On October 22, after reading Glenn Whipp’s incendiary James Toback investigation in the LA Times, Becky Wahlstrom scoured her journals. A veteran actress whose credits include “Joan of Arcadia” and “Mad Men,” she was 23 when she wrote a seven-and-a-half page entry on August 13, 1998 that described meeting Toback at the Beverly Hills Hotel for approximately five hours the night before.
Ostensibly, it was an audition for his film “Black and White”; Toback requested the meeting after seeing her deliver two lines in Don Roos’ “The Opposite of Sex.” She went to the audition without sides; she loved the idea that Toback liked to build his roles around his actors, a philosophy she embraced while studying at the Piven Theatre Workshop in Chicago.
At the hotel, she met Toback in the lobby — along with a number of his friends. Toback invited the group to his room, and Wahlstrom’s diary recalls NBA players milling about, plus a rapper, and Toback’s cinematographer. He introduced her to all of them as if she’d already joined the “Black and White” cast that included Robert Downey Jr., Gaby Hoffman, Jared Leto, and Ben Stiller. When he encouraged her to grab a drink and kick off her shoes, she obliged.
The influx of people hit a lull and they were left alone. Toback asked Wahlstrom if she could be trusted, then confessed that he once bribed to throw a basketball game while attending Harvard, and had lived in a commune under the nickname “Doorlocker,” where O.J. Simpson once paid a visit. Toback also said he’d killed people. (She assumed that meant he’d fought in the Vietnam War.)
“I’m going to change your life,” he promised. The phone rang, signaling a new guest was in the lobby. But before leaving, Toback hoisted her arm and licked her armpit hair.
Wahlstrom then called her roommate, put on her shoes, and paced on the room’s patio before making an exit. She encountered Toback in the hallway, and suggested they get acquainted over a barroom pool table. When Toback said no, they kept talking, moving back into his room, asking what was she was afraid of. “I am not going to fuck you, unless you told me you absolutely needed it,” he said.
Recognizing she was being manipulated by a man 30 years her senior, Wahlstrom grew more fearful. Toback said he wanted to rub his penis on her leg and twist her armpit hair while she twisted his nipples. “It’ll take all of 60 seconds,” he insisted. Instead, she screamed at him, pounded on his chest, and trashed his hotel room by throwing a glass coffee table, lighting a cigarette, and leaving.
She wrote it all down in her journal the next day, ending the entry with a note to God, pleading that she not get the part. “Me, that gung-ho young actress, really just didn’t want that opportunity,” she told IndieWire in a November 6 phone call. “How could I not have wanted that opportunity to be a lead in a film? He was that gross and he was just that unappealing that I was praying that he didn’t call my agent back and want to work with me, and then I’d have to force myself to make that decision.”
However, in rerereading the entry, Wahlstrom realized she’d forgotten something. She’d also drawn a pencil sketch of Toback: He is leaning far to his left, to avoid knocking over the nearby room service tray. His balding head is shaped like a large peanut, trimmed with curled sideburns and beads of beard under clenched teeth. His collared shirt is unbuttoned, exposing chest hair above a sphere of belly. Behind him is a canopied bed, and the open bathroom door. Toback’s hand hovers above his crotch, which he is rubbing; there are lines indicating movement.
“I know he didn’t pull his penis out,” Wahlstrom said, although she recalls Toback saying he wanted to do that. “But I feel like he grabbed himself a lot, I feel like he rearranged himself a lot, and I guess that’s why I drew him [that] way.”
Wahlstrom emailed photographs of the diary entry and her drawing to Whipp, becoming one of hundreds of new accusers that contacted him in a few short days, leading to the Beverly Hills Police Department’s ongoing investigation.
“I actually think it’s a perfect depiction of him,” Wahlstrom said. “It’s cartoony and grotesque, which is what he is and what he was in that room.”
Editor’s note: On October 22, the day the LA Times published its story, ICM agent Jeff Berg confirmed that he no longer represented Toback as a client; no other publicist, agent, or attorney could be identified. Washington Square Films, co-distributor of Toback’s last film, “The Private Life of a Modern Woman,” did not respond to a request for comment.