While celebrity sexual misconduct claims have been mildly quiet over the holidays, on Friday, Ben Vereen became the latest to be accused of bad behavior.
The 71-year-old Broadway legend, who rose to fame in the 1970s slave docudrama “Roots,” is the subject of a lengthy exposé in The New York Daily News.
In the report, four 20-something volunteer actresses involved in the fall 2015 stage production of “Hair” in Venice, near Tampa, say Vereen subjected them to ongoing inappropriate and abusive behavior.
Three of the women told the newspaper that Vereen invited them to his nearby rental home (separately) for “private rehearsals” and forced them to do unseemly things against their will. Like Harvey Weinstein, Vereen reportedly preferred to use a hot tub as a meeting place.
A woman who uses just her first name, Kim, said that while in the bath, the director asked her to perform oral sex, and she did, though she was “confused.”
“I just think at the time, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I didn’t want to do it, but I was intimidated and scared. He was being very intense and angry. He seemed very angry and offended. I had seen him behave this way toward others in the tribe during circle,” she told the Daily News.
Kaitlyn Terpstra, then 22, saw Vereen initially as a father figure.
“He was acting as my mentor, asking me about my parents, then that same night, he put me on his lap while I was crying, and I felt his erection,” Terpstra told the Daily News.
“He asked me, ‘Feel that?’ It was terrifying. I said, ‘Feel what?’ I wanted to act like I didn’t. I pushed myself off with a laugh. Then later, he asked, ‘Do you think I want to f--k you?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and he got angry. He said, ‘Well, I don’t, and that’s unfortunate.’ He made me feel like I had my mind in the gutter.”
A third actress, Ariella Pizarro, said Vereen out of the blue kissed her on the lips during rehearsals at the Venice. One time she said he pressed himself as he hugged her goodbye, later texting, “[You] felt so good tonight.”
A fourth woman, Vera, told the Daily News that once he got her to his place, he made a pass, wrapping his arms around her and lying her down on a couch.
“I was shocked. I had never been in a situation like that before,” she said. “He kept whispering things into my ear like, ‘relax’ and ‘give yourself to me.’ After the initial shock wore off I stopped his advances. He was never pleasant to me again.”
In a statement to the Daily News, Vereen apologized.
“While it was my intention to create an environment that replicated the themes of that musical during the rehearsal process, I have since come to understand that it is my conduct, not my intentions, which are relevant here. So I am not going to make any excuses because the only thing that matters here is acknowledging and apologizing for the effects of my conduct on the lives of these women,” he said.
“Going forward, my having come to terms with my past conduct will inform all my future interactions not only with women, but with all individuals. I hope these women will find it in their hearts to accept my sincere apology and forgive me,” his statement read.
The Venice Theatre’s executive director, Murray Chase, told the Daily News they are taking action: “We have learned recently that during our 2015 production of ‘Hair,’ more than one female cast member was asked to join Mr. Vereen at his residence. Some of those visits resulted in compromising situations for at least two of the actresses. We are working to strengthen our sexual harassment policies and procedures, including the reporting of them, to prevent any future occurrences.”