The Hollywood Firsts of Sherry Lansing: Q&A

Sherry Lansing is the Queen of Hollywood firsts. When appointed president of production of 20th Century Fox in 1980, she became the first woman to run a Hollywood movie studio. Going on to run Paramount Studios during one of its most successful decades, she prevailed as a Tinseltown superpower through the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. She even became the first female studio head to leave her hand- and footprints on the sidewalk in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

Standing five foot ten, Lansing worked as an actress mentored by the legendary director Howard Hawks (she appeared in his “Rio Lobo” with John Wayne) before joining MGM as a script reader. Married to director William Friedkin since 1991, she left the film biz in 2005 to launch the Sherry Lansing Foundation, which is dedicated to funding and raising awareness for cancer research, health, public education, and encore career opportunities. Now she’s the subject of Leading Lady, an authorized biography by Stephen Galloway. On a deliciously long phone call, we talked about her many hats as well as feminism, the changing movie industry, and “Fatal Attraction,” which she produced. Continue Reading →

‘Lady Macbeth’ and the Unlikeability Paradox

The “female likeability” mandate has been holding women hostage in literature, as in life, since the Ancient Greeks introduced Medea and Clytemnestra. But it was Shakespeare who really enforced the myth that girls had to play nice. Though he authored some beautifully complex women, he also created a bevy of thorny female characters who either sweetened up or met a brutal fate–in King Lear and The Taming of the Shrew, especially. Then there’s Lady Macbeth. As a woman who notoriously did not know her place, she was doomed to go mad before offing herself entirely.

Though she is never name-checked except in its title, William Oldroyd’s adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s classic 1865 novel, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk, is haunted by the Lady. About a young woman sold into marriage to a man more than twice her age, this “Lady Macbeth” is a feminist screed that doesn’t just politely nudge at expectations that adult women should be good little girls. It rips them up and then stares at us defiantly. Continue Reading →

A Midsummers Night Magic

Last night I attended the first performance of A Midsummers Night Dream at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, and the whole night was magic, pure magic. I won the tickets in a TodayTix lottery (TodayTix is the best) and it so happened I already had plans in place with Lisa F., my friend who always treats me to theater tickets. Lisa had never seen the play, and as it’s my all-time favorite I was so pleased to share it with her. (Lisalisa power is no joke.)

Midsummers was the first play I ever saw in a theater–it was in the 1980s at Harvard’s American Repertory Theater, and my beautiful, already-ailing grandmother who couldn’t drive put on her best green dress and took the commuter rail down to scarysnobby Cambridge from Lowell, Mass to sit with her kindred spirit grandaughter in the Bard’s bigcity forest magic. Since then, every meaningful relationship of my life has been graced with a Midsummer’s Night Dream story, and midsummer has become my favorite time of year. Also I am abashed to say this was the first time in my 24 years as a NYC denizen that I ever attended Shakespeare in the Park, and it was of course the perfect introduction. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy