As credible allegations emerged over the past few weeks of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's sexual assaults, some observers marveled to learn that it had been going on since the early 1980s.
Well, make room, if you can stomach it, for “Denny the Hustler,” a character in a 1971 nightlife column in the University of Buffalo student newspaper, the Spectrum.
The column (“Patchworks”) was written by Weinstein and Corky Burger, his longtime business partner in promoting concerts and art-house films. It featured a fictional character who carefully sized up attractive women in the bars of Buffalo and made aggressive moves on them.
" 'Denny the Hustler' did not take no for an answer," said a Feb. 22, 1971, article. (Weinstein's 19th birthday would come the next month.)
It went on: “His whole approach employs a psychology of command, or in layman’s terms — ‘Look, baby, I’m probably the best-looking and most exciting person you’ll ever want to meet — and if you refuse to dance with me, I’ll probably crack this bottle of Schmidts over your skull.’ ”
And this: “Raw energy. Power. She cannot refuse. Another success for Denny the Hustler, who underneath all is one of the most ethical people you’ll ever want to know.”
Like a junior (and far less appealing) version of Chicago columnist Mike Royko’s alter ego, Slats Grobnik, Denny the Hustler was the kind of guy you might encounter in local watering holes.
“Go to a couple of ’em and who knows, maybe you’ll get to meet and greet Denny the Hustler, Patchworks’ Man on the Town, in person.”
Pure fantasy? Certainly in one sense. Clumsy satire? Maybe.
But in some way, perhaps, a glimpse of Weinstein’s predatory DNA.
Corky Burger told me in an email that his role in the early partnership with Weinstein was to sell ads. "I never did any of the writing," Burger said. After reading the column, he added: "Definitely, I didn't write one word of this." (Living in Buffalo, where he does part-time consulting to raise money for charities, he described himself as "still in shock, appalled and saddened" but not ready to say anything more about Weinstein.)
The tale of Denny the Hustler reminds us that one of the easiest ways to hide is in plain sight.
The column's jokey tone — violence against women is ever so funny, right? — might recall Bill Cosby's onstage bits about drugging women with the supposed aphrodisiac Spanish fly. (Like this one in 1969: "Go to a party, see five girls standing alone: 'Boy if I had a whole jug of Spanish fly, I'd light that corner up over there.' ") Decades later, dozens of accusers said Cosby drugged women to molest them.
It might remind you of the just-for-laughs bragging of Donald Trump to Billy Bush on the famous “Access Hollywood” video about how easy it is to grope women “when you’re a star.” Afterward, multiple women came forward to accuse him of predatory behavior toward them.
It might remind you of Seth McFarlane’s much-quoted 2013 quip to the Oscar nominees for supporting actress: “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”
Is it ever really entertaining to joke about drugging or groping women, or cracking a beer bottle over a woman’s head because she refuses your advances? No, not even in 1971.
It’s hard to know what the psychological underpinnings might be in all these cases, but at the very least Weinstein’s character provides a disturbing window into his psyche and his view of women.
Denny the Hustler’s story isn’t literature by any stretch of the imagination. Quite the opposite. But as what might be considered the juvenilia of a predator, it nevertheless had something important to say.
Too bad nobody was listening.
The photo caption with this story originally misidentified the man on the left with Harvey Weinstein and Brad Grey as film director Tony Maylam. He is journalist Michael Healy.
For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan.