Born Sherry Lee Heimann 7/31/44 in Chicago, Sherry's father died when she was nine years old. She watched her mom, who fled Germany because of the Nazis, take over his real estate business in Chicago. "So many of my movies are about a woman who is not going to be a victim.” (Time, 7/29/02)
Does she mean her sex-drenched flicks Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal, The Accused and Jade?
After graduating Northwestern, Sherry worked as a schoolteacher, model and actress (appearing in the 1970 films Loving and Rio Lobo) before joining MGM in 1973.
Sherry filed for divorce from her husband Michael Brownstein. She told people he should've been her first affair, not her first marriage. (Gun in Your Pocket, pg. 24)
Around 1974, Dan Melnick was Leonard Stern's business partner in New York in the 1970s. He moved to Los Angeles to run MGM. At a dinner party, Gloria Stern placed Sherry Lansing next to the newly divorced Melnick. Dan was a big rake. Sherry and Dan began an affair that lasted several months. The personal and professional bond between them lasted much longer. "Sherry slept her way to the middle" said one famous producer. (Gun, pg 91)
In 1975, Lansing was named head of MGM story department. She was 30 years old. MGM's production team only ran to a handful of people, including Sherry's ex-boyfriend Ray Wagner.
“I was so excited,” recalls Lansing, “and thought I would get a raise.” When the studio failed to show her the money, she confronted a senior executive. “He admitted that I wasn’t earning as much as a man in an equivalent job. Then he thought about it and said, ‘We’re not going to give you a raise because you’re single, you don’t have kids, you don’t have a family to support.’ I knew it was wrong but, meek little me, I said, ‘Oh. O.K.’” (Time, 7/29/02)
Lansing dated Jim Aubrey for seven years off and on during the 1970s. She bonded platonically with producer Stanley Jaffe.
After Lansing told Life magazine she didn't expect to see a female studio head in her lifetime, Paula Weinstein chewed her out. (Gun, p. 130)
Lansing dated Pierre Trudeau, architect Richard Meier (Getty Center), and Count Giovanni Volpi (oversaw Venice Film Festival). (Gun, pg. 341)
"There were specious accounts of how she fucked her way to the top," says Polly Platt. "Horrible." (Gun, pg. 156)
"Sherry got the job [head of Fox productions in 1979] very elegantly by 'father may I,'" says LYnda Obst. "Sherry was the classic mentor of men, and it happens in every business in the world. But in this town, when you mentored your way up, it was presumed that you were sleeping your way up, because there were so few power positions that even the polite way of getting the job makes people say mean things about you."
When Lansing, who married director William Friedkin (The Exorcist) in 1991, took the Paramount job in 1992, she made what she calls “female empowerment films” such as The First Wives Club and Double Jeopardy.
Lansing says that being a woman influences the kinds of movies she makes. “You have all these rational reasons why you make a movie,” she says. “It’s a good story, the budget’s right. But ultimately it’s your gut, and it has to be affected by who you are. It’s like a Rorschach test.” (Time 7/29/02)
Lansing heavily depends on test screening results by the National Research Group. That way she can blame the process for the need to re-edit or re-shoot a film.
JESS CAGLE writes in Time, 7/29/02: Lansing is sometimes criticized within the industry for taking too few risks, both artistically and financially. She counters by reminding people that she made Forrest Gump after other studios had passed on the project and proudly claims that on her watch, no slate of films has ever lost money. Lansing will leave behind several legacies: she and Dolgen pioneered the practice of “creative financing,” inviting partners to help pay for expensive projects. (They famously capped their investment in Titanic at $65 million and let 20th Century Fox lose sleep when costs soared.)
Lansing herself shattered the glass ceiling for female executives when she became 20th Century Fox’s president of production in 1980. The female moviegoing audience, which was largely ignored by studios in the 1970s and ’80s, can thank Lansing for helping rediscover them through the success of Fatal Attraction and The Accused, which she produced with Stanley Jaffe. “She was one of the first people [since the Joan Crawford era] to make movies that were successful with female protagonists or antagonists,” says [Amy] Pascal, “movies where a woman was a key character and moved the plot forward.”
The following is an anecdote about Sherry Lansing in Don Siegel's autobiography (A Siegel Film - posthumous, 1993, p. 420) in the chapter recollecting the making of Telefon (1977, starring Charles Bronson and Lee Remick).