Sherry Lansing, who ran Paramount as chairman of the Motion Picture Group from 1992-2004, returned to the studio Monday for a book party at the invitation of brand-new Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos, who warmly introduced her to the crowd of industry notables gathered in the studio’s Executive Dining Room. The occasion was the publication of her new biography Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing And The Making Of A Hollywood Groundbreaker by Stephen Galloway.
As Lansing said in her heartfelt and sometimes very funny remarks, this book started out as an autobiography. She said she had been asked many times to tell her life story but finally said yes, made a deal with a publishing house and sat down to write it — only to discover she couldn’t write. Or at least she didn’t think she could. “And anyone who ever reads my emails knows I can’t write,” she laughed. That led to this biography in order to get Lansing’s story into print, no holds barred. The honesty and frankness of it all disturbed her at times, but she said after two readings over the holidays, plus one by husband William Friedkin, she now can stand fully behind the results, warts and all. “There are parts of the book that I really don’t like, but what can I say? They are all true,” she said.
This wasn’t the first party to launch the book. ICM held one for her a couple of weeks ago. But as Lansing said, this was perhaps the most meaningful to her as the invite to return to the Paramount lot for this celebration came from Gianopulos, who just took the reins of the studio last month. Galloway pointed out that the new studio chief called Lansing with the request in his first week on the job. That is the definition of class. Lansing praised him as one of the most talented executives in the history of the business. She said she was truly moved by the gesture and clearly was having a great time meeting with old friends and colleagues from her Paramount days, mixed in with current studio stalwarts including Worldwide Distribution and Marketing President Megan Colligan, Motion Picture Group President Marc Evans and Domestic Distribution President Kyle Davies among others.
Also there from her tenure were Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (who was head of publicity under Lansing), Former Vice Chair and COO Rob Friedman and so many others it would take too long to list. “This is like a high school reunion, except everyone actually looks good,” Lansing quipped as she surveyed the crowd of former co-workers who dwelled at the only major Hollywood studio that actually is in Hollywood. It did have that kind of feel. “No matter where you may be now, I think everyone can agree Paramount is our favorite studio,” she said.
Former Academy President and Producer Hawk Koch, who has a long history with Paramount himself, was there and told me he was so happy that the late composer extraordinaire Jerry Goldsmith, who did the score for Paramount’s Chinatown among countless others, at last would be getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today. Also in attendance was director Alexander Payne, who has made a number of movies with the studio including 1999’s hilarious Election under Lansing, Nebraska and the upcoming December release Downsizing. I asked why he wasn’t taking the latter film to Cannes this month, and he said that, despite his love for Cannes, it just isn’t ready (there is a lot of special effects work in this one) and also the December release date is a little daunting for studios to send out a big movie like that so early. My guess is we will likely see it at Venice and Telluride in the fall. Certainly the 10 minutes shown at March’s CinemaCon in Vegas made it very intriguing.
During her remarks Lansing lamented the absence of a key executive from her Paramount era, Jonathan Dolgen, but acknowledged his wife Susan, who was able to attend. In his intro, Gianopulos noted that Lansing was the first woman to run a major studio — at Fox, where she became the first female president in 1980, and then at Paramount, where she previously had made movies under the Jaffe/Lansing moniker. “And if she had only produced just Fatal Attraction, that would have been enough,” he said. Anne Archer, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for that film, was among the many who attended last night. Also under her tenure was Titanic, a co-production with Fox when Gianopulos was running international there. Co-star Frances Fisher was among the well-wishers.
Gianopulos also mentioned that Lansing — who devotes most of her time now to philanthropic work including the Sherry Lansing Foundation, which raises awareness and funds for cancer research — finally was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar in 2007 “after helping so many others win their Oscars.” During her tenure, Paramount had three Best Picture winners in Forrest Gump, Braveheart and of course Titanic.