Paid Partnership with Auntie Anne’s Pretzels

Harvey Weinstein sits poolside in a private cabana at the Beverly Hilton sipping a daiquiri chased with Splenda. For most of his professional life he used this location as a meeting place to hold court with a who’s who of Hollywood’s elite. Quentin Tarantino is rumored to have pitched him Pulp Fiction from the chair which I now occupy. But those days are gone. Two years removed from revelations that he used his position as one of Hollywood’s top producers to exert influence and commit sexual assaults against hundreds of women over the course of his career, he now mostly sunbathes by himself. “Being alone gives me time to plan my comeback,” he says with a smile. But Harvey Weinstein is not joking. Getting back into the good graces of the town he once ran has become the singular obsession for a man that cultivated a reputation for getting what he wants at any cost.

When I first received a call from Harvey Weinstein’s publicist, Norman Daniels, about doing a profile on the disgraced producer I was suspicious. The Avocado is not a “real” magazine I warned him, but he didn’t care. “Do you think any of those magazines we had on payroll to profile our Best Actress nominees were any more legitimate than your outlet? At least you let people know up front you make things up.” I found out later that those other magazines had been contacted before us and turned down the story. I also found out that Norman Daniels was really just Harvey Weinstein putting on an Australian accent, a discovery made when my assistant put him on a brief telephone hold. When she returned she asked “Mr. Daniels, are you still there?” to which Weinstein responded “Daniels? Who’s Daniels? Do you know who I am you little bitch? I’m Harvey Weinst—oh god dammit, I fucked this up.” Old habits die hard, I guess.

After uncovering Weinstein’s ruse, I let him know I was not interested in doing the piece and that I found the idea of profiling him unconscionable. He then reminded me that he was still impossibly rich and, after agreeing to pay off $84,500.00 in student debt I owed, I told him I would meet him at his cabana the next day for an interview. I had been pressured into doing something I didn’t want to do with Harvey Weinstein for money and the irony was not lost on me. I tried to justify the assignment by telling myself that everyone has a story to tell and that there must be some humanity to him that the world is not aware of that somehow explains how his awful acts could go unchecked for so many years. But really, I did what he wanted for the money, which perhaps more fundamentally explains how he was able to get away with it all for as long as he did. As I pulled up to the opulent Beverly Hilton I felt both shame and the overwhelming belief that I could have gotten more money out of him if I had played this better. He didn’t even try to negotiate with me.

Hollywood is an industry that seems to have its own set of rules. More accurately, that perception is one that has been propagated by the rich and powerful men who have refused to follow the rules that very much exist. When I first met Harvey Weinstein in person he had a half-eaten jumbo pretzel from Auntie Anne’s sunbaked into the side of his belly. The closest Auntie Anne’s was six-miles away from his hotel and had been purchased by his personal assistant Marissa, a woman whom Weinstein told me without prompt that they “never did nothing sexual” and that she “was really not my type.” It was evident that in Marissa Weinstein believed he found not only someone to bring him an outlandish number of pretzels every day, but also a sort-of walking alibi to his professed newfound chastity. In conversations with Marissa she assured me that Weinstein’s statements didn’t bother her or make her feel uncomfortable. “I’m a big girl,” she said in a thick Israeli accent equal parts Golda Meir and Gal Gadot. She also agreed to pick me up a pretzel on her next trip to Auntie Anne’s. 

Meeting Harvey Weinstein is exactly what you’d think it would be like. He is large, loud, and covered in mustard. Yellow mustard, mostly from the dozen Auntie Anne’s he eats every day, but also Dijon from the French Ham Club prepared and served poolside to him by the staff of the Beverly Hilton. “He puts mustard on everything,” a busboy told me on the condition of anonymity because I forgot to ask him his name. “I fucking love mustard,” Weinstein admitted as he scooped a fingertip of spicy brown into his mouth that had fallen into his belly button during his mid-morning hot dog.

In between brisket lunches and lines of Splenda, Weinstein recounted the trajectory of his career from his days as an up-and-coming sex offender in the 1970s, through his rise as one of Hollywood’s most powerful rapists in the 1990s and 2000s. “I’ve had a pretty amazing life,” he waxed nostalgically as he pulled up the IMDB pages of some of the women he threatened into having sex with him over the years. “You see why I said that Marissa is not my type,” he said loud enough for Marissa, who had just delivered him a pretzel, to hear. She had forgotten mine, but I was not upset by the oversight and the more I got to know Marissa the more I realized how amazing she was as a person, both for her ability to ignore Weinstein’s near constant remarks about her appearance and also the way she always seemed to deliver his pretzel warm even though the closest Auntie Anne’s was, at best, 25 minutes away from the Hilton. I assumed she had some type of warming device in her car, but she insisted she didn’t.

Weinstein views himself as the victim of bad circumstance and as unfairly demonized by a culture that has changed around him. “I wasn’t doing anything that wasn’t already happening in Hollywood,” he told me. “I mean, I didn’t invent the fucking casting couch!” He gets pretty worked up when he talks about his recent career struggles and has become paranoid at what he sees as a conspiracy to destroy his life. It is from this perspective that Weinstein views a comeback as not only necessary to save his career, but also his life. “If I don’t do something to rehabilitate my image, they’re going to fucking kill me. But once I’m back on top and I have another hit movie, then everything will go back to normal. That’s why you’re so important, this profile is going to rehabilitate my image and show the world I’m just a normal guy,” Weinstein told me before berating a cabana boy for putting the wrong type of mustard in his daiquiri then throwing $4200 at him in exchange for his signature on a standard-form NDA he carries around.

Weinstein knows the road to redemption won’t be easy, and has enlisted a team of high-priced consultants that are working with him to get in front of all of the bad press he has received on account of all of the rapes, including former A-Listers like Mel Gibson who himself has somehow rehabilitated his image of a drunken anti-Semite. In fact, it was Gibson who suggested Weinstein arrange for a magazine to profile him, a strategy he used to great effect following his anti-Semitic rantings. When asked about whether he thought Weinstein could rehabilitate his career as successfully as he had, Gibson responded “fuck off, you fucking Jewish kike piece of shit” and then hung up the phone. He is currently starring in the film The Professor and The Madman alongside Sean Penn, who beat up Madonna.

It’s difficult to know whether Harvey Weinstein truly believes he can rise to the top of Hollywood again or whether his own comeback is just the latest production goal he must oversee, no matter how unlikely. But Weinstein has made a career on making the unlikely happen through sheer force. See Shakespeare in Love winning Best Picture and also him being a known sexual predator for years and getting away with it. Whether it is likely or not, however, the people that still surround Weinstein, all of whom are on the payroll in one way or another, seem convinced it’s only a matter of time. “You can’t have that much money without making some friends who will be able to help you out of a jam,” said his lawyer [Redacted Following Cease and Desist Letter] who has been paid millions of dollars to help Weinstein out of jams and hiding evidence of his crimes. And that, it turns out, is what is most concerning to those who want to make sure the Harvey Weinstein story is not rebooted, including many former associates and one current one.

Marissa Oukine struck me as an odd choice for a disgraced producer’s doting assistant. The 28-year-old is a former captain in the Israeli military and holds a Masters in biological chemistry from Stanford University. She has no connection to, or aspiration in, Hollywood and is immensely overqualified for her role as Harvey Weinstein’s pretzel jockey. During our conversations, I asked her why she took the job, which, no offense to her, was so obviously beneath her. She laughed and told me that she felt burnt out after the military and graduate school and wanted to be less serious for a while. “I just want to be lazy, so I get him pretzels.” But Marissa Oukine is not a lazy woman, a fact evident by the detailed logs she keeps in Hebrew of Weinstein’s pretzel intake or the way she stands at attention outside of Harvey Weinstein’s cabana waiting to fulfill his requests for more pretzels.

For all of my suspicions about Marissa’s motivations, Weinstein had none. “Women have been throwing themselves at me my whole career,” he said as he stuffed his mouth full of corned beef. “Better looking one’s than her, that’s for sure!” Weinstein was angry because Marissa had forgotten to bring me a pretzel again. “I don’t know what’s wrong with this bitch, he said loudly, “she usually is on top of things.” I told Weinstein not to worry about it and took notes on a story he told me about a road trip he took with Brett Ratner and R. Kelly to Neverland Ranch to meet Bill Cosby that turned out very different than I had expected. “Those guys were the best,” he sighed. “The world isn’t fair.”

I spent the rest of the afternoon listening to Weinstein masticate in between stories of the women he had sex with and movies he made. “Power is an aphrodisiac, so someone as powerful as I was literally couldn’t rape someone. It’s impossible.” Weinstein’s personality takes on the characters from the movies he produced. He is as cocky as Will Hunting, as righteous as Jules Winnfield, as vengeful as The Bride, and as covered in mustard as Paddington. He is exactly who you would expect him to be, and my day’s efforts to discover something deeper came up empty.

By the time I said goodbye to Harvey Weinstein I had watched him eat seven feet of hotdog, four Reubens, a Rachel on account as he had eaten all of the Hilton’s corned beef, several French Ham Club sandwiches, a crockpot full of brisket, and eight pretzels, each brought to him piping hot by Marissa. Every item he ate was covered in mustard, which I assumed was the cause of the jaundiced glow he emitted. I had not eaten the entire day. As I left the pool Weinstein got up and pressed his sundrenched torso into me for a great hug that caused my shirt and chin to become covered in mustard and other food particles. He evidentially snuck some salami when I went to the bathroom. “This article is going to be so great for you, you’re welcome!” he thanked me for my time.

As I waited for the valet to bring around my Sebring, I saw Marissa leaning onto her jeep smoking a cigarette. “I didn’t think anyone still smoked in L.A.,” I told her. She smiled.

“It’s a tradition from when I was in the military,” she exhaled.

“Smoking?”

 “There is an old saying we had, it dates back to the Maccabees, that when a warrior kills, even an enemy, they must themselves step closer to death. It’s about honoring god, Hashem, and the life of his that they took.”

“Sounds like a way to justify a bad habit,” I replied.

“Perhaps you’re right,” she said as she took another drag.

“Aren’t you supposed to be getting Harvey another pretzel?” She smiled and motioned to a jumbo pretzel heating up by the sun on the roof of her jeep. “I told you I was lazy,” she winked. As she said this she opened her car’s door to reveal a large box filled with Auntie Anne’s pretzels. A syringe and several vials sat beside the box that I guess at the moment I assumed was insulin or some hormone therapy medication that she took for herself. I realized later it was the poison she had been using to kill Harvey Weinstein. As I walked back to the valet where my car had arrived I turned to her again.

            “If you had the pretzels in your car the whole time, why didn’t you give me one?”

            “I didn’t want to give you a bad one by mistake,” she said as she took a final drag of her smoke and flicked the butt.

I stood at my driver side door, contemplating her response, when I heard a scream from inside the hotel. My instinct to investigate was delayed by Marissa, who had walked back over to me holding a pretzel. “Here, you can have this one,” she said. I took the pretzel and thanked her. It was cold. “This isn’t the one that was heating on your car’s roof?”

“No, that one is bad for you,” she said. “This one isn’t.” I could hear an ambulance in the distance. I told her I didn’t understand.

            “There is nothing to understand,” she told me. “Harvey was an awful man, you must have seen that today. There is no deeper meaning. There is no hidden story. There is no redemptive arc. Especially now.”

As the ambulance came into view I started to understand. I began to frantically beg Marissa for details and motivations. Had she, or perhaps someone close to her been one of Weinstein’s victims? Was she working on behalf of someone? Why her? Why now? Why pretzels?

“You’re overthinking things,” was her only response. “Now go and eat your pretzel. It’s safe, I promise.”

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