Crashing Hollywood’s glass ceiling
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