Several months ago while scanning through Youtube I encountered an interesting, if not upsetting, interview with ’80s child star Corey Feldman in which he claimed that the “number one problem in Hollywood was, and is, and always will be, paedophilia”.
“The casting couch even applies to children?” asks the interviewer. “Oh, yeah,” replies Feldman. “Not in the same way – it’s all done under the radar.”
I was reminded of the subject of child sexual exploitation in Hollywood this week after comments by Elijah Wood caused an international shitstorm.
Wood, who had evidently just watched ‘An Open Secret’, told a journalist that the sexual abuse conducted by Jimmy Saville in the UK had parallels in Hollywood.
“Clearly something major was going on in Hollywood. It was all organised. There are a lot of vipers in this industry – people who only have their own interests in mind.”
“There is darkness in the underbelly,” he added. “If you can imagine it, it’s probably happened.”
Woods later clarified that he had not experienced abuse first hand – citing his mother’s constant presence on set and her refusal to let him attend Hollywood parties – but said many of his peers had been victimised.
Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter in the wake of Wood’s comments this week, Feldman revealed that best friend and fellow ’80s child star Corey Haim was subjected to “more direct abuse” than he was.
“With me, there were some molestations, and it did come from several hands, so to speak, but with Corey, his was direct rape, whereas mine was not actual rape. And his also occurred when he was 11.”
He cited this abuse as the primary cause of Haim’s drug-fuelled death last year. “There is one person to blame in the death of Corey Haim, and that person happens to be a Hollywood mogul — and that person needs to be exposed but unfortunately I can’t be the one to do it.”
Despite the claims, Feldman refuses name his abuser(s) or the “mogul” he claimed abused Haim, telling HR that the statute of limitations on the crime has expired and if he named those responsible, he would be subject to litigation, not the alleged perpetrators.
California law allows litigation for accusers aged 26 and younger, or three years from the date they discover their trauma.
Feldman did, however, say that at least one of his alleged abusers is still “prominently in the business” to this day.
All of this leads us to the catalyst for the recent interest in the topic Hollywood paedophilia: 2015 documentary An Open Secret, which has recently appeared on Vimeo.
Directed by Deliver Us From Evil‘s Amy Berg, An Open Secret tells the story of 4 young men who say they were abused by men connect to a powerful network of influential Hollywood predators. Successful talent agents, directors, investors and casting agents are all named as being part of the paedophile ring.
Much of the alleged abuse catalogued in An Open Secret centres on an early web TV company called Digital Entertainment Network (DEN) and its owners Marc Collins-Rector, Chad Shackley and Brock Pierce.
Entertainment moguls David Geffen, Michael Huffington and others invested $150 million into the company which aimed to create content target at the “global youth audience”. Collins-Rector had made millions with early internet ventures in the ’90s.
Collins-Rector lived with DEN co-founder and boyfriend Shackley, whom he met as a 15 year-old, together with former child star Pierce, in a sprawling mansion – called the M&C Ranch (Marc and Chad) in Encino, California. This is where the paedophile parties, where DEN’s teenage stars were passed between older men, are alleged to have take place.
DEN, it appears, was little more than a front for the procurement and abuse of boys.
Described in the documentary as a proto-Netflix, DEN intended to generate unique programming for dispersal on its site. However, it was doomed to fail since the early internet did not have the capability to fulfil streaming requirements for such an admittedly forward-thinking project.
One such programme mentioned in the documentary was 1998’s ‘Chad’s World’. Co-written by Collins-Rector, produced by Pierce, and loosely based on Shackley’s life, the show followed a sexually confused boy who goes to live with his wealthy older brother and his rich boyfriend.
Chad’s World (which features American Pie’s Seann Williams Scott as the character apparently based on Collins-Rector) which was also filmed at the M&C mansion, is described as “art imitating life”.
Three men speak out about their abuse on camera, while the story of another who was allegedly abused is discussed by his parents.
In heartbreaking archival footage shot during the time of the abuse, the misery is plain on the face of one victim (‘Nick S’) who nonetheless tells the camera how “wonderful” an experience working with DEN is. His expression is that of a child in conflict.
“It was as though they were from the industrial home for the blind…”
Lending credence to claims of a powerfully connected paedophile network is the fact that attempts to enact safeguards which would protect child actors have been met with resistance.
When a SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Young Performers committee responsible proposed circulating a memo asking if any of their members had been abused by acting coach Bob Villard (convinced of child sex offences in 2005), one member, Michael Harrah, “vehemently” opposed the move.
Harrah, a ‘child talent manager’ explains his opposition to Berg – and unwittingly articulates a singularly significant factor in the silence surround abuse – by claiming: “I don’t know that we’ve “hidden” them [abuse claims]. I would think you would want to…not hide it, but you would want to protect the child whose identity is going to come out. A situation like this never helps anybody and, yes, the sooner we can get it under control the better, but the less the child has to live with the stigma of it having happened I think it’s better for them not only career-wise, but personally.”
In this at least, Harrah is correct: at the very least a child who speaks out about abuse can kiss their career goodbye. In prison “snitches get stitches”, in Hollywood “snitches” who speak out against their abusers get blacklisted.
Until as recently as 2012, managers, photographers, acting coaches and other professionals in the entertainment industry that represent minors were not required to prove that they were not sex offenders.
Even when victims do come forward, studios work hard to quash stories. The story of Brian Peck, an acting coach and friend of Bryan Singer, is held up as an example.
Peck, who coached on many Nickelodeon’s shows, was accused of abuse by one of the network’s major child stars. The anonymous child filed charges against Peck, to which he almost immediately pled guilty.
Clearly he, or the studio, did not want an investigation to continue. The victim remained anonymous in order to protect their career.
Citing the fact that not a single child star has spoken out about their abuse and continued to work afterwards, Ann Henry, co-founder of BizParentz, a non-profit corporation providing education, advocacy, and charitable support to parents and children engaged in the entertainment industry, tells Berg: “A kid that wants to speak out and say what happened to them beyond their family, would truly have to give up their career.
“It’s very sad that that’s the case but it’s the reality.” Peck, according to the documentary, continues to work on children’s TV shows, despite having been convicted of a child sex-offence.
But Peck is just the tip of the iceberg, says Henry, the bulk of which remains hidden as so many overwhelmingly powerful forces prevail upon it.
With the exception of Collins-Rector, Shackley, who now runs a computer shop and Pierce, who is a Bit Coin investor, many of the other alleged abusers: Brian Peck, Marty Weiss, Bryan Singer continue to work in the entertainment industry.
Their victims, whose lives are littered with alcohol, mental health and substance abuse issues, do not.
Strangely, director Berg refused almost all requests for interviews promoting the movie, which led to her being sued last year by producers. (One rare interview Berg gave about the movie can be found here.) She was accused of not only refusing to help market the film, but also of delivering the movie late and “in poor shape.”
One reason for Berg’s refusal to participate in post-release publicity could centre around alleged changes made to the movie by producers – without Berg’s consent – after the veracity of one of the abuse victims, Michael Egan, was called into question.
Scenes in which Egan had named Bryan Singer as one of his abusers were removed after Egan’s case against Singer collapsed.
Berg had earlier stated that she found it difficult to secure a distributer for the movie and that even small independent movie festivals weren’t willing to screen ‘An Open Secret’.
Whatever the truth, it is a sad fact that wherever there are children there will be those willing to prey on them and unfortunately Hollywood – much like the Catholic Church in Berg’s excellent Deliver Us From Evil – offers fertile ground for such abuse.
The reluctance towards acknowledging the extent of the problem, coupled with an apathy around naming and punishing perpetrators is worrying.
It is for these reasons that ‘An Open Secret’ is a worthwhile, if not troubling, piece of work.
*Update October 2017: In light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal the makers of An Open Secret have posted the movie on Vimeo for free for a limited time. Catch it while you can.