Monday, June 26, 2017

Book review - "Leading Lady Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker" by Stephen Galloway (2017)

Sherry Lansing seems too nice and normal to be a truly legendary Hollywood exec, like Leo B Mayer, Robert Evans or even Dawn Steel. But she was/is smart and tenacious and had an excellent track record as an exec - she even developed her own genre, Sherry Lansing thrillers, like Fatal Attraction.

This is a pretty good book, benefiting considerably from close access to its subject matter.  Lansing had a happy/sad childhood - her mother fled from Nazi Germany, her adored father died at a young age when Lansing was only nine, mum's new husband could be aloof (though they grew close). Se was smart and pretty and went to work as a teacher, but her passion, initially was for acting. She got some decent roles including in Rio Lobo for Howard Hawks. However her enthusiasm for the craft dimmed. She found a new career when she went to work as a script reader - this led to a job as an executive.

The acting and good looks would have come in handy navigating the tricky world of Hollywood studio politics. She had some mentors too such as Dan Melnick (I didn't know he was a coke fiend), James T Aubrey (who was a boyfriend), Stanley Jaffe. She was appointed president of 20th Century Fox in 1980 but really made her mark as a producer in the 80s and head of Paramount in the 90s.

Lots of time in the book is devoted to the struggles of films that became successful: Fatal Attraction (a real fight and I believe it because no one in it was a big draw, not Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Adrian Lynne), Titanic, Braveheart, Forrest Gump, The Accused, Indecent Proposal.

There are a number of irritating errors: Jonathan Kaplan had directed way more than one movie before The Accused; Tom Berenger wasn't in Southern Comfort.

But this is compensated for by all the entertaining stories: Lansing reading the riot act on Mike Myers, who had adapted Passport to Plimlico for Wayne's World 2 without clearing the rights;
There's some unexpected sweetness in Lansing's relationship with her father and Aubrey and finding true love with William Friedkin; Robert Redford was easy to deal with on Indecent Proposal; the machinations of people like Frank Price and Alan Hirschfield; Dustin Hoffman being a prick to Meryl Streep on Kramer vs Kramer.

And it's got a great "arc" in that Lansing was a woman who battled incessant prejudice and sexism (overt and subtle) to get where she was. It's a good read.

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