The Hollywood Ten-Step
There are many ways to dance your way to the center of the mainstream Hollywood system. Here are the dances done by 15 prominent Industry women, all boiled down to 10 steps that represent their most significant strides.
Penny Marshall, Director
1. Having performed as a teen on The Jackie Gleason Show, attended the University of New Mexico, studied math and psychology, and appeared on the short-lived 1968 TV series How Sweet It Is, her brother Garry's production (both grew up in the Bronx and changed their last name from Marschiarelli to Marshall). Became a regular on the 1970-'75 sitcom The Odd Couple.
2. Married Rob Reiner in 1971, just as he was becoming a massive TV star with the hit TV show All in the Family. Their home became the crossroads for some of the funniest and most talented people in Hollywood. Later Marshall would say, "I thought I had it locked when I married Rob. Then I didn't have to be successful because he was doing so well."
3. Became a regular on the 1974-'84 TV show Happy Days, leading to Laverne & Shirley, a show created for her by her brother Garry. In the midst of the long stretch of TV celebritydom, her eight-year marriage to Reiner ended.
4. Having made her directing debut with episodes of Laverne & Shirley, stepped in as a replacement director on her friend Whoopi Goldberg's 1986 comedy Jumpin Jack Flash.
5. Directed the 1988 comedy Big, starring Tom Hanks, after having been given the script by pal James L. Brooks; it turned out to be an Oscar-nominated megahit. Became the first female director to surmount $100 million at the box office. ("I'm from the negativity and depression school," she has said. "I need an enormous amount of encouragement to do anything--even go out to dinner.")
6. Directed 1990's Oscar-nominated Awakenings, which starred Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, proving she was bankable with drama as well as comedy. Became famous for saying things to actors like, "Please do it this way, I have a headache and I'm going to throw up," though it's unlikely it was De Niro she said it to.
7. Working again with Hanks, directed 1992's megahit A League of Their Own, adding Madonna and Geena Davis to the list of big names she was able, through smarts and innate gallows humor, to manage on set. (Noted for begging Geena Davis during take after take, "Hit the ball, hit the ball.. . put me out of my misery!")
8. Directed Danny DeVito in 1994's disappointing Renaissance Man.
9. Proved herself a) unafraid of snobbery, b) determined to make lots of money, and c) well aware of her status as a B-level cultural icon by making an ongoing series of Kmart TV commercials with Rosie O'Donnell.
10. Currently in a box-office slump following 1996's lemon The Preacher's Wife, but has some 14 projects in development. Executive-produced the recently shot Mom's On the Roof with Elle Macpherson.
Sherry Lansing, Chairman and CEO, Paramount Motion Pictures Group
1. After graduating cum laude from Northwestern University (she majored in math, English and theater), taught math in Watts in the late '60s. Got modeling work and became a Hollywood starlet, with parts in 1970's Rio Lobo and Loving.
2. Became a freelance script reader at $5 an hour. Appeared on the TV series Banyon in 1972 and 1973.
3. Quickly rose from story editor to production VP (1974), and then to a development head, all at independent companies.
4. Got her first major studio job as executive story editor at MGM in 1975, and was later promoted to VP of creative affairs there under then-MGM boss Daniel Melnick (who recommended she not let her secretary call her "Sherry").
5. Became a VP of production at Columbia Pictures in 1977, where she oversaw classy pictures like The China Syndrome and Kramer vs. Kramer, both of which were produced by Stanley R. Jaffe.
6. Was hired by 20th Century Fox to be the first female president of production at a studio in 1980, where she championed 1981's Academy Award-winning Chariots of Fire (despite a lack of support from Fox's male executives, who called the movie "boring") and 1982's The Verdict.
7. Linked up with Jaffe in 1983 to form Jaffe-Lansing Productions, which produced, among other films, 1987's Fatal Attraction (over $350 million worldwide gross) and 1988's The Accused (featuring Jodie Foster's Oscar-winning performance), both of which were distributed by Paramount.
8. With Jaffe tapped to head Paramount's parent company in 1991, continued on her own, producing Indecent Proposal.
9. Hired by Jaffe to be chairman of Paramount Pictures' Motion Picture Group in 1992 and proceeded to turn the company's fortunes around, beginning with the 1993 release of the movie she herself had produced, Indecent Proposal.
10. Was instrumental in guiding Forrest Gump to its $500 million worldwide box office and 1995 Oscar triumph by greenlighting the film, overseeing the budget and insisting on script reworkings. In 1995, signed on to remain as Paramount chair until the year 2000, and accrued even greater clout with the worldwide success of 1996's Mission: Impossible, the revitalization of the Star Trek franchise with the 1996 hit Star Trek: First Contact, the success of Face/Off, and her savvy handling of a minimum-risk deal and maximum-profit marketing for Titanic.
Lindsay Doran, President, United Artists
1. Armed with a B.A. in creative media from the University of California at Santa Cruz, took off for London in the early '70s and worked as a film historian and book editor for The World Encyclopedia of Film and The Oxford Companion to Film.
2. Moved to Pennsylvania, where she produced documentaries for public TV.
3. Moved to L.A. to work a six-year stint at Avco Embassy Pictures till 1985, establishing a reputation for loyalty as she moved up from creative affairs assistant to story executive to vice president of creative affairs. Earned a rep for skill with developing screenplays while working on projects like This Is Spinal Tap and The Sure Thing.
4. Joined Paramount as senior VP of production in 1985, working under Frank Mancuso. Nurtured the John Hughes successes Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, as well as the surprise blockbuster Ghost.
5. Left Paramount in 1989 to become president of Sydney Pollack's Mirage Entertainment.
6. Took a low profile behind Pollack while effectively developing films such as Dead Again, starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh, and the Pollack-directed John Grisham smash The Firm, starring Tom Cruise.
7. For her pet project Sense and Sensibility, hired Emma Thompson to write the screenplay. ("I would write a version, Lindsay would read it and send me notes," Thompson has said. "Then I would cry for a while and then go back to work. And that's how it was for three years.")
8. Managed a masterful, obsessive marketing campaign for Sense and Sensibility, rejecting 100 trailers and 400 posters before settling on a strategy that resulted in good box office, Oscar nominations, Golden Globes and an Oscar for Best Screenplay Adaptation. (Speaking of obsessive enterprises--Doran spent years cataloging personal items bought from the estate of French humanist director Jean Renoir.)
9. Left Pollack's Mirage Entertainment in 1996 (amid reports there'd been a falling-out over her failure to thank Pollack during her Golden Globe acceptance speech), and was courted by Paramount, Sony, DreamWorks and United Artists.
10. Was hired in 1996 by long-ago boss Frank Mancuso, now helming MGM/UA, to replace John Calley as president of United Artists, where she inherited Tomorrow Never Dies and The Man in the Iron Mask, and started buying up prestigious properties like the Civil War saga Cold Mountain.