Nationality: American. Born: Sherry Lee Lansing in Chicago, 31 July 1944. Family: Married to film director William Friedkin. Education: B.S. in theatre, summa cum laude, Northwestern University, 1966. Career: Began teaching high school math, English, and drama in Watts and East Los Angeles, 1966; pursued a modeling career, working for Max Factor and Alberto-Culver, 1969; had supporting parts in the films Loving and Rio Lobo, hired as executive story editor at Wagner International, 1970; hired as executive in charge of West Coast development at Talent Associates, 1974; hired as story editor at MGM, 1975; promoted to vice president, creative affairs, at MGM; named vice president, production, at Columbia Pictures, 1977; promoted to Columbia senior vice president, 1978; named president of 20th-Century Fox, 1980; formed Jaffe-Lansing Productions, an independent production company, with Stanley R. Jaffe; established a five-year relationship with Paramount Pictures, 1983; extended relationship with Paramount Pictures, 1987; became Chair and CEO of Paramount Pictures Motion Picture Group, 1992.
Address: c/o Paramount Pictures Corp., 5555 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90038–3197 U.S.A.
Films as Producer/Co-Producer/Co-Executive Producer:
Firstborn (Apted); Racing with the Moon (Benjamin)
Fatal Attraction (Lyne); When the Time Comes (Erman—for TV)
The Accused (Kaplan)
Black Rain (Scott)
School Ties (Mandel)
Indecent Proposal (Lyne)
Loving (Kershner) (ro); Rio Lobo (Hawks) (ro)
By LANSING: articles—
"Actress' Life Is a Bore; Lansing Now MGM V.P.," interview in Variety (New York), 13 April 1977.
"At the Movies," interview with J. Maslin, in New York Times, 23 March 1984.
"Sherry Lansing: an interview," interview with C. Krista, in Films in Review (New York), November 1984.
On LANSING: articles—
"Sherry Lansing Takes Post as Col. Production V-P," in Box Office (Los Angeles), 7 November 1977.
"Sherry Lansing Enjoys More Film Corp. Rank than Ever Given Woman," in Variety (New York), 27 September 1978.
"Chasman and Lansing New Col. Senior V-Ps," in Box Office (Los Angeles), 21 August 1978.
"Boone Ankles Fox; Lansing Quits Col," in Variety (New York), 5 December 1979.
"Sherry Lansing Cues Chasman Elevation on Columbia Staff," in Variety (New York), 12 December 1979.
"Sherry Lansing New Prod. Chief at Fox; First Woman to Assume Job," in Variety (New York), 2 January 1980.
Harmetz, A., "Sherry Lansing, Former Model, Named Head of Fox Productions," in New York Times, 2 January 1980.
"Woman First to Reach Studio President's Rank," in Box Office (Los Angeles), 7 January 1980.
Harmetz, A., "Sherry Lansing and 2 Hollywood Hits," in New York Times, 7 February 1980.
Schulberg, B., "What Makes Hollywood Run Now?," in New York Times, 27 April 1980.
Current Biography (New York), 1981.
Daniell, T., "15 Fox Starts Ahead of an Iffy Strike," in Variety (New York), 18 February 1981.
Kaminsky, B., "Fox's Lansing Slates Ten New Productions for 1982," in Film Journal (New York), 21 December 1981.
Klain, S., "Brandeis' Tribute to Lansing Cues Droll Davis-Hirschfeld Sparring," in Variety (New York), 30 June 1982.
"Sherry Lansing's Fox Deal Extended for Indefinite Term," in Variety (New York), 21 July 1982.
Harmetz, A., "How a Hollywood Rumor Was Born, Flourished and Died," in New York Times, 12 December 1982.
Harmetz, A., "Sherry Lansing Resigns as Fox Production Chief," in New York Times, 21 December 1982
Harwood, J., "Lansing Trots from Fox Studio Niche; Has Job, Won't Elaborate," in Variety (New York), 22 December 1982.
Nicholson, T., "Business: Lansing's Farewell to Fox," in Newsweek (New York), 3 January 1983.
"Lansing, Jaffe Form Own Feature Shop, 5-year Marriage to Par.," in Variety (New York), 5 January 1983.
Farber, S., "Script to Screen: A Rocky Path," in New York Times, 6 November 1983.
"Business Update: Sherry Lansing's New Role in Movies," in New York Times, 6 November 1983.
"Jaffe and Lansing Extend Par pact," in Variety (New York), 30 September 1987.
Mass, R., "The Mirror Cracked: The Career Woman in a Trio of Lansing Films," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), no. 2, 1988.
Vincenzi, L., "Motion Pictures: Stanley R. Jaffe and Sherry Lansing," in Millimeter (Cleveland, Ohio), January 1988.
Phillips, L., "Cameos: Sherry Lansing," in Premiere (New York), October 1988.
Beller, M., "Producer Sherry Lansing: Class Act in a Nasty Business," in Life (New York), 10 April 1989.
Matthews, T., "Weathering Black Rain," in Box Office (Los Angeles), 11 September 1989.
Hall, C., "Sherry Lansing: Living on Hollywood's Front Lines," in Newsday (Melville, New York), 23 September 1992.
Meisel, M., "A New Era Begins for Sherry Lansing," in Film Journal (New York), October/November 1992.
Wechsler, P., "Succeeding Tartikoff in Top Post: Paramount Taps Sherry Lansing," in Newsday, 5 November 1992.
Fabricant, G., "Sherry Lansing Is Named to Head Paramount," in New York Times, 5 November 1992.
Marx, A., and B. Lowry, "Lansing Ascends at Paramount," in Variety (New York), 9 November 1992.
Bart, P., "Queen of the Mountain," in Variety (New York), 26 July 1993.
Weinraub. B., "Hollywood Takes Bidding War in Stride (for Now)," in New York Times, 1 October 1993.
Conant, J., "Sherry Lansing (Chairwoman of Paramount Pictures' Motion Picture Group)," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), 1 January 1994.
Sellers, P., "The 50 Most Powerful Women in American Business," in Fortune (New York), 12 October 1998.
Kit, Z., "Women in Entertainment—The Power," in Hollywood Reporter, December 1999.
* * *
The career of Hollywood producer/executive Sherry Lansing, and her impact on the motion picture industry, is concisely summarized in a series of headlines of news articles chronicling her career:
1977: "Sherry Lansing Takes Post as Col. Production V-P"
1978: "Sherry Lansing Enjoys More Film Corp. Rank than Ever Given Woman"
1979: "Boone Ankles Fox; Lansing Quits Col"
1980: "Sherry Lansing New Prod. Chief at Fox; First Woman to Assume Job"
1981: "Fox's Lansing Slates Ten New Productions for 1982"
1982: "Sherry Lansing's Fox Deal Extended for Indefinite Term"
1982: "Sherry Lansing Resigns as Fox Production Chief"
1983: "Lansing, Jaffe Form Own Feature Shop, 5-year Marriage to Par."
1987: "Jaffe and Lansing Extend Par Pact."
1992: "Sherry Lansing Is Named to Head Paramount"
1998: "The 50 Most Powerful Women in American Business"
Then there is the 1989 headline that offers insight into Lansing's Hollywood staying power: "Producer Sherry Lansing: Class Act in a Nasty Business."
Such headlines not only mirror Lansing's rise among Hollywood's power elite, but reflect on the chess-and-checkers nature of employment in the motion picture industry's upper echelons. In Hollywood, nothing is forever; Monday's hot story is Wednesday's old news. One year, you make headlines for signing on at a studio and announcing big plans for future productions. The next year, you have already left (or, in Variety lingo, "ankled") that studio and have resurfaced elsewhere. In this regard, Lansing is no different from any one of a score of studio "suits." What makes her stand out is her status as the first woman to earn and enjoy the power of a high-level motion picture industry decisionmaker.
Lansing's career is analogous to that of Jackie Robinson, the Hall of Fame ballplayer who broke the major league baseball color line. Robinson's signing by Branch Rickey to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers is an event than transcends sports. It is one of a number of occurrences—others include the integration of the American military and Brown vs. Board of Education—which signaled the stirrings of the civil rights movement. Had Robinson not been of exemplary character, and had he not shone on the ballfield, he might have indefinitely set back the cause of his race. Similarly, Lansing's career path and accomplishments are outgrowths of another 20th-century social movement: late 1960s and early 1970s feminism. Her knowhow as a decisionmaker and knack for surviving and thriving in the all-male club of Hollywood executives allowed her to open the door to future female powerbrokers.
Lansing entered the entertainment industry as a model and actress. After playing supporting roles in two films released in 1970—Loving, Irvin Kershner's suburban-marriage-in-crisis drama, and Rio Lobo, a Howard Hawks-John Wayne Western—she abandoned performing for a career behind the camera. She steadily rose from story editor to production executive to studio president to independent producer to, finally, Paramount Pictures Chair and CEO. As an independent producer, Lansing's most typical films spotlight contemporary sexual politics and manipulative, incendiary relationships between men and women. Among the characters in her films are a loutish man who abuses a women (Firstborn); a psychotic woman who becomes unhinged when she thinks she has been exploited by a man (Fatal Attraction); a woman who is gang-raped, and demands her day in court (The Accused); and a wealthy man who offers a poor couple $1-million to spend one evening in the arms of the wife (Indecent Proposal). Even more significant, however, are the films made under Lansing's aegis as a studio executive. These range from The China Syndrome and Kramer vs. Kramer, two of the most highly regarded Hollywood films of the late 1970s, produced when Lansing was at Columbia Pictures, through such 1990s Academy Award-winning Paramount Pictures mega-hits as Forrest Gump and Titanic. For years, Lansing regularly has been among the highest-ranking women listed on the various polls of "100 most powerful people in Hollywood." Given the worldwide popularity of the American motion picture industry, Lansing's authority is international in scope. In 1996, The Australian magazine ranked her Number 37 on its list of "100 Most Powerful Women in the World."
Lansing, Sherry 1944–
Chairman, Paramount Motion Pictures Group
Education: Northwestern University, BS, 1966.
Family: Daughter of Norton and Margo L. Heimann; married William Friedkin (film director), 1991; children: two.
Career: Los Angeles Unified School District, 1966–1969, teacher; 1970–1973, worked variously as an actor, model, and script reader; MGM, 1973–1975, story editor; 1975–1977, chief story editor; 1977, vice president for creative affairs; Columbia Pictures, 1977–1980, senior vice president of production; 20th Century Fox Productions, 1980–1982, president; Jaffe-Lansing Productions, 1983–1992, producer; Paramount Communications, 1990–, president; Paramount Motion Pictures Group, 1992–, chairman.
Awards: Milestone Award, Producers Guild of America, 2000; All-America Advertising Award, Parade, 2003.
■ Sherry Lansing was one of the most financially successful, most enduring, and well-liked executives in Hollywood. She was hired in 1980 as the first woman president of a major U.S. film studio. Her intelligence, toughness, graciousness, and creative instincts propelled her to success as the chairman at Paramount Pictures. The Los Angeles Business Journal described Lansing as not "just the most powerful woman in Holly-wood—she's the most powerful woman in the history of the entertainment industry" (July 19, 1999).
THE ROAD TO HOLLYWOOD
Lansing, a self-described "nice Jewish girl," fell in love with the movies while growing up in Chicago. After earning a degree
in speech and theater from Northwestern University in 1966, she set out for Hollywood. Lansing spent three years as a high school teacher in the tough Watts district of Los Angeles and worked as a bit-part actress and commercial model before finding her niche in the entertainment industry. Discovering that her talents would be better used behind the scenes, Lansing got a job reading movie scripts for $5 per script. In 1972 Lansing landed her first full-time movie job as a story editor.
CAREER BEFORE PARAMOUNT
Lansing started her career at the bottom of the movie studio system, but she quickly advanced through the ranks. In 1975 she became chief story editor at MGM and in 1977 was promoted to vice president of creative affairs at MGM. Lansing then moved to Columbia Pictures, where she was the senior vice president of production. In 1980 in a controversial move 20th Century Fox hired Lansing, at age 35, to be the head of production. In this role instead of producing films Lansing watched over all the films produced by Fox and helped determine whether a proposal was worthy of financial backing. In the three years she stayed at Fox, Lansing released only two hit films, Porky's, and The Verdict. Lansing reportedly believed her superiors too often overrode her decisions and undermined her authority. In 1983 Lansing resigned her position at Fox and returned to producing films in an independent production company, Jaffe-Lansing Productions, formed with Stanley R. Jaffe, the producer of Kramer vs. Kramer. Lansing enjoyed the return to hands-on work, telling California Business magazine, "I enjoyed the time at Fox, but I was too removed from movie-making by administrative duties" (March 1987).
Until 1992 Lansing produced with Jaffe and on her own films such as Fatal Attraction and The Accused. Successful and happy, Lansing eschewed taking another executive position. In 1991 she married William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist, and family life made supervising film shoots all over the world less appealing. When Paramount Pictures, with which Jaffe-Lansing Productions had had long-term financing and distribution deals, in 1992 offered her the position of chairman, Lansing accepted.
As of 2004 Lansing was the most senior head of a major studio. Her longevity was credited to her ability to provide Paramount's parent company, Viacom, with consistent annual profits, which she had done from the beginning of her tenure. As chairman of Paramount Motion Pictures Group, Lansing reported until mid-2004 to the chairman of Viacom Entertainment Group, Jonathan Dolgen. Dolgen emphasized fiscal conservatism and profitability, which influenced Lansing to manage Paramount somewhat differently from other major studios. Whereas most studios were focusing on increasing market share, Lansing said her performance was judged on the profitability of that year's slate of movies. She was careful to match the appropriate budget to each script, which Lansing vigorously reviewed and edited before approving a project. Lansing and Dolgen actively pursued "flexible financing." Paramount often shared costs with other studios or partners, such as the actors involved, to minimize its cost. In the case of Titanic, Paramount capped its spending at $65 million and left Fox to fund the budget overruns.
Critics contended that Paramount was too conservative, hierarchical, and profit driven. They said Lansing's leadership produced bland, safe, formulaic movies and pointed to the studio's lack of Academy Awards in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Lansing argued that she backed several movies with unusual concepts that were highly successful. Films like Forrest Gump, Braveheart, and The Truman Show were such hits that people did not remember what a risk they had been to produce. In early 2004, however, Lansing admitted that the Paramount business model needed to change and shifted to one that embraced more risk. Lansing increased film budgets and focused on attracting new directors and stars for high-profile films. In June 2004 Dolgen resigned from his position.
In a business legendary for big egos and high tempers, Sherry Lansing was called the "Queen of Cool." She was known for her graciousness and courtesy, for returning every phone call, and for calling everyone "honey." She was praised for her people skills—for her abilities both to reject projects graciously and to work with difficult bosses and coworkers. Said one producer who worked with Paramount, "People almost like getting a no from Sherry just to study her process" (January 27, 2003). Lansing also was tough when required, dressing down directors and anyone else who needed it.
BREAKING THE GLASS CEILING
Much of the attention Lansing received, at least early in her career, was due to the newsworthiness of a woman's making it in a man's world. She first experienced discrimination when she was promoted to the head of her department in 1975. Lansing was not paid as much as men in similar positions and was told she could not have a raise because she was single with no family to support. Even when she had worked her way up the ladder and was appointed the head of Fox in 1980, many in Hollywood regarded the move as a frivolous, "figurehead" one. As Lansing stated in 2002, "The New York Times front-page headline was 'Ex-Model Becomes Head of Fox'. They discounted that I had spent 15 years in the business" (July 15, 2002). Lansing proved her worth by succeeding in her position as a woman and not by fitting in to the male paradigm regarding her interactions or decisions. "Sherry's the first executive who succeeded by being a woman, not trying to be a guy," said one of Hollywood's top filmmakers in Variety. "She can be maternal, she can be sexy, she can use her femininity to be manipulative, but she's always, brilliantly, a woman" (November 8, 1999).
Lansing admitted that being a woman affected the kind of movies she made. She was one of the first executives in decades to make movies with strong woman characters, such as those in Fatal Attraction and The Accused. At Paramount, Lansing continued to support films with woman-oriented story lines and appeal, such as The First Wives Club and Double Jeopardy. Lansing's success in reaching not only audiences of women but also general audiences with films such as Mission: Impossible opened the door for other women executives, such as Amy Pascal, the chairman of Columbia Pictures, and Stacey Snider, the chairman of Universal Studios.
See also entries on Columbia Pictures Entertainment, Inc., Paramount Pictures Corporation, and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Bart, Peter, "Hollywood Overwhelmed by Gossip Glut: Rumors Often Target Teflon Warriors, Who Steadfastly Rise above It All," Daily Variety, January 27, 2003.
——, "There's Something about Sherry," Variety, November 8, 1999.
Bloom, David, "Solid as a Rock: Emphasis on Stability, Profitability, the Studio Mantra," Variety July 15, 2002.
Goff, T. J., "Racing with the Moon: Hollywood Prodigy Sherry Lansing Now Plies a Quieter Trade on Paramount's Back Lot," California Business, March 1987, pp. 11–12.
Swertlow, Frank, "From 'Nice Jewish Girl' to Hollywood Power Player," Los Angeles Business Journal, July 19, 1999, p. 48.
Waxman, Sharon, "A Studio Shifts from B Movies to A-List Talent (and Budgets)," New York Times, March 31, 2004.
—DeAnne L. Luck