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How Did Bill Cosby Get Away With It?

Ms. Meyers is a former preschool and kindergarten teacher who holds a master's degree in special education and writes about early childhood.

Bill Cosby endorsed many products through the decades, most famously Jell-O pudding. He was one of the first black people to become a television spokesperson in the United States, well-liked and trusted by all.

Bill Cosby endorsed many products through the decades, most famously Jell-O pudding. He was one of the first black people to become a television spokesperson in the United States, well-liked and trusted by all.

Bill Cosby a Transformative Figure in American Entertainment

Bill Cosby has been famous for over five decades as a stand-up comic, actor, product spokesperson, author, and social commentator on issues such as race, education, and parenting. He was the hip young star of the series, I Spy, in the 1960s, appealing to both blacks and whites. In the '70s, he focused his charm and talent on a younger generation as the good guy host of the Saturday morning cartoon show, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, advising children on subjects such as stealing, smoking, and gun violence. During the '80s, he reached a wider audience with the classic family sitcom, The Cosby Show, which ran for eight seasons and earned him the designation, "America's Favorite Dad."

Through all five decades and beyond, he was known as the admiring husband of Camille Cosby, the dedicated father of five children, and the trusted spokesperson for Jell-O pudding. He was one of the first black people to advertise products on television. How did this beloved public figure compartmentalize his life to such an extreme, criticizing young black men for wearing sagging pants and listening to rap music, but now standing accused of drugging and raping dozens of women over the years?

What Do Bernie Madoff and Bill Cosby Have in Common?

Bernie Madoff infamously compartmentalized his life as he operated a Ponzi scheme, pulling off the biggest financial fraud in U.S. history. He ripped off seniors, charities, friends, and fellow Jews while simultaneously being a devoted father and grandfather, a prominent philanthropist, and husband to Ruth for 50 plus years. For decades Madoff successfully kept the various compartments of his life detached from one another—the illegal business from the legitimate one, the mistress from the wife, the respected financial strategist from the lowlife con man.

But the newly crowned champion of compartmentalizing is Bill Cosby, the once-beloved entertainer who has been in the public spotlight for over five decades. In the '60s, '70s, '80s, and beyond, Cosby led a fragmented life that few of us can comprehend let alone pull off what he did. His huge ego—fueled by enormous talent, enduring popularity, and ever-growing wealth and power—combined with his misogyny made him the accused tormentor of women spanning five decades.

Cosby in the 60's: An Award-Winning Actor, A Newlywed, and a Rapist

Most of us remember Bill Cosby as Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, the wise father and solicitous husband on the 80's sitcom, The Cosby Show. But in the 1960s, Cosby was a handsome 28-year-old stand-up comic turned actor in the secret-agent adventure show, I Spy. It was his first acting gig, one that earned him a place in the history books as the first black actor to star in an American television drama. He earned three consecutive Emmy awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Dramatic Series for each year the show ran from 1965 to 1968.

Traveling to exotic locations around the world to film with gorgeous actresses, Cosby's self-confidence swelled and the compartmentalization increased. He married his wife, Camille, in 1964 and a year later they had the first of their five children. Cosby was building a traditional family life for public consumption but constructing an unorthodox private life that included a friendship with Hugh Hefner, frequent visits to the Playboy Club on Hollywood's Sunset Strip, and dates with many Playboy bunnies. It was in 1969 that Joan Tarshis, now a 66-year-old writer, claims Cosby drugged and raped her twice when she was 19.

Moralist, Misogynist, and a Family Man

Bill Cosby grew up in the 40s and '50s before women's liberation in a household with four brothers and no sisters. He served in the Navy surrounded by men, became good buddies with Hugh Hefner, and frequented the Playboy Club. He was a misogynist in ways both big and small—often treating women with treachery, disdain, and aggression.

In his stand-up act, Cosby tells a story about changing his baby girl's diaper while his dad stands by and laments: “You didn't put the stem on the apple,” adding it's a “shame” the baby is a daughter, not a son. He instructs Cosby to pinch her nose and blow hard into her mouth as this will turn her into a boy. Cosby tries and becomes disappointed when it doesn't work. While the routine gets big chuckles from the live audience, it now seems misogynistic, sad, and extremely telling; Cosby devalues the female gender.

In the 70's Cosby's mistreatment of women contrasted sharply with his new role as creator, producer, and narrator of the animated show based on his childhood, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. The compartmentalization continued as Cosby took on the good-guy persona that would serve him well for decades to come—that of the kindly educator and moral authority, the hip grownup who was willing to teach hard life lessons to children, especially those in the inner-city.

During the '70s, Cosby's friendship with Hugh Hefner grew stronger, and he started to spend more time at the Playboy Mansion. His dual life got easier to pull off when he relocated his family to the east coast, purchasing a compound in bucolic Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, where his kids grew up and attended school. With his wife and kids safely tucked away, Cosby was free to continue his nefarious ways with women in California. He admitted in a 2005 deposition that he obtained prescriptions for quaaludes so he could give them to women he wanted to have sex with and that he paid women to keep silent so his wife wouldn't discover his infidelities. He did not confess, however, to having anything but consensual sex. Judy Huth, 57, has filed a sexual assault lawsuit against Cosby, claiming he sexually assaulted her at the Playboy Mansion in 1974 when she was just 15.

Moral Authority, Elder Statesman, and Hypocrite

Cosby reached his peak of fame in the '80s when he starred on The Cosby Show as the designer-sweater-wearing patriarch of the Huxtable clan and quickly became America's favorite TV dad. He had already gained a reputation as the lovable, funny, and trustworthy creator of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and as the face of Jell-O pudding, appearing in countless commercials over the years with young children. With his good-guy image firmly entrenched, Cosby became more brazen, pursuing young women with the modus operandi he had used for years: enticing them with career advice and opportunities, gaining their trust, then allegedly drugging and raping them. One of his victims during the 80s was supermodel, Beverly Johnson, who fell into Cosby's clutches when he offered her an audition for The Cosby Show.

Cosby was 47 when The Cosby Show premiered and 55 when it ended. He was no longer the hip young actor from I Spy but a mature role model with strong opinions and moral convictions. Just as his character, Dr. Huxtable, seemed to have all the answers so did Bill Cosby. Both had a thriving career, a beautiful and intelligent wife, and five high-achieving kids. It's no wonder Cosby felt empowered to write books and appear on talk shows, no longer just telling humorous stories but giving advice on parenting, marriage, and education.

While most of his audience continued to revere him, soft rumblings of discontent could be heard from comic insiders who knew of Cosby's secret life and resented his hypocrisy. Some blacks, especially poor ones, felt betrayed by Cosby when he gave his famous “Pound Cake Speech” at an NAACP event in 2004. During the speech, he shamed the African-American community for its high amount of drop-outs, prisoners, and out-of-wedlock births. Positioning himself as a social critic and moral authority, Cosby put a target on his back. Now, as more than 40 women have accused him of drugging and raping them, Cosby finds some blacks gloating over his downfall, not bemoaning it.

Bill Cosby's "Pound Cake Speech" Was Filled With Exaggerations and Inaccuracies

A Future in Court

This is the sad story of how Bill Cosby, America's dad, now stands accused of rape. Today, it's impossible to find anything amusing in Bill Cosby's stand-up routines on YouTube. Every tale he tells—once so funny, profound, and touching—now take on a new, perverted meaning. Cosby, approaching 80, faces a future of endless lawsuits, courtroom appearances, and hefty legal fees. His wife and daughters stay loyal but others have abandoned ship. His legacy—possibly dismantled by his own hands, own hubris, and own hypocrisy—is destroyed.

© 2015 McKenna Meyers


McKenna Meyers (author) on January 05, 2016:

I never thought I'd be so surprised and disappointed about a celebrity's actions. I thought I was too cynical for that. But the accusations against Cosby have hit me hard because I grew up watching Fat Albert and the Cosby Show. I liked and respected Bill Cosby. However, in researching this Hub, I found out many things about him that were troubling and quite opposite of the image that was built for him. We don't know celebrities at all.

Susan on January 05, 2016:

Given all of the women coming forward, his statements in court about giving women Quaaludes, and on stage about wanting to drug women, I don't see how people can not believe this is real. It is very sad on various levels, but it's also important to understand how this happened for so long. Compartmentalization seems like a key ability for him to have developed, and I wonder how common it is in sociopaths.

McKenna Meyers (author) on October 06, 2015:

I think Bill Cosby should hire you for his team! The water is definitely murky with some of the women because the events happened decades ago, drugs and alcohol were involved and, yes, many of them were with Cosby to help their show-biz careers. However, Andrea Constand was the game-changer. She was an outsider; the director of operations for the women's basketball program at Temple University, not an actress, model, or Playboy Bunny. Yes, Cosby is a victim of his fame right now, but he has been a powerful man in entertainment for decades. In interviews about the rapes, you can see how he's used to controlling the situation, manipulating people, and getting his way. He has bought his way out of difficult spots. The media is hitting Cosby hard now but in the past, they've done a lot to protect him -- including killing rape stories.

Dru Story from NYC/LA/FL on October 06, 2015:

Yes we do lol.

First we have to consider the fact that this is all different from regular rape cases involving regular people. The psychology is different. Most of these women are career opportunists. They've been looking for a comeuppance their whole lives. And Cosby is a very rich man with media attention surrounding him. I don't think the victim is blamed in this case. There's is a reality to this situation that no one puts in the forefront of discussion. Lots of times rapes go unreported. This is true and I give you that. However false reports of rape happen A LOT. The numbers would shock you. Especially when there is a discernible motive ie to hide infidelity from spouse, justify a bad decision, vengeance, sympathy or attention seekers,

In these cases there is a lot to gain. Media outlets are pretty much handing wads of cash to anyone that comes forth to say Cosby raped them. And Gloria Allred is also damn near recruiting women like the army. She's enticing them with a possible 100 million dollar civil suit. The motive is right there. Because of this we can't make special rules for women and rape cases. Like any crime it has to be proven. We can never decide to just take someone's word for it without evidence 40 years later. What Gloria Allred is trying to do is evil and she needs to be stopped. This is not the way we should be dealing with rape allegations---especially with all the aforementioned things considered. Smearing this all over the news out of court, especially when many people know a lot of those women are lying is not right Constitutionally or morally.

McKenna Meyers (author) on October 05, 2015:

We've got a healthy debate going on here! I am currently reading Jon Krakauer's "Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town" and it has influenced the way I look at the Cosby case. Cosby's case has many similarities to rape cases in general: Women rarely report it. The lack of reporting leads to a serial rapist. Drugs and/or alcohol have been consumed by both parties, creating confusion about whether consent was given. Some women were confused about whether they were raped or not. It seems like we haven't made much progress with this issue and things may have actually gotten worse. But why is rape the only crime in which the victim is blamed?

Dru Story from NYC/LA/FL on October 04, 2015:

Here's the thing; of all the women I only believed Barbara Bowman and Heidi Thomas---until I found out what I learned and information people have shown me that I saw for myself. They're lying.

These women are falling into their own traps. They're trying to get book deals. They're being paid and invited to speak places. Their hiring publicists. They're going on talk shows, radio shows and news shows all over the country--and consequently smaller networks are catching them in lies left and right based on what they've been saying on other shows and programs. People are sorting the lies together but the major networks won't touch it. They're all being called on contradictions or things that would be impossible, then they scurry away and say they don't remember due to trauma then bolt. We have to learn in our country to respect the Constitution and our rights as citizens. We are not supposed to cast judgment and punish people outside of court with no evidence---ESPECIALLY because of 40 year-old allegations from prostitutes, playboy playmates, career opportunists and wannabe actors. In court these women would go down in flames.

There's no doubt in my mind Cosby used a lot women and got around, but these rape allegations are lies and these women have been getting caught. These women, many of them playboy playmates and whores who hung around Hollywood big wigs are pretending to have been young innocent, naïve poor souls and they're lying for money and relevance---and the media is assisting them with no cross-examination. This isn't right.

McKenna Meyers (author) on October 04, 2015:

I agree that I don't like their affiliation with Gloria Allred, who loves to be at the center of these things. However, I believe these women. There are now more than 40 and they tell similar stories. Plus, I think we -- the American public -- bought into the Hollywood image of Bill Cosby as Dr. Huxtuble -- family man and all-around good guy. The real Bill Cosby was a good friend of Hugh Hefner and hung out at the Playboy Mansion. Plus, in his deposition for Andrea Constand's lawsuit, he admitted to giving Quaaludes to women before having sex with them. Plus, more and more women are coming forward! There's probably some bad apples in the bunch but certainly not all. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Dru Story from NYC/LA/FL on October 04, 2015:

I wrote about this too which is why I found your article. I'm sorry, I actually looked into every single case and even spoke with a lawyer friend I met through blogging who was a lawyer for 30 years who agreed, without a doubt almost all these women are lying through their teeth and are being paid by tabloids. I know you have good intentions, but many of us are coasting on media disinformation and sensationalism but don't really know what these women actually said and how they been tripping up BIG time and no one notices. You can't say these women have nothing to gain but of course that's not true. Their getting attention, purpose and money. And they have similar stories because obviously they are dog-piling with Gloria Allred. Open your eyes.

McKenna Meyers (author) on October 01, 2015:

Many of us wanted these accusations to be false, but now we have over 40 women with similar stories. Many of them are in their 50s and 60s with nothing to gain but a chance to finally tell of their ordeal and be believed.

Steve on October 01, 2015:

"How America's dad got away with rape", your title should be "how America got away with convicting a man who hasn't been charged with a crime in a court of law. I looked up what some of these women actually said on record and it's pathetic. Killed via tabloids from liars and money seeking opportunists. Welcome to America.