Dawn Steel, born 8/19/46 in the Bronx and died of a brain tumor 12/20/97.
She grew up in Manhattan and "in a crummy neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks" in Great Neck, N.Y., according to her autobiography. Her father Nat was a zipper salesman to the military. He had a nervous breakdown when she was a child. Dawn's mother Lillian was a businesswoman compelled to work to support the family.
Dawn got her start creating and marketing novelty toilet paper for Penthouse. She invented the Star Trek ashtrays made famous by the New Yorker cartoon (Star Trek: The Ashtray). She printed the Gucci insignia on toilet paper until she was sued by Gucci.
She made toilet paper imprinted with excerpts from best selling books.
She had affairs with Richard Gere, Richard Drefuss, Don Simpson, writer Tom Hedley, Martin Scorsese, and supposedly Charlie Bluhdorn. (Gun, pg. 196)
Steel talked her way into the wrap party for Richard Pryor's film Some Kind of Hero held at Richard's house. Pryor's girlfriend, actress Margot Kidder, had to go home home early after taking a spill on the rolling rink. Steet went upstairs with Pryor. When she came back, her hair was a mess and there was a strange goop on her face. She told people it was Pryor's sperm. (Gun, pg. 196)
Steel went to work for Paramount in 1978. Asked in 1993 why men like Eisner and Katzenberg had rapidly advanced her career, Steel replied: "One was that I was funny. I wasn't heavy furniture. I made them laugh and entertained them. And the other thing was that I could identify a good idea. Not a lot of people can do that. That was my gift."
Lynda Obst writes in her book Hello, He Lied: "With her now-famous crown of thick, brunette hair, he purposeful stride, and her natural bravura, she resembles nothing so much as a lioness perusing the plains below. From the moment we met (a mutual friend, manager Keith Addis, introduced us at one of his wonderful parties), I was galvanized by her. I had never met a woman with the same kind of overt ambition as a man. It never occurred to Dawn to hide her intentions under a bushel, which both thrilled and terrified me." (pg. 54-55)
Dawn was cute, sleek, petite and with a fiery temper and honey-colored hair. She started in Hollywood in a marketing job at Paramount. She moved up the corporate ladder. She championed the project that became Flashdance. "Eventually, she was promoted to head of production by bosses who made it humiliatingly and publicly clear that she was getting the job by default. Then, when she having her baby, Paramount dumped her." (Hit & Run, pg. 212)
"She drank with the best of them," remembers Steel's close friend and producer Howard Rosenman, a homosexual. "She fucked with the best of them. She told the same bawdy stories. It was like being with a guy. But she was very sexy. She had beautiful legs, big tits, a great mane of hair. She was electrifying." (Gun, pg. 195)
Steel married producer Charles Roven.
Dawn Steel came to Columbia in 1987 to head production, succeeding David Puttnam. "She was famously difficult to work for and there was constant talk about her abusive behavior. One story circulated that she had shrieked orders at a secretary who had fallen illl and was being carried out of the office on a stretcher." (Hit & Run, pg. 212)
Steel had a recurring nghtmare that all her former assistants appeared on Geraldo to talk about the horrors of working for her. Steel appeared on the cover of California magazine with the caption "The Queen of Mean." The story was about the worst bosses in the state.
Dawn felt devastated by the story. "I never saw her so upset," says Amy Pascal, one of her vice presidents. "She locked herself in her office and cried. She had no idea how she came off to people. She never forgot it, she never got over it. She didn't see herself that way at all. She was shocked." (Gun, pg. 324)
"She was completely electrifying in the staff meeting," said Amy Pascal. "She would walk in with those Armani suits, and she always wore these hilarious shoulder pads, and a white T-shirt. It was so eighties. She would crack jokes, and she was really funny. She just knew how to turn it on. She was more like a performer than any other studio executive I've ever seen. She was like a star. In her own mind more than anywhere." (Gun, pg. 322)
Dawn left Columbia in January of 1990.
Steel said: "I must tell you, I did feel threatened by other women in those early years. I was so busy climbing up this ladder, staying above the water. If there was only room for one woman in a room, I wanted to be her. I'm not proud of it. I certainly don't feel that way now. It was an absolute evolution for me."