Legendary Broadway costumer designer William Ivey Long, 74, who created the outfits for Chicago and Hairspray, was accused of sexual abuse by two young former coworkers.
Court Watson and Michael Martin, 46, claimed Long, a six-time Tony award winner, had sexually abused the then-college aged men while they were working at The Lost Colony theater between 1996 and 2002 in the North Carolina Outer Banks.
Watson alleges that Long got him drunk so the costumer could have sex with him without consent, and Martin said Long had touched him inappropriately on 10 separate occasions.
A 2002 lawsuit involving Long’s history of alleged sexual assaults during that period also claims he forced two other men to have sex with each other while a board member watched, NPR reported.
Although Watson and Martin had tried to speak out against Long in the past, they described Long as ‘so revered’ that there was no point in trying.
‘William had all the power. He was the most famous person on the island,’ Watson said, referring to the status Long enjoyed on the Outer Banks islands.
Famed Broadway costume designer William Ivey Long, pictured at the 2019 Tony Awards, stands accused by two former mentees for sexually assaulting and harassing them
Court Watson, left, and Michael Martin alleged that William Ivey Long acted as a mentor to them at the Lost Colony Theater, in North Carolina, before sexually abusing them
Long, an iconic designer, made the costumes for Hairspray in 2008
Long’s lawyer, Pear Zuchlewski, said the designer ’emphatically denies’ all the allegations against him.
Martin had first publicly accused Long in 2018 about the alleged groping incidents that began in 1996, the worst of which involved Long groping his butt while praising the young man’s work.
‘William slid his hand down the back of my pants. He was squeezing my ass while he was pointing out some texture that I had painted. I was just so wounded — with one hand, he was groping me, and with the other, he’s pointing out something that I did well,’ he said.
Martin, a young actor technician, believed he had the opportunity of a lifetime when he joined The Lost Colony in 1995 and was soon promoted because Long had ‘seen a talent’ in him and wanted to ‘foster it.’
Martin claims Long then began to single him out and pressured him into having dinners with him, which was enforced by other staff members.
‘Someone else would say to you, ‘You have to go, you’re not going to miss this opportunity, are you?’ It was a system of constant pressure that was fostered by the people who worked with him, he told NPR.
‘But then at night, you’d go to parties where people were drinking, and they would regale each other with war stories about what a creep he was.’
Long, left, is a six-time Tony Award winner. He’s pictured at the 2019 after party
Long led the costume department in The Lost Colony theater, in North Carolina. He enjoyed a position of great renown where he allegedly acted wit impunity
Then Long allegedly began touching Martin inappropriately, first in private settings, and then openly in front of other employees.
‘He started doing it in front of other people, saying things like, “I liked your work better yesterday, but then again yesterday you weren’t wearing a shirt.” He would say that in front of my entire props staff,’ Martin said.
A source who asked NPR to remain anonymous out of fear of Long’s influence, said he witnessed Long’s constant touching of Martin, and that Martin’s friends would have to physically shield him whenever they saw Long coming.
Martin said that when he finally confronted Long about the harassment and threatened to sue him, Long deflected the allegations.
A production head then warned Martin that going after Long could ruin his fledgling career in the entertainment industry.
‘She was also very good at making me come to the realization that I was at the beginning of my career, and that if I sued The Lost Colony or brought a formal complaint against Mr. Long, that would follow me around for my career — that I might be damaging myself way more than I could damage William.’
After Martin openly accused Long in 2018 in an interview with BuzzFeed, Watson became vocal about his experiences with the famed Broadway costume designer.
Watson was only 19 when he joined The Lost Colony in 2000 as a costume designer. When he was promoted the following year, Watson said he had sex with one of Long’s assistants during a party.
The following morning, Watson said Long told everyone about it during breakfast.
Long ‘starts going into graphic detail about what I had done — I thought privately — with the assistant the night before. I, of course, was red in the face. I think I burst into tears. On reflection, I think I was basically being given a test run,’ Watson said.
The Roanoke Island Historical Association, which oversees production of The Lost Colony, eventually cut their ties with Long after investigating the series of sexual abuse allegations weighed against him in the late 1990s and early 2000s
Then in 2002, Watson alleges that Long had gotten him ‘extremely drunk’ at a party, to the point where other employees began to worry about Watson and had asked him to stop.
Watson adds that he did not see Long drink at all that night, and believes the sex was not consensual due to his inebriation and the fact that Long was his supervisor.
He said he felt ‘ashamed’ and ‘humiliated’ about the incident and said no one would take his claims seriously.
Amid the two men’s plight, one production manager named Mary Elizabeth Stewart filed a lawsuit in 2002 against the producers of The Lost Colony over claims of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation centered on Long.
Stewart’s suit claimed she received multiple reports of Long sexually assaulting or harassing staff members between 1999 and 2001.
One of the most damning accusations came from one man who said he was forced to have sex with another man at Long’s behest, all while an board member watched.
The man also said that Long performed oral sex on him against his wishes and then tried to make him find ‘young boys’ who Long could have sex with.
Long denies the allegations levied against him and his lawyer has questioned the credibility of the two accusers about why they only recently decided to speak up
The lawsuit also claims that Long took sexually inappropriate photographs of men at The Lost Colony for a pinup calendar he was making.
Stewart claimed her own husband had been approached by one of Long’s assistant to have sex with him while Long watched.
According to the lawsuit, Stewart was fired when she complained about Long.
The lawsuit was settled in 2003, the terms of which are unknown.
The Roanoke Island Historical Association, which oversees production of The Lost Colony, cut ties with Long after learning about the allegations and conducting an internal investigation in 2020.
RIHA Board Chairman Kevin Bradley said in a statement, ‘We agreed that Mr. Long would cut his ties with the production… While the investigation did not corroborate specific allegations, it raised serious concerns about the workplace environment. We were determined to do the right thing about these allegations.’
Despite Watson and Martin saying they were powerless to stand against Long given their low status in the industry, Long’s lawyer doubts their credibility.
‘Neither Martin nor Watson ever brought their complaints about Long to any local, state or federal human rights agency nor did they file a state or federal judicial action. In Watson’s case, he and Long are members of the same union, but, to our knowledge, Watson never invoked the union grievance process,’ Zuchlewski said.
‘Instead, both Martin and Watson choose to air their accusations against Long in the media where they cannot be challenged by any objective fact finder.’