Lansing was a middle-class girl from Chicago with knockout looks who came to Hollywood seeking stardom but instead found fortune behind the scenes as a powerful producer and studio chief. After graduating from Northwestern University in 1966 and moving to Los Angeles, she taught math in Watts to support herself while taking odd jobs as a model and landing bit parts in the 1970 movies “Loving” and the John Wayne western “Rio Lobo.”
By her own admission, Lansing lacked the chops to fulfill her dreams of acting but remained passionate about movies. She got a job reading scripts for $5 an hour, then worked as a studio executive for MGM and Columbia Pictures, eventually overseeing such seminal films as “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “The China Syndrome.”
On Jan. 1, 1980, the then 35-year-old Lansing made front-page headlines when she was named president of production at 20th Century Fox — becoming the first woman studio chief in Hollywood.
Less than three years later, Lansing left Fox amid a mixed track record and power struggle. She shifted to making pictures with producer Stanley Jaffe — one of several sharp-tongued, cantankerous men with whom she aligned and played good cop to over the course of her career. They produced breakout hit “Fatal Attraction” and the acclaimed drama “The Accused,” for which Jodie Foster won a lead actress Oscar. Jaffe later was named president of Paramount’s corporate parent and in 1992 hired Lansing to run the studio.
At Paramount, Lansing’s regal presence on the Melrose Avenue lot earned her the nickname “The Queen.” With an insatiable craving to be well-liked, she was in many ways the ultimate politician, always accessible with an ability to soothe outsized egos and soft-peddle bad news to filmmakers and talent agents. She called everyone “honey,” and habitually returned every phone call within 24 hours. An affable personality and legendary over-the-top praise for people and movies masked a tough and driven individual that kept her atop the Hollywood food chain.
For many of her 12 years at Paramount, Lansing had her hand on the pop culture pulse, overseeing Oscar winners, such as “Forrest Gump” and “Braveheart.” But, in her later years, Paramount earned a reputation for being the most risk-adverse and “talent unfriendly” studio in Hollywood; Lansing’s critics accused her of relying on formulaic thrillers and remakes like “Alfie,” “The Stepford Wives” and “Bad News Bears” that moviegoers rejected.
In 2005, the 60-year-old Lansing retired from show business to devote herself to philanthropy and focus on cancer and stem cell research. She is the only woman studio head to ever receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and have her hand and foot prints in the pavement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
|1987||Best Picture||Fatal Attraction||Nomination*|
|2006||Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award||Win|