Earlier this week, actress Heather Lind said in a now-deleted Instagram post that former president George H.W. Bush had sexually assaulted her. “He touched me from behind from his wheelchair with his wife Barbara Bush by his side,” she wrote. “He told me a dirty joke. And then, all the while being photographed, touched me again.”
That is not the end of things. Jordana Grolnick, a New York actress, has a story to tell that doesn’t sound very different at all. “I got sent the Heather Lind story by many people this morning,” Grolnick says. “And I’m afraid that mine is entirely similar.”
Rumors about Bush groping actresses in this manner have been circulating for a while. More than a year ago, a tipster passed word about the Heather Lind incident to Deadspin. We were told that Bush had, during a photo opp, groped her and told her that his favorite magician was “David Cop-a-Feel” while fondling her.
(Reached for comment, Bush spokesperson Jim McGrath provided the following statement: “At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures. To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”)
In reporting out the tip, I found two actresses—Lind and Grolnick—who had accused Bush of groping, and also two Twitter users who, on April 4, 2014, made reference to the “David Cop-a-Feel” joke. At the time, these people either didn’t respond to Deadspin’s requests for comment, or could not be reached. Today, in the wake of the Lind story, I tried again, and Grolnick wanted to tell her story.
In August 2016, Grolnick was working at a Maine production of Hunchback of Notre Dame. The former president, who summers in nearby Kennebunkport and frequents this theater, caught a performance. He came backstage during an intermission, she says, and she and the rest of the cast gathered for a photo with him.
Grolnick now says that other actors had told her before the photo that Bush had a reputation for fondling during photo ops, but she didn’t take it seriously.
“I guess I was thinking,” she says, “‘He’s in a wheelchair, what harm could he do?’”
Then her question got answered.
“We all circled around him and Barbara for a photo, and I was right next to him,” she says. “He reached his right hand around to my behind, and as we smiled for the photo he asked the group, ‘Do you want to know who my favorite magician is?’ As I felt his hand dig into my flesh, he said, ‘David Cop-a-Feel!’”
Grolnick says others in the room “laughed politely and out of discomfort.” Former first lady Barbara Bush was among those nearby. “[She] said something along the lines of, ‘He’s going to get himself put into jail!’ to which we laughed harder,” Grolnick says.
Grolnick went home and posted the backstage photo with the former president on Instagram:
Grolnick—who consented to have her name used in this post, but requested we not include the name of the theater where the incident occurred—says she did more than put out word of the incident on Instagram, however. She told friends and family, too. And she was heartened that, despite the power differential between the accuser and the accused, there were no hints that she was making anything up. “Nobody didn’t believe me,” she says.
Those around her, though, had varied reactions to the news she’d been groped*. “I told my grandmother first, because she was with me right after it happened,” Grolnick says. “She just said, ‘Oh, he’s just sick! He hasn’t been well for years!’ She was just laughing it off.”
Grolnick says, however, that her father got angry. But she now says she never seriously considered pushing the matter with the theater or legal authorities, and almost “laughed it off.”
“I just thought, ‘Whatever. He’s a dirty old man,’” she says.
But recent trends in truth-telling in entertainment and media, and empathy for Lind, changed her mind about the propriety of letting the matter die.
“I don’t want to belittle Heather Lind for feeling violated,” she says. “Now that the #metoo movement has brought this all to light, I think I should have been a little more alarmed to be touched so inappropriately by a man who was once the leader of the free world. He knows the power he has, and the reverence he deserves, even while sitting perhaps somewhat senile in a wheelchair. What I’ve come to realize is that if we tolerate these small comments and grazes from men on the street or former presidents, they might assume that it’s ok with us, and they may take it as permission to do who-knows-what else. I realize that making light of the situation was the wrong move. It wasn’t ok for him to do that to me. He wasn’t able to give me a job or a movie deal, so I didn’t feel compromised or pressured to do anything more, but the comments and assumptions about our bodies must stop, at all levels.”
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