Sherry Lansing was in for a surprise when she met her new boss, oil magnate Marvin Davis.
It was 1981 and Davis had just purchased 20th Century Fox ( FOXA ). Lansing was the studio’s president of production, the first woman to hold so lofty a post. When she stuck her head in to say hello, Davis replied:
“No, no honey, I don’t want any coffee.”
When she persisted and introduced herself, he said, no, “I want Jerry Lansing, the person who’s running the studio.”
She explained that she was the person running the studio, he said, “A girl?”
Yes, she replied, “a girl.”
How did she deal with the slight? “By denial,” Lansing said in a telephone interview with IBD. “It was a very different world, and I found that if I let all that noise bother me I couldn’t do my job. So what I did was deny it, put my head down and work twice as hard. I learned to pick my battles.
“If I had gone to human resources, I would have been fired. Today, you can bring down a network.
“I’m not saying tolerating that behavior was better. Just that I learned to tolerate.”
It was in large measure Lansing’s ability to drown out distractions and concentrate on the task at hand that propelled her to the top ranks in the entertainment business. Stephen Galloway, the executive features editor at the Hollywood Reporter, is the author of the newly published ” Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker .”
He was attracted to his subject, Galloway said, “because she was the single most important and influential woman of her time and an important role model.”
“Her breakthrough in becoming president of Fox was one of the those watermark moments for women,” he added. “I was very interested in how she had shifted in her career from model to actress to producer to studio executive, and finally out of the business into another career in philanthropy.”
A Role-Model Mom
Lansing’s career trajectory actually began while she was growing up in Chicago under the watchful eye of her role-model mom, Margot. Lansing was just 8 years old when her father died. She remembers two of the employees in the family’s small real estate business telling Margot, “Don’t worry. We’ll run the business and take care of you.”
Lansing remembers her mother’s reply: “No you won’t. You will teach me how to run the business and I will take care of my …