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John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, is taking a leave of absence from Walt Disney following allegations of inappropriate behaviour toward employees.
In a memo to employees announcing he would take a “six-month sabbatical”, Mr Lasseter acknowledged “mis-steps” and said he had been having “difficult” and “painful” conversations. His statement came as the Hollywood Reporter published claims that the executive was known within the company and the wider industry for “grabbing, kissing [and] making comments about physical attributes”.
The Pixar cofounder, one of the most powerful figures in animation, is the latest public figure to be accused of misconduct in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which has extended from Hollywood to Silicon Valley, Washington and Westminster. Earlier on Tuesday, CBS and PBS cut ties with Charlie Rose, the veteran US broadcast journalist, after several women alleged he sexually harassed them.
Several people told the Hollywood Reporter that women at Pixar “knew to turn their heads quickly when encountering him to avoid his kisses.” Others told the trade magazine they “used a move they called ‘the Lasseter’ to prevent their boss from putting his hands on their legs”.
Mr Lasseter did not address the specific claims, but told staff: “It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent . . . I especially want to apologise to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form.”
A Disney spokesperson said: “We are committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work. We appreciate John’s candour and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical.”
Mr Lasseter started his career at Disney in 1979 as an animator. But he was fired in 1983 for refusing to drop the idea that the company’s future would lie in computer animation.
He went on to co-found Pixar with backing from Steve Jobs, turning the start-up into a digital studio that rewrote the rule book on animated movies with acclaimed hits such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo.
Pixar was acquired by Disney in 2006 for $7.6bn and Mr Lasseter rejoined the company. He was made chief creative officer, responsible for managing Pixar and reviving Walt Disney Animation Studios alongside his Pixar co-founder, Ed Catmull.
Disney’s own animated output had grown moribund. Importing a methodology they had fine-tuned at Pixar, Mr Lasseter and Mr Catmull oversaw a remarkable turnround in the division, releasing a string of hits, culminating in the remarkable box office success — and Oscar win — of 2013’s Frozen.
Since allegations against Mr Weinstein first came out in public in October, more than 90 women have accused the Hollywood mogul of abuse and harassment over several decades. The claims against the producer have sparked a reckoning over the behaviour of men and the systematic discrimination against and harassment of women in the workplace and beyond.
In recent weeks, harassment allegations have led to Kevin Spacey, the Oscar-winning actor, being fired from the Netflix show House of Cards, Steve Jurvetson being forced out of the venture capital firm he co-founded, Roy Price resigning as head of Amazon Studios and Michael Fallon resigning as UK defence minister.