Young Harvey Weinstein: The Making of a Monster

Interesting (and all too stereotypical) backstory from a THR piece titled “Young Harvey Weinstein: The Making of a Monster”:

The ship was enormous and solid as a rock. Built in 1897 and capable of traveling at a speed of 13 knots, it was nearly 600 feet long and weighed 13,000 tons. But none of that must have mattered to Joe Weinstein as he boarded the SS Pretoria in Hamburg in late 1909 and set forth on the weekslong voyage to America. At 20, Joe (whose family took its name from the “Weinsteins” they peddled, crystals of potassium bitartrate used for cooking and cleaning) was well on his way to the New World, having journeyed 600 miles from his native Galicia in Eastern Europe to this German port, joining thousands of other Jews fleeing rampant anti-Semitism.

What happened upon Joe’s arrival in America is unknown, and he vanishes from the records until 1918, when he married another Galician Jew, Pauline Fischman, a petite 22-year-old who was working as a dress finisher. With Joe now employed as a fishmonger and Pauline in the laundry business, the couple hunkered down to a working-class life, producing 10 children in rapid succession (one died days after being born), including their fourth, Bob and Harvey’s father, Max.

Born in New York City in 1924, Max grew up in a family that was distant and remote, according to a 2011 piece Bob wrote for Vanity Fair. Bob marveled that his father could be such a family man, given how little love he got at home. In his mid-20s, on a visit to the Catskills after serving in World War II, he met a woman named Miriam Postal and asked if she’d like to dance. She turned him down flat, only to relent. They married in 1950 and remained together until Max’s death from cardiac arrest in 1976 at age 51.

Unlike the flamboyant Miriam, Max had a low-key personality, a trait inherited by Bob, though not Harvey. Peter Adler, a close childhood friend of Harvey’s, remembers Max as a quiet, reserved figure who preferred to stay on the sidelines, watching TV or reading.

Finding work as a diamond-cutter in New York’s jewelry district, Max moved with his wife into a two-bedroom, lower-middle-class apartment in the Electchester housing project, a series of squat brick buildings in Flushing, Queens, that had been erected during the 1950s for members of the electricians union. It wasn’t luxury, but it was safe.

Growing up here, Harvey (born in 1952) and Bob (born in 1954) have said they idolized their father. It was Max who introduced them to the movies, Max who taught them the rudiments of business, Max who sat them down one day and told them they must stick together through thick and thin, and Max who occasionally gave them a “butt-whipping” when they got out of hand…

And then we have the seminal figure in Harvey’s life (and Jewish archetype) named Uncle Shimmy:

If Max was a significant influence on the boys, their Uncle Shimmy was another.

Shimmy (Sallbarry Greenblatt) lived in the same tower at 96-50 160th St. Compact and pudgy, with a curving mustache and gray hair, he owned a shop that sold refrigerators, washing machines and electronics. A natural raconteur with a knack for exaggeration, he was also a skilled salesman. He struck Adler’s father, who adored him, as a New York hustler straight out of a Damon Runyon story, Adler recalls. If a customer asked about a fridge, Shimmy would shout to his assistant: “Hey, Murray! How much we gonna sell this for?” “Four hundred bucks,” Murray would yell back. Then Shimmy would turn to the customer with a conspiratorial wink. “Three hundred,” he’d whisper, and the customer would leave, happy, not realizing he’d been played.

“Uncle Shimmy was a bit of a shyster,” says Adler. “He had a supply store, and he ripped off black people. But Harvey really, really adored him. He would sit at Shimmy’s feet and listen to these stories. Harvey didn’t respect his dad that much. It wasn’t Max who was his real role model, it was Shimmy Greenblatt.”

Inspired by Shimmy, Harvey learned to wheel and deal, and also perhaps that honesty mattered less than success, a lesson reinforced during the summer after seventh grade. Obtaining some discarded Boy Scout uniforms, he and a friend bought hundreds of boxes of cookies wholesale and, wearing the uniforms, went door to door selling them for $1 a pop, more than twice the 39 cents they’d paid — pocketing the money themselves. “They each made 800 bucks that summer,” marvels Adler. “We thought it was funny and didn’t make much of it. But that was all Shimmy. That was his brain at work.”

And, lastly, what are we to make of the possible influence that Philip Roth’s famous novel Portnoy’s Complaint (which depicts a neurotic Jew’s mother-issues & sexual perversions) may have played in Harvey’s own penchant for jerking off in front of others?

Neither Shimmy nor Max had quite the impact of the boys’ mother, a polarizing figure who drew different reactions from people who knew her. Born in Brooklyn in 1926, Miriam was the daughter of a butter-and-egg merchant and worked as a secretary. Those who met her when she was a fixture at Miramax remember her being “very put-together,” in the words of one executive. “As a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, I felt I was meeting a relative. I always got the feeling Bob and Max loved Miriam, but were also annoyed by her.”

To their childhood friend Adler, she was a hovering, constant presence, “shrill and bossy,” endlessly drilling a sense of inadequacy into the boys. “She was overbearing,” he notes, “saying things like, ‘You’re fat. Go outside and play.'” As a teenager, he says, Harvey sometimes called her “Momma Portnoy,” a reference to the domineering matriarch in Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, published in Harvey’s senior year of high school. One of the novel’s memorable scenes depicts the mother hectoring young Portnoy while he masturbates behind a bathroom door.

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