Sherry Lansing defies all the stereotypes of powerful Hollywood executives. In 1980, she became the first woman to head a movie studio as president of 20th Century Fox — and, later, CEO of Paramount Pictures — and yet she’s sweet, gregarious and laughs a lot. Her goodness goes beyond a charming personality: In 2008, having retired from movies, she co-founded Stand Up To Cancer, a celeb-favorite charity funding innovative research.
This spring, The Hollywood Reporter writer Stephen Galloway penned a biography of Lansing, Leading Lady, available now ($27; Barnesandnoble.com) — so forget the cheesy romance novel and throw something more inspiring in your beach bag this summer. Here, Lansing sounds off on the book and her Chicago roots.
How did growing up in Chicago shape you? One of the great blessings in my life is that I was born in Chicago. The Midwest has solid values; people are warm, authentic. … I went to the University of Chicago Lab School. [It was] very rigorous intellectually, but what was most remarkable about it was that it was non-judgmental. You were encouraged to be yourself; you learned to respect the differences in others — it was very much ahead of its time.
Do you make it back to the city often? Yes — any excuse I [get]! I still have family there, and all my friends from high school. I’m a big fan of Steppenwolf and try to see some of their productions.
Tell us about the book — did you have any input in the writing? When I left Paramount, I had several offers to write a book. I started to try and I found out two things very quickly: First, I cannot write at all. And second, I don’t enjoy looking back. I’m a person who likes to live very much in the present. … Then one day I was having lunch with Stephen Galloway … and he said to me, “I’m gonna write a book about your life, and I hope you will cooperate.” Honestly it was a total moment of weakness, [but] I said yes! And for the next three to four years, I lived in a state of anxiety; I had absolutely no control [or] approvals.
Do you think he painted an accurate picture of you? It’s very accurate. He interviewed over 300 people, and the stuff that I don’t like about it, unfortunately, is true!
What advice would you give young girls today? There’s no avoiding hard work, and that’s the bottom line. And I would tell them that resiliency is extremely important. … We are all going to experience many failures in life, and it’s your resiliency to pick yourself up and start over or learn from it that inevitably will lead to success.