"An Open Secret" Pulls Back the Curtain on Hollywood Pedophilia
From the Harvey Weinstein scandal to “Cheer” star Jerry Harris’s recent child pornography and abuse accusations, the public has been made well aware of the long-standing sexual abuse prevalent in Hollywood. However, how much do we truly know about what’s gone on behind the scenes of the entertainment industry? How much do we know about what predators get away with, and how much trauma is suffered by their victims?
An Open Secret gives a shocking window into how a powerful group of child agents took advantage of the desires of aspiring child actors and their parents. People often assume that pedophiles are rapists, when, in actuality, they employ a process called “grooming,” through which they slowly convince the children and their parents to trust them. These vulnerable children are easily manipulated targets, and their parents’ dreams of fame for their children lead them to trust potential groomers when they wouldn't allow other strangers such easy access to their children.
Groomers bond with their clients and their clients’ families, and then, just like any predator, they focus on catching the weakest prey. Their acts often go unreported due to the clients’ and parents’ fears of professional reprisals and the possibility that their child actor may never work again. As Corey Feldman stated, “The number one problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia.” He said that he was “surrounded like vultures” by this group of older men. This vulturous group of older men reportedly includes Martin “Marty” Weiss, Michael Harrah, Bob Villard, and the owners of the Digital Entertainment Network (DEN).
Cool, Likeable, Predatory
Martin “Marty” Weiss was a child talent manager who managed boys and had intimate relationships with them. He would often hold sleepovers, screening parties, take his clients out trick or treating, and spend weekends, holidays, and birthdays with their families. He was considered an exceptionally good manager who frequently secured work for his clients and was well-liked in the industry.
Parents even trusted Marty to pick up their children from home and to spend time alone with them. While playing basketball or doing some other activity, he would make sexual jokes and take these boys to remote places where they were ill-equipped to do anything but reciprocate his sexual advances. One client, Evan, said that he was afraid to tell anyone of Marty’s sexual advances. Marty was cool and everyone liked him, he said, so he would just pretend it didn’t happen.
Marty would show Evan pictures of clients having sex with their managers, clearly trying to convince Evan that this was a normal part of what goes on in the industry. When Evan finally confronted Marty about everything he had done to him, Marty stated that he never would have done any of it if Evan hadn’t expressed interest. This was one of Marty’s many gaslighting moments, putting all of the blame on Evan. Nevertheless, Evan testified against Marty, who then served only six months in jail for his crimes. Afterward, Marty began to work for more lenient sex-offender laws in California, and he continues to work in the industry to this day.
Marty’s industry friends were also buying and selling pictures of child clients on eBay. Some of these sellers were convicted sex offenders, such as Bob Villard, a well-known publicist who did publicity for big names such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Toby Maguire. Villard was also a photographer, taking and selling pictures of shirtless boys looking up at the camera “as they would be looking up at the predator in an abuse situation.” Villard was eventually arrested and then released from prison. He continues to sell photographs on the internet.
One of Villard’s main targets was a child named Brock Pierce, who together with Marc Collins-Rector and Chad Shackley, went on to form the Digital Entertainment Network (DEN), an internet entertainment company that focused on creating content for youth. Collins-Rector, who was in his late 30s, had begun dating and living together with Chad Shackley, who was only fifteen at the time. At the “M&C mansion,” owned by Collins-Rector and Shackley, skinny-dipping at night was a requirement for everyone staying at the mansion. This included not only young boys, but investors, who would swim naked with the young boys, all while denying that anything out of the ordinary was taking place. Other activities at the mansion included clients being forced to strip naked on command and to perform sexual acts in the private home theater. Collins-Rector would threaten boys by pointing his guns at them, and young boys were drugged and raped at parties. They were told they would never work in Hollywood again if these acts were revealed to the public.
One of DEN’s investors, Brian Singer, worked closely with a convicted child molester, Brian Peck. Peck coached children on Nickelodeon and pled guilty to criminal charges brought against him by a child actor who remained anonymous. Nevertheless, Peck continued to work on children’s shows despite the conviction up until 2015.
DEN finally met its downfall when a public conviction was brought against Collins-Rector, Shackley, and Pierce. They were eventually arrested after fleeing to Europe. Shackley and Pierce were soon released, while Collins-Rector was held for a year and a half. The only other punishment meted out to Collins-Rector was that he was required to register as a sex offender. He then moved to England and “married” an 18-year-old man. He hasn’t paid any of the millions of dollars in default judgments he owes for abusing his clients.
Michael Harrah, a founding member of the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Young Performers Committee, speaks throughout the documentary. Harrah had young male clients ages 10-17 living in his house with him, as many of their families had not moved with them to Hollywood. According to Harrah, that would not have allowed the actors to “take advantage of being in the industry.” This is another example of parents entrusting their children to untrustworthy adults. Harrah did at least on one occasion have a client sleep in his bed with him, and he made moves to touch him.
When asked by the LA police department for help from SAG to bring forth victims, Harrah refused to get involved, saying that he wanted to protect the identities of the children from “having to live with the stigma of it having happened.” While coming forward is a threat to the future careers of these children, in reality, his refusal allowed pedophiles to continue taking advantage of vulnerable children with impunity. Harrah downplays the severity of the sexual abuse in Hollywood, even when confronted with stories from child actors. “It’s not a terrible thing unless you think it is,” he says. Harrah resigned from SAG shortly after being interviewed for this documentary.
Denormalizing Child Exploitation
The former child actors who participated in this film have suffered from drug and alcohol abuse in attempts to numb their pain, suicidal tendencies, and other mental health issues. One suffered a seizure from alcohol withdrawal that led to permanent partial paralysis.
How did we get to the point where adults get away with taking advantage of the defenseless? Caroline Heldman, a professor at Occidental College, said one of the reasons we don’t speak up about sexual abuse is that “it reveals things about our culture that we don’t want to know.” She continued, “If we don’t speak out about it, we are part of the problem, because we are contributing to a culture that normalizes this” and “by normalizing something, it becomes invisible as a problem.”
She’s right. But sexual abuse is not the only harm to children that has become invisible as a problem. As a children’s rights advocate, I know that the violation of children’s right to life, right to their mothers and fathers, and right to be born free from commodification is infringed upon daily. We must all stop turning a blind eye to adults fulfilling their desires at the expense of the vulnerable. If you care about exposing the many widespread abuses of children in our society, then don’t miss this documentary.
Watch the trailer below:
Click here for the full film, free on Vimeo.Katie Breckenridge
is External Affairs Liaison and contributing writer for the children’s rights organization Them Before Us, and a Premier Fellow for the public policy organization Society of St. Sebastian. She has a master’s degree in Mental Health and Wellness and is working towards a graduate certificate in Trauma-Informed Practice. She seeks to spread truth regarding the consequences of dismantling the foundational familial structure.• Get SALVO blog posts in your inbox! Copyright © 2022 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/post/a-den-of-pedophiles