How the world works

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When I was six years old, my father took our family to New York City (where he had a business trip) for a vacation.

Among many other firsts for me on that eye-opening trip were my first visit to a World’s Fair and my first musical on Broadway: Oliver!

I was instantly taken with the idea of the theatre. I already played piano and liked to sing, and there I saw a child about my age starring in a Broadway show! I came out of the theatre singing some of Oliver’s numbers. Was this something I could aspire to?

My father very quickly filled me in on the downsides of such a career. Not only the economic insecurity, but also the difficulties of maintaining a marriage, of raising children, of withstanding temptations, and the like. (Yes, I know I was only a child, but my father always took me seriously and replied in kind.)

Performing on stage and screen certainly appeared to offer a glamorous lifestyle. But the reality was definitely something else, as reporting on television and in the newspapers made clear.

Some years after that trip, a young actress from New York came to my home town to play the role of Anita in West Side Story at a local theatre. My family had the opportunity to host her for a meal.

It was from her that my brother and I first learned about the “casting couch.” She bitterly complained about how difficult it was for female actresses to land parts on Broadway or in TV or films without sleeping with the producers, which she refused to do.

Here my father’s claims, and even worse behavior, were substantiated. And she portrayed that devil’s bargain as being rampant in the industry.

Another example of my education in “the way the world worked” came from my mother when I was older. She had a dear friend who was a newspaper reporter for our hometown paper. This friend had spent several years as the paper’s Washington correspondent during the Kennedy administration.

She had told my mother at the time about the extramarital liaisons President Kennedy was having in the White House, and how the entire press corps was aware of it.

When my mom asked her why this information was not publicized, her friend basically said, “It isn’t relevant. Why tarnish his presidency when it has no effect on his work?”

As a kid, I was both appalled and fascinated by these revelations. Is this really how the world worked? Did all adults (and less sheltered teens) know about all this?

The answer seemed to be yes.

Well then, why do we allow it to continue, I asked?

The answer, such as it was, seemed to be that the rich and/or powerful get away with this, and the rest of us are expected to accept that. Just do what you can to steer clear of it, my dad advised.

These vignettes have been popping into my head recently, as we read almost daily of the end of at least part of this era. Hollywood producers, politicians, journalists and others who have long taken advantage of their positions, believing they lived under a different set of rules, are finally being called to account.

For years, it appeared there would be no repercussions for their past (and in too many cases, continuing) “indiscretions.” They were able to use their power to prevent victims from coming forward, or from being believed. They may have bought their silence with cash settlements and gag orders, or cowed them into silence with threats and lawsuits.

But today, it looks like the jig is up. Perhaps due to a changing social attitude, we have decided to stop the cover-ups and accept the reality of what has long been rumored.

Clearly, the Internet and social media have played a major role in enabling the victims to band together and amplify their voice into one that can no longer be ignored. 

I had never understood why we tolerated the unconscionable way “the world worked” for all those years.

I’m not so optimistic as to say it doesn’t work that way anymore. But I think we can say we’re moving in the right direction. And it’s about time.