most of the tales of Brown doing extremely bad things to girls, so maybe they’re mostly just BS. On the other hand, Brown let Toback move in with him for a couple of years, so he probably really is a jerk.
I can recall seeing about 20 minutes of Bugsy, but none of Toback’s other movies, which usually involve handsome movie stars acting out aspects of Toback’s personality, like James Caan in The Gambler as a college professor with a gambling obsession, Harvey Keitel in Fingers as a young man struggling with whether he’s a sensitive pianist artistic genius like his demented Jewish mother or a goombah like his brutish Italian father (Toback is not Italian), and Robert Downey Jr. in The Pickup Artist.
Spy magazine wrote in 1989 that Toback’s idealized self-conception of himself in The Pickup Artist is “Teaches grade school, cares for his invalid grandmother, saves a girl’s father from mobsters,” while the real life Toback’s chief virtue is: “Is not shy.”
Some guys just have a lot of chutzpah. From Spy in 1989:
Men have a theory, or so we’ve heard. It goes like this: On any given evening, if a guy tries to pick up 100 women, at least one of them will, in fact, go to bed with him. Very few men, however, are able to muster the sheer fortitude and shamelessness necessary to put this theory into practice, even if they were so inclined. Even fewer men can (or would) flaunt membership in both the Directors Guild of America and the Harvard Club of New York in an attempt to increase the odds in their favor.
In contrast to Weinstein, though, who has been a major manipulator of the culture to build today’s moral consensus that a vote for whichever Clinton is on the ballot is a blow against all that is evil in this world, I can’t recall Toback being a political player. But perhaps if Beatty had run for the Senate, Toback would have been writing his speeches for him. That might have been fun.