Famous bald television host and storied comedian Steve Harvey sits motionless, staring through anxious eyes. At once angry and scared, his visage channels Richard Pryor in appearance but not substance. Despite his expression, there is no conflict in Steve’s words. As he speaks, there is no doubt or insecurity, only conviction.
“Oh he done rape those women, you understand,” says Harvey furrowing his brow, swaddled in a gabardine nest of fabric up to his mustache, the stubby vestiges of three or four cigars sitting between his stark white ivory veneers.
We’re inside Steve’s trailer on the set of his new film, You Aint A Woman Till You Do A Man Mind, a romantic comedy about four young women who attend a Family Feud taping in search of dating advice from Harvey, but instead, through Harvey’s guidance, they end up dedicating their lives to the church.
“It’s a good movie,” says Harvey regarding the film. “It’s a family movie.”
But we’re not here to discuss Steve’s incredibly successful string of dating advice films, I’ve sat down with the tawdry staple of daytime television to talk about something else destroying the lives of young women; Bill Cosby’s long and widely known history of violent rapes.
Now at the far end of the trailer, Harvey removes a large paint mixing bucket from the refrigerator and places it on the floor. The late afternoon sunlight, heavy and saccharine, pours through the little windows in the kitchenette, swallowing Harvey, penetrating and contrasting him, transforming his powerful and padded shoulders into a saintly silhouette. In the light, his pinstripes are barely visible, faint but solid lines that break just above the knees, made incongruous by the meeting point where his cartoonishly oversized jacket traverses his cartoonishly oversized pants. Minding his pleats, he bends at the waist and removes a dripping wet fedora from the bucket, shaking it dry before donning it slightly askew like a canted halo. As he delicately adjusts the hat with just his fingertips, he tells me he always soaks his show fedoras in buttermilk to keep them “delicious.” Also it’s for good luck, he says.
“A man has to do his whole appearance,” he tells me, his voice soft but firm with the distinctly warm and hissy fidelity of a vinyl recording. “Everything I do is I do because my appearance, you see.”
And indeed, I can see. Steve Harvey is a man of deliberate appearance. Every inch of Steve Harvey is tailored and groomed, every thread contributing to an ostentatious appearance that commands attention and awe. But despite the fedoras and his geometrically precise mustache, so pitch it seems to absorb light, the most striking feature of Harvey is now and always has been the ridiculous amount of buttons on his jackets. Now that these accusations have come to light, he’s able to explain and make sense of them. He tells me that those buttons serve a purpose.
“They represent all of Cosby’s victims,” says Steve, choking up as he looks down his sturdy chest at a field of half dollar sized velvet buttons. “This suit got fifty seven buttons on it. This is my spring 1982 to fall 1984 Cosby suit. That’s how many women he raped in that time period.”
Tears pour down Harvey’s face now, and he moves to a large armoire in the center of the trailer.
“It was a thing you couldn’t done talk about back then. Cosby would take away your career, you understand. It was a different time back then, you see. The buttons were the only way I could speak out.”
He swings the doors to the armoire open and from inside, he tugs at a piece of canary yellow fabric that unfurls from the rosewood cabinet like a frog’s tongue.
“Look at this!” cries Steve, pulling rapidly at the giant suit as it piles behind him on the floor. The suit doesn’t seem to end, spewing out like handkerchiefs out of a clown’s mouth. “Look at all these damn buttons!”
I try to keep count, but there’s just too many buttons on this suit. Hundreds maybe, perhaps thousands.
“This the 1970s suit,” Harvey wails. “This the most buttonous suit I have. I tried to do up all these buttons once, got arthritis in my joints. They had to do steroid injections in my knuckles.”
He shows me his hands. They look fine, but he exaggerates, contriving a tremble in his wrists. His tears flow freely now.
“My hands was so messed up from the buttons, I couldn’t make love to my wife. I couldn’t hold my kids.”
I try to place my hand on Steve’s shoulder, offering an insincere but gentle reminder that he’s doing the right thing by wearing all these buttons, even if it means he’s hurting his health and his family. Steve tosses my hand away and wordlessly motions to the exit of the trailer. The interview is over.
“How he gone to rape all those women? How he gone make Steve wear all these damn buttons?” he mumbles as he puts on jacket after jacket, not taking the time to button any of them, burying himself in tears and fabric until he finally disappears under the cloth.