Six days ago, the actor and writer Harry Dreyfuss gave a detailed account to BuzzFeed News, alleging that Kevin Spacey groped his crotch when he was 18, while his father, Richard Dreyfuss, was in the room. Richard confirmed to BuzzFeed that he didn’t see the groping and didn’t know about it until his son told him years later, but was present the night Harry says it occurred. “[Spacey] knew he could fondle me in a room with my father and that I wouldn’t say a word,” wrote Harry. “He knew I wouldn’t have had the guts. And I didn’t.” A few hours after the story was published, Richard tweeted a statement in support of his son:
It was a response that many applauded. But as Los Angeles–based writer Jessica Teich read the elder Dreyfuss’s tweet, she grew “bothered,” she says. “When I read about his support for his son, which I would never question, I remember thinking, But wait a minute, this guy harassed me for months,” Teich told me in an interview. “He was in a position of so much power over me, and I didn’t feel I could tell anyone about it. It just seemed so hypocritical.” She began drafting a Facebook post that she shared with her friends, one of whom is a New York staff member, who gave Teich my number. The harassment, Teich says, was constant over a two- to three-year period in the mid-1980s when she worked as a researcher and junior writer on a TV passion-project of Dreyfuss’s — and included an incident where she says that he exposed himself to her.
The project was an ABC comedy special called Funny, You Don’t Look 200: A Constitutional Vaudeville, which Dreyfuss dreamed up, hosted, co-wrote, and produced to mark the bicentennial of the American Constitution. When Teich and Dreyfuss began working together in 1984 — first at the Mark Taper Forum theater in Los Angeles, where they met, and then on 200 — Teich was in her mid-20s and in an entry-level job, fresh out of grad school. Dreyfuss was 12 years older, married with a child, and starring in a play at the Taper, where Teich was a dramaturg. At the time, he held the record for becoming the youngest Best Actor Academy Award winner ever. “He wasn’t that much older than I was, but in every possible way his position in life couldn’t have been less comparable to mine,” says Teich. “That’s how vast the power differential was. He was famous, he was rich, he had an Oscar.” And, as she pointed out to me emphatically, “He was my boss. There was no question about it.”
While they were both at the Taper, Dreyfuss had asked Teich to work on developing 200 with him, first on an informal basis over lunches, and then with the formal backing of the Disney Channel, where they had a tiny production office. Over the next several years, they spent countless hours together developing the script. One day, deep into the development process, with the TV special set to air in October 1987, Teich says Dreyfuss asked her to meet him in his trailer on the Los Angeles studio lot of a movie he was starring in at the time. As with all her script meetings with Dreyfuss, this one was set up by his female secretary. (The secretary could not be reached for comment.)
“I remember walking up the steps into the trailer and turning towards my left,” says Teich, “and he was at the back of the trailer, and just — his penis was out, and he sort of tried to draw me close to it.” Dreyfuss never asked for her to fellate him or jerk him off, Teich says, but she remembers the situation being unambiguous. “He was hard. I remember my face being brought close to his penis,” she continues. “I can’t remember how my face got close to his penis, but I do remember that the idea was that I was going to give him a blow job. I didn’t, and I left.”
How she extricated herself, she can’t recall. “It was like an out-of-body experience. I just tried to swiftly get out of the room. I pretended it hadn’t really happened,” she says. “I kept moving because it was part of my job, and I knew he was, at the time, a very important guy, and certainly important to me. I trusted him. That’s what’s always so weird. I liked him. That’s part of why it’s so painful, because of the level of innocence one brings to these things. I felt responsible, that I must have indicated in some way that I was available for this.”
Teich says that, at the time, she told no one about the exposure incident, or what she claims were years of continual, overt, lewd comments and invitations from Dreyfuss. “He created a very hostile work environment, where I felt sexualized, objectified, and unsafe,” says Teich. The exposure in the trailer, she says, was the most shocking Dreyfuss’s behavior got, but perhaps more pernicious, she contends, was that she couldn’t do her job without him coming on to her. She’s referring to moments when Dreyfuss tried to kiss her in professional settings, slip her “I love you” notes during meetings, and his unsubtle verbal sneak attacks. “He has that way of sidling up to you and saying things like, ‘I want to fuck you,’” Teich says. “That was said all the time. He would constantly steer conversations to this yucky, insinuating thing, and I would sort of try to pull us back to a place where we could actually get some work done.” Throughout the research process, Teich says, Dreyfuss set up multiple trips where it was just the two of them, to Yale, Stanford, and Washington, D.C. One morning, when they were going to meet with Ronald Reagan, Teich recalls, Dreyfuss “told me he’d spent the night with his ear next to the wall, listening to my movements in my hotel room.”
Despite how unequivocal Teich is about her experience, she believes “Richard would be very surprised if 30-odd years later he heard that I felt completely coerced and disenfranchised. I think he’d be like, ‘Oh no, I thought you really liked me.’ I don’t think he had any idea.”
Dreyfuss, who’s now 70, responded swiftly to my request for comment, through representation, and asked for a limited deadline extension so he could write something thoughtful. Here are the first, most pertinent, paragraphs of his statement:
I value and respect women, and I value and respect honesty. So I want to try to tell you the complicated truth. At the height of my fame in the late 1970s I became an asshole–the kind of performative masculine man my father had modeled for me to be. I lived by the motto, “If you don’t flirt, you die.” And flirt I did. I flirted with all women, be they actresses, producers, or 80-year-old grandmothers. I even flirted with those who were out of bounds, like the wives of some of my best friends, which especially revolts me. I disrespected myself, and I disrespected them, and ignored my own ethics, which I regret more deeply than I can express. During those years I was swept up in a world of celebrity and drugs – which are not excuses, just truths. Since then I have had to redefine what it means to be a man, and an ethical man. I think every man on Earth has or will have to grapple with this question. But I am not an assaulter.
I emphatically deny ever “exposing” myself to Jessica Teich, whom I have considered a friend for 30 years. I did flirt with her, and I remember trying to kiss Jessica as part of what I thought was a consensual seduction ritual that went on and on for many years. I am horrified and bewildered to discover that it wasn’t consensual. I didn’t get it. It makes me reassess every relationship I have ever thought was playful and mutual.
“Wow, I don’t quite know what to make of that,” Teich said, when I read the statement to her aloud. She paused for a long time before speaking again. “I respect that he’s trying to grapple with it, and I regret that he’s not being totally honest. Sadly, what I regret even more is I’ll never forget the sight of his penis because I was so surprised to see it there. The fact that he can’t quite acknowledge all of it is understandable. But he certainly acknowledges that something happened, and he certainly acknowledges that it might have been inappropriate now that he looks back on it.”
In the last 30 years, Teich, who is 58, says she confided in three people about Dreyfuss: a family member and a close confidante, who both asked to remain anonymous, and her therapist. The family member confirmed that Teich had discussed Dreyfuss’s alleged misconduct decades ago, including the exposure incident. The confidante provided a statement recalling that Teich long ago talked about her discomfort with Dreyfuss hitting on her. Her therapist declined to comment due to doctor-patient confidentiality.
Teich’s memoir, The Future Tense of Joy, released in 2016, details a year of sexual molestation and horrific beatings she endured when she was 16, at the hands of a man who was 12 years her senior, and whom she’d also met in a professional setting at an Orlando ballet company they were both in. “When I wouldn’t do some of the things that he wanted me to do, sexually, he would beat the shit out of me,” she tells me. She believes this prior experience with abuse, plus the power imbalance between her and Dreyfuss and the culture surrounding allegations of sexual assault 30 years ago, contributed to why she kept silent. “I knew it was incredibly unpleasant,” she says. “I knew I felt awful about it and during it, but it wasn’t of such greater horribleness than a lot of other things that happened. And because I had been abused as a 16-year-old, and that was my introduction to any kind of intimacy, I thought, Oh, is this okay? I just didn’t have any perspective on it because no one was talking about it.” She’d worried about going public because Dreyfuss has grown children, and his son’s story of abuse is what prompted her post. “But then I thought, ‘I have children, too’” — daughters, 16 and 21 — “and I don’t want them to live in a world where people can’t tell the truth about these things.”
In his statement, Dreyfuss concluded with a broader acknowledgment of the conversations currently happening around sexual harassment and assault:
There is a sea-change happening right now, which we can look upon as a problem or an opportunity. We all of us are awakening to the reality that how men have behaved toward women for eons is not OK. The rules are changing invisibly underneath our feet. I am playing catch up. Maybe we all are.
I hope people can join me in honestly looking at our behavior and trying to make it right. We have to relearn every rule we thought we knew about how men and women interact, because after all getting together is the most fundamental human compulsion. And if we don’t succeed in that, what do we have? I hope this is the beginning of a larger conversation we can have as a culture.
After I read Teich the statement, I asked if she felt like this was a dialogue she would ever have with Dreyfuss. “Yeah, I think if I did it in a context where there were other people involved,” she says. “Because I’m not confronting him, I’m not suing him for damages of any kind. And his statement to you is more than I thought anyone would get from him.” Still, she did take issue with certain words he’d used that she found to be “loaded.” “‘Flirt’ is absolutely not the right word,” Teich says. “It suggests something mutual, and that was not the case.” She also thought he was stretching when he called her someone “whom I have considered a friend for 30 years.” The word “friend” was problematic in this context. “The suggestion is that if I were a true colleague I never would’ve been public about this, that it should’ve all been kept among friends,” she says. “I’m not that guy’s friend. I haven’t seen that guy or spoken to him in 25 years. But as a person, I respond to the sense of hurt that underlies his words, and something in me feels compassion for him, even though he made my life hell. And that’s part of the complexity of the whole thing, I think.”