Hollywood’s real leading lady is telling all.
Sherry Lansing, the first woman to ever head a major movie studio, is the subject of Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker, a biography by Stephen Galloway that details her rise from struggling actress to Hollywood power player.
The Illinois native worked at MGM as a script reader and briefly worked at Columbia Pictures before becoming 20th Century Fox’s first female president in 1980. She then went on to become CEO of Paramount Pictures in 1992.
Lansing, who greenlit smash hits such as Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump and the Mission: Impossible franchise and helped back Titanic, had to navigate a world full of sexism and nonstop drama to achieve her amazing success in the business.
Read the biggest revelations from her book below.
Hoffman vs. Streep
After Lansing got a gig as script reader at MGM, her second movie for the studio was what would be Meryl Streep‘s first Oscar win — Kramer vs. Kramer. The future exec identified with the female character who “broke social conventions” by leaving her husband (Dustin Hoffman) and her child.
Streep, a relatively unknown actress, was cast opposite Hoffman, but the two didn’t get along. The veteran actor once shattered a wine glass in the middle of a scene without alerting a incensed Streep, who ended up with shards in her hair. Tensions boiled over the most when Hoffman slapped Streep as they were about to start filming in an effort to elicit a more authentic performance from the young actress. Streep was “furious,” producer Stanley Jaffe says in the book. The two never worked together again.
She loved Titanic — but tried to veto Celine Dion’s massive hit
After she renegotiated a deal with 20th Century Fox (the main studio backing the movie) that saw Paramount put up barely a third of the $210 million dollar budget the film eventually required, Lansing was able to take a backseat as she watched James Cameron create his epic Best Picture winner — even through tensions and drama on set. But when she finally saw the finished result, the woman famous for giving constructive notes had just one for Cameron: change the theme song, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
“I said, ‘Jim, isn’t this a little corny? Do we really need it?’ He said, ‘Oh my God, Sherry! The song is fantastic,’ ” she recalls.
It became one of the best-selling singles in history — as Titanic shattered box office records. It’s still the second highest-grossing movie of all time.
Sharon Stone competed with a volcano to cause trouble
Filming 1993’s Sliver proved to be months of off-camera drama. Leads Sharon Stone and Billy Baldwin were at odds, with both stars refusing to read lines for each other’s close-ups, Galloway writes. Stone also caused a publicity flurry when she struck up a romance with Bill MacDonald, one of the film’s producers. When MacDonald left his wife for Stone, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas left his for McDonald’s, causing tension on set.
But a truly scary moment came when a cameraman and a helicopter vanished inside a Hawaiian volcano. The men were trapped inside for two days due to the vapor and sulfur before they were rescued. “I felt I was in a David Lynch film,” Lansing says of the experience.
Explosive negotiations with Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson was still a newcomer to the directing game when he signed on to direct, produce and star in the smash hit Braveheart — and he was not shy about his passion for it. When budget negotiations got tough, Gibson came in for a meeting with Bill Bernstein, the head of business affairs. After Bernstein offered a low number just weeks before filming, Gibson was enraged. Jeff Berg, an agent who was present at the meeting, says Gibson picked up an ashtray and “threw it through the wall. We were stunned.”
Still, Lansing praises Gibson for sticking to his guns and the actor was grateful to Lansing for being one of the only execs to truly support him throughout his career. “He has his demons, and when he drinks he becomes another person,” Lansing says in the book calling Gibson, who has now been sober for many years, “shy, honest and funny.”
A real bunny got boiled in Fatal Attraction
If you ever wondered why Anne Archer — who, as Michael Douglas’ wife, discovers the family’s rabbit boiling on their stove in the film — looked so horrified during the scene, it’s because she really was. Lansing revealed the scene involved a real dead bunny.
“The stench was beyond belief,” said director Adrian Lyne. “That probably helped Anne because the smell was so bad.”
Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker is out now.