Crash­ing Hol­ly­wood’s glass ceil­ing

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - Re­view by DOU­GLASS K. DANIEL

NEVER heard of Sherry Lans­ing? That’s OK – nei­ther had ac­tor and pro­ducer Michael Dou­glas or in­dus­tri­al­ist Marvin Davis when she knocked at their doors.

Lans­ing was a young ex­ec­u­tive at Columbia Pic­tures when she was put in charge of The China Syn­drome (1979), the movie Dou­glas was pro­duc­ing. She stopped by his of­fice to in­tro­duce her­self. “Honey,” Dou­glas told her, “cast­ing doesn’t start un­til next week.” Sure, what else could a good-look­ing woman be do­ing there but look­ing for a role?

That was of­ten the re­ac­tion to Lans­ing as she climbed each sex­ist rung of Hol­ly­wood’s cor­po­rate lad­der. She had been run­ning things at Fox for a year or two when, in 1981, Davis bought the stu­dio with a chunk of his pe­tro­leum for­tune. She stopped by his of­fice to in­tro­duce her­self. “No, no, honey. I don’t want any cof­fee,” he told her.

Sex­ism is just one in­ter­est­ing facet of the life and ca­reer that bi­og­ra­pher Stephen Gal­loway ex­plores in Lead­ing Lady. He presents a fully re­alised por­trait of a pro­fes­sional woman break­ing glass ceil­ings. But more im­por­tant, The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter jour­nal­ist shows us the per­son who en­dures fail­ure as of­ten as she savours tri­umph. Her strength of spirit, per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally, is what un­der­lies Gal­loway’s ti­tle.

Like the old-school moguls, Lans­ing had a good sense of what worked on-screen be­cause she loved the movies. As chair­man of Paramount Pic­tures, she kept block­busters Forrest Gump (1994) and Brave­heart (1995) on track de­spite the bud­get tra­vails that threatened them. She was wrong plenty of times, too, though her slipups re­ceive rel­a­tively short shrift here.

Lans­ing is sur­pris­ingly open about painful per­sonal mat­ters, par­tic­u­larly her in­se­cu­rity. She failed at one mar­riage and went through one re­la­tion­ship after an­other be­fore es­tab­lish­ing an un­likely and long-last­ing union with Ex­or­cist (1973) di­rec­tor Wil­liam Fried­kin.

Lans­ing did in­deed break ground, though she is not de­picted as a cru­sader. She bore the sex­ism, learn­ing to work with older, pow­er­ful men who doubted her at first be­cause of her gender. Like many women be­fore and since, she did her job and let her achieve­ments speak for her. – AP

Stephen Gal­loway Crown Archetype, bi­og­ra­phy

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