What Do Women Want?: Lights, Cameras, a Piece of the Action
“WHO CARES ABOUT CONTROL? JUST GIVE ME THE PROJECTS!”
I am not a terribly strident or aggressive woman, and, being shy, I found it very hard to get into the arena,” says Sally Field of her early days in movie development. “I would rather go home and make jam and be a girl—which is the honest truth still.” But while raising her three children with her husband, producer Alan Greisman, Field, 43, has found she can have her jam and eat it too. She produces movies starring herself (Punchline) and others (the just-wrapped Dying Young, starring Julia Roberts) and acts only when she finds scripts she likes (the upcoming Soapdish with Kevin Kline).
Good scripts. Ah, there’s the rub: In 1980 Field won the Best Actress Oscar for Norma Rae. “That year I was the flavor of the month,” she says, “but no one was making any ice cream. People ask me if I got into producing for control. Who cares about control? Just give me the projects! I’m lucky if I’m offered two films a year that I haven’t developed myself.”
Being famous doesn’t mean you know what to do: In 1982 Field signed to develop her own movies at Twentieth Century Fox. “It was me in a room with a secretary. I didn’t have a clue what to do. I hated it. I felt completely lost, and I wanted to kill myself.”
But a good executive knows when to ask for help: Stuck in the development desert, Field finally took Jane Fonda up on a two-year-old lunch invitation that she’d been too bashful to accept at first. “Jane was extremely gracious and wonderful. If anybody at that point had treated me like a child, I would have packed up my three pencils and my one pen and gone home.”
Jane Fonda’s filmmaker’s workout: Fonda urged Field to read scripts, familiarize herself with writers and directors and hire a contract negotiator. Field soon got the hang of it: “It’s like a board game. You take the dice, and you mix and match, putting this player with that project.”
You’ve come a long way, Sister Bertrille: In the late ’60s, when she was the reluctant star of TV’s The Flying Nun, Field was asked to appear on talk shows by her studio bosses, who wanted to dictate what she would say and wear and threw in a new Ferrari as a sweetener. “I wasn’t sure if a Ferrari was a car or an airplane,” she recalls. When she refused to wear orthopedic shoes on the talk shows, the studio threatened to take the Ferrari away. “I gave it back. I still don’t know what the hell that was about except about being female and that I was going to ruin their image. But that was really the end of the old Hollywood.”
On the hot Hollywood sexist salary imbalance: “We should fight for working mothers who are really strapped before we fight for whether Meryl Streep makes as much as Jack Nicholson.”
FENDING FOR HERSELF MADE IT EASIER TO ACCEPT MEN’S HELP
Even with two Oscar nominations for acting (in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and Heaven Can Wait), Dyan Cannon began developing her own scripts in 1975 because, she says, “I decided I would have to stop depending on someone else to bring me something fulfilling.”
Cannon shots: Her first effort—Number One, about a girl’s awakening sexual curiosity, which she wrote, produced, directed, edited and scored—earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Live Action Short in 1976. With this year’s The End of Innocence, featuring her semiautobiographical script, she became one of a handful of women in Hollywood to direct herself in a movie. To finance it, she sold her Malibu house and moved into a rental. Survivor of two marriages (one as Cary Grant’s fourth wife, another, now ending, to businessman-producer Stanley Fimberg), Cannon, 54, is the mother of Grant’s only child, Jennifer.
Averting disaster by a nose: Newly arrived from Seattle in the early ’60s, Cannon found work as a model and a showroom manager for a dress manufacturer. One day a producer noticed her having lunch at Frascati’s, a restaurant on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, and asked her to take a screen test. “The first thing they did was bleach my hair,” she says. “And they told me my nose was too flat. I called my parents, and they agreed to send me money for a nose job as a Christmas present. I went to the doctor and said, ‘Fix my nose.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t let them do that to you. That nose is what makes you different.’ They wanted to change me, and I had to learn to say no to what people wanted.”
Men aren’t so bad after all: Cannon, who basically learned directing by asking questions of male directors of her films, says, “If it weren’t for the help of hundreds of men, I couldn’t have done what I’ve done.”
PRETTY WOMAN WAS FOR HERSELF, EVEN IF TEENAGE BOYS DUG IT
Laura Ziskin, 40, is working proof that a woman can flaunt the conventional wisdom and still make it in Hollywood. “When I started producing on my own,” she says, “the studio powers that be said, ‘It’s 17-year-old boys—that’s who you want to make movies for!’ Well, hopefully 17-year-old boys will be interested in the movies I make, but the only way I can function is to make movies I want to see.”
That means romance—but hold the handkerchiefs, please: In 1986, Ziskin cast a who-he? hunk named Kevin Costner in a script she had been harboring called No Way Out and proved that swooning sexual sizzle could drive a brutal thriller. Last year she showed that two cold-blooded types—a hooker and a corporate raider—could warm audiences’ hearts as well as each other’s. With Julia Roberts captivating a fair number of 17-year-old boys, among others, Pretty Woman became the second-highest-grossing picture of 1990—right behind Ghost, a funny heartthrob-thriller, which was also produced by a woman, Lisa Weinstein. Exults Ziskin. “You can make a movie that appeals to women and still do gigantic business.”
The inside story of how Pretty Woman would have had a different ending without a woman producer: Early in the film, Roberts tells Richard Gere, as the raider, that she always dreamed a knight would come and rescue her. At the end, he does just that, by climbing the fire escape to her apartment and kissing her. Ziskin says some men on the project wanted the movie to end right there, but she fought for the ensuing dialogue. “Richard says, ‘So what happened when he climbed the tower to rescue her?’ Julia says, ‘She rescued him right back!’ I didn’t want a movie whose message would be that some nice guy will come along and give you nice clothes and lots of money and make you happy,” Ziskin explains. “Those words at the end said these people changed each other.”
One day, on her pretzel-like route to the top, a simple but profound truth seized her: A native Californian, Ziskin graduated from USC film school in 1973; wrote scripts for The Dating Game; trained as an assistant to the team of Barbra Streisand (whose perfectionism inspired her) and hairdresser-turned-producer Jon Peters; spent a year and a half climbing the walls as a Connecticut housewife; fled back to L.A. and screened scripts for another producer for six weeks before venturing forth on her own in 1980, figuring, “I’m as smart as he is. Why am I not doing this for myself?”
Annals of overload: In 1984, while producing her first feature, Murphy’s Romance, Ziskin would race home to nurse her infant daughter, Julia. “I finally had everything I wanted. I was producing movies. I had this wonderful kid, a house, a great marriage [to screenwriter Julian Barry, from whom she is now divorced], and I couldn’t handle it all. I used to say I knew the exact spot on the Ventura Freeway where I would have my nervous breakdown. I wound up feeling like I’m not devoted enough to my work because I’m thinking about my child, and vice versa. Eventually I learned I was only one person and could only do what I could do. The net result was I began to look at my compromises as positive rather than negative,” says Ziskin, who now lives with screenwriter Al Sargent. “Are there men in this business who work all the time? Yes. Will I be as successful as they are? Not a chance. Not if that’s the only measure of success.”
What power moms really talk about over decaf: “Sally, Goldie, Lisa Weinstein—all we talk about together is how we’re dealing with our work and our children. How am I going to produce this movie? When am I going to see my kid? None of us have solved it perfectly.”
LOOK WHO’S NOT PAYING FOR HER TICKET
Sex, sex, sex. Is that all this woman thinks about? No, sometimes she focuses on children. Getting It Over With, one of the first flicks by the New York University film school graduate, chronicled a 19-year-old girl’s attempt to lose her virginity. Backseat hanky-panky fueled Heckerling’s 1982 teen classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Her hit Look Who’s Talking opens with a sperm meeting an egg, and last year’s sequel, Look Who’s Talking Too, concludes with toilet training. Has she finally had enough? With coauthor Pamela Pettier, Heckerling, 36, has just published the tongue-in-cheek The No-Sex Handbook. Aw, look who’s teasing.
Good things come in small, cute packages: Heckerling’s inspiration for Talking, which in 1989 broke box office records for a film opening in the fall, was the experience of raising Mollie, now 5, her daughter with her second husband, writer-director Neal (Police Academy, Bachelor Party, Moving Violations) Israel. He coauthored the sequel with Heckerling and made a cameo appearance in both films. “Anything good that’s happened to me in the last five years is because of my kid,” says Heckerling. “She’s already planning to be a director.”
An eye for a guy: “I might not like an actress, but a male director will say, ‘Are you crazy? She’s hot!’ I’m that way about an actor that a male might not be so crazy about. I’ll go, ‘He’s hot!’ ”
Don’t yell “Action!” until I’ve had my coffee: “What I hate about making movies is getting up early. You may say you like a script, but then you have to ask yourself, ‘Do I really want to get up at 6 A.M. to make it?’ That’s the bottom line in moviemaking.”
Excuse me, do you give a director’s discount? I’ve got ID: “Usually I go to a theater to watch my movie when it opens to see if they laugh at this or that, but I don’t pay the $7. I go to the box office and say, ‘Hi, I directed this picture,’ and show them my driver’s license.”
GALE ANNE HURD
A PHI BETA KAPPA GETS HER KICKS MAKING SCI-FI FLICKS
Sci-fi films are no place for a woman—all that blasting, beheading and mutating. But if you’re Gale Anne Hurd, that’s exactly your cup of space slime. Raised in Palm Springs, Calif., Hurd improbably wound up, after graduating from Stanford University, as executive assistant to Hollywood schlock-and-splatter king Roger Corman. “Every day was full of challenges,” she says. “It was never just drudge work.”
Going boldly where no woman has gone before: Despite her Phi Beta Kappa key, she loved toiling on such Corman extravaganzas as Battle Beyond the Stars and Smokey Bites the Dust. Producing on her own since the mid-’80s, Hurd has pushed sci-fi to new limits with smashes such as The Terminator (which she co-wrote), Aliens and Alien Nation. “I love the adrenaline rush you can get from the genre,” she says.
But you can’t win ’em all: She also produced the underwater epic The Abyss, which in 1989 sank at the box office and with the critics. Her second marriage—to Terminator director James Cameron—also went under that year. “You give up your personal life while a film is being made,” she says. “If you don’t feel passionate about a project, don’t take it on. The sacrifice is too great.”
Space mom: Hurd believes that producing films is a uniquely maternal experience. “In a sense, you’re the godmother,” she says. “You have to be the cheerleader, the den mother, the person the cast and crew come to when they’re upset. As women, we are collaborators, problem solvers. We tend to be interested in solutions, not blame. The worst scenario is for a crew to think they have to hide problems because they’re afraid of what will happen to them if you find out. I don’t have that problem. People come to me early.”
Great escapes: For recreation, Hurd, 35, owns and rides paso fino horses and scuba dives in exotic locales like New Guinea. “You honestly believe, after you live here long enough and buy into the Hollywood power elite, that your self-worth is measured by your box office potential,” she says. “That’s why I try to get away as often as possible.” Still, she admits, “I go to the requisite number of parties, so that people don’t think I’ve fallen off the face of the earth.”
LESS POWER BUT MORE FREEDOM: A TRADE-OFF SHE LIKES
At the end of the 1970 horse opera Rio Lobo, young starlet Sherry Lansing plugged the varmint who done her wrong and rode off into the sunset with the film’s leading man, John Wayne. Lansing’s obsession, however, was to shoot movies, not extras. So she threw over a budding acting career in 1971 to read scripts for $5 an hour, an apprenticeship that paid off. Nine years later Lansing was named president of Twentieth Century Fox, the first woman production head of a major studio. In 1983, after a string of hits from Chariots of Fire to The Verdict, she left to become an independent producer. Teamed with partner Stanley (Kramer vs. Kramer) Jaffe, Lansing has created such box office smashes as Fatal Attraction and The Accused. “I feel blessed. I have a wonderful partner. Now I can make the kind of movies I feel passionate about,” says Lansing, 46, “rather than being steeped in the business details of running a studio.”
He likes tomatoes, she likes tomahtoes: Lansing, a Chicago native and onetime high school math teacher, first hit it off with Jaffe, a Wharton School of Finance grad, years ago when they were the only guests who could figure out a math puzzle someone posed at a Hollywood party. As partners, she says,”We are able to bring my female sensibilities and his male sensibility to our films. In Fatal Attraction I was interested in jealousy. And Stanley was intrigued by every man’s nightmare.”
Stand by me, and keep standing by: “Moviemaking is a business of passion. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing and continue to believe in it against all odds. It took us five years to get Fatal Attraction made and another five for The Accused. A film about a man who cheats on his wife or one about a woman who is gang raped aren’t projects studios are going to jump at. Right now we’re producing a film that deals with anti-Semitism. We’ve been trying to get it made for seven years.”
Uncomfortable being “Ms. Lansing”: “When I was a story editor at MGM, my secretary called me ‘Sherry.’ [Then-MGM boss] Dan Melnick heard her one day and said, ‘You’re an executive now. You shouldn’t let her call you by your first name.’ And I said, ‘But I’m only 30 years old.’ He said, ‘You’re a girl. I guess you do it differently.’ ”
Don’t date the talent…very often: Lansing, who was divorced in 1968 after a six-year marriage to a medical student, says that she has had “a number of serious and fulfilling relationships over the years” and would like to “fall in love with someone” to share her Beverly Hills home. Although she used to date Hollywood men such as Wayne Rogers, Lansing says that now she “never goes out with anyone in the business. I tend to go out with men who are successful in their own fields, who don’t feel intimidated by my profession.”
AT PEACE WITH HER PEDIGREE (AND THAT FACE)
Candy Bergen never wanted to be just another pretty face. Her father, Edgar, was more than a famous ventriloquist; he and his wife, actress Frances Bergen, were Hollywood royalty. Candice grew up attending endless Mommie Dearest birthday parties and all the right schools (Westlake School for Girls, University of Pennsylvania). Seeking a life “that had nothing to do with shopping and lunches,” she became a globe-trotting photojournalist.
Preferring Ethiopia to Tinseltown: “I thought the last place I should look for female role models was Hollywood,” she says. “Margaret Bourke-White was a role model. But most of the people who had active, involved, engaged lives were men.” When she settled inevitably into acting, she admits to picking properties for the travel opportunities: “If a bad film were shooting in Ethiopia, I would choose that over a decent film shooting in Hollywood.”
But, ah, insistent fate! In 1980 Bergen married French director Louis Malle and later bore Chloe, now 5. For the last three TV seasons, she has been channeling her elegant faux-chilly charm into the role of cantankerous anchor Murphy Brown, prime time’s most terrifying—and endearing—top banana. It’s not a totally happy ending. Bergen, at 44, is still a pretty face, if not just another one.
The Murph and Me: “What’s interesting about her is that she has paid a very steep price. She’s a woman in her 40s whose most meaningful relationship is with her housepainter. That’s going to come back to her much stronger year after year.”
On being a role model, like it or not: “A lot of women are thrilled that I got married late. When I had a child, they seemed to understand that my work is third priority to my husband and child. I think what’s important to other women is that I have a home life and a job, and that so far I seem to be balancing that.”
I’ll pass on burning beds: The small screen, Bergen finds, now has richer roles for women than the big one, but she turns down a lot of scripts anyway. “To me, what women respond to on television, as a mass audience, are situations that put the family, the marriage, the child, in jeopardy. Domestic homicides. Terminally ill children. Mawkish and maudlin. It’s stuff that’s just unbearable to do.”
Okay, here’s the beef: “The value system [in Hollywood] is more askew than anywhere in the country. Women in this town do things they’d never do any other place. Monkey around with their bodies, have their eyes done at 28, or their faces sandblasted, as easily as they’d have lunch. I think it’s this culture, this weird admiration of youth. Men do it too. Their whole essence is their terror of looking 50. Nobody gives you points for not doing it.”
THE REAL MURPHY BROWN HEARS HER CLOCK TICK
Selling an aggressive, cranky woman who’s a recovering alcoholic was not an easy task,” says television series creator Diane English, 42. “These aren’t qualities people generally think are charming.” But in 1988 English did sell the breakthrough Murphy Brown to CBS, and it proceeded to dominate television awards, including winning seven Emmys. “The most gratifying thing to me,” exults English, “is that we can be in the Top 10 and not be a stupid show.”
Why English created Murphy Brown: “I wanted to write a woman who is no longer scrambling to get to the top but who got everything she ever wished for and now is just a little sorry for it. She loves what she’s doing but is paying a big [personal] price. A lot of Murphy is autobiographical. I work 80 hours a week. I write all day, get involved with casting, do everything except cater the meals.”
So what price does English pay? “I don’t have any children, and I don’t think I’d be the kind of mother who’d feel comfortable leaving her child at home and putting in these kind of hours. I’m 42, so I don’t know how much longer I can postpone this decision.” Referring to her husband and business partner, Joel Shukovsky, she adds, “It’s very much in the forefront of our discussions these days.”
The road to the top is paved with macaroni and cheese: Working for a theater publicist in New York City after earning a bachelor’s degree in her native Buffalo, she stretched her $90-a-week salary by limiting her weekly grocery shopping to “a box of macaroni and cheese, a can of tuna fish and one package of hot dogs.”
“The only time in my career where being a woman was an advantage”: In 1971, English was hired as a secretary in public television. “That job would not have gone to a man,” she cracks, Murphy-like. English learned scriptwriting by watching others and was nominated for a Writer’s Guild Award for her first TV movie, The Lathe of Heaven, in 1980.
No whining here: “I don’t have any juicy stories about how hard it was to get to the top and how much I hate those guys. If you have a good idea and can execute, you won’t find a lot standing in your way.”
Shock treatment: “Since the men writers outnumber the women, at the start of the season my right hand, Korby Siamis, and I make sure we say something that shocks the men so they know they don’t have to be careful around us. Then the gloves are off and we can just write a funny show.”
The trouble with Candy Bergen: Anchorwomen nationwide “keep asking when we’re going to do the episode about Murphy’s boss telling her she’s looking a little wrinkled around the edges. I don’t know how we’d do it with Candice. She’s so spectacular looking and never has a bad day.”
Dressing for success: “I’m a clothes person. I’m rarely out of my Armani or my Chanel, now that I can afford it. It’s like heroin to me. But I’ve never done the three-piece suit; that’s not acknowledging your gender. My advice is that you should look like you need the salary you’re asking for. Even when I had no money, I had a charge at Bloomingdale’s.”
SUZANNE DE PASSE
SHE GAVE LONESOME DOVE ITS WINGS
As every baby mogul used to intone over smoked salmon pizza at Spago, Westerns no longer sell on big screen or small. Little wonder Tinseltown was amazed in 1989 when the oater epic Lonesome Dove notched up the highest ratings for a miniseries in five years and holstered seven Emmys. Almost unbelievably, the person who rode herd on this maverick project wasn’t some leathery old Laurel Canyon cowboy but Suzanne de Passe, a sophisticated Harlem-born black woman, most of whose career had been spent in the rhythm and blues business. Says de Passe, 43, the cool and collected president of Gordy/de Passe Productions (formerly Motown Productions): “For the media, my success was a man-bites-dog story. I laughed. It was predictable.”
I’m no groupie, I’m the boss: Just 21 when she became the creative assistant to mercurial Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., whom she calls “an equal-opportunity ass kicker,” de Passe signed and polished such soul artists as Lionel Richie, Rick James, Stephanie Mills and the Jackson Five. “I was just knocked out,” she says. “There was this little guy [Michael Jackson] attacking some of the most mature R&B material that existed.” De Passe was responsible for Michael and his brothers’ choreography and repertoire on tours. Even though she hired her own roadies, she still often had trouble getting backstage. “Security wouldn’t let me back, because I was so young I looked like a groupie, I guess. They thought I was there to jump Jermaine or something.” As a result, she says, “I spent the first 10 years of my career in tears almost every day.”
Amazingly, Diana Ross is still her pal: In the ’70s one of de Passe’s duties was to act as a messenger between Gordy and his lover Diana Ross. “It was a highly combustible situation,” recalls de Passe. “He would dispatch me to see to her needs when she was on the road.” The two women have since become such good friends that Ross was matron of honor at de Passe’s 1978 wedding.
Don’t call her Dolly, mate: “I would be on the Lonesome Dove set, and [Australian director] Simon Wincer would refer to all the guys as ‘mates.’ Everybody was a freakin’ mate but me! I finally asked him, ‘What do you call women in Australia?’ The closest thing he could come up with was ‘Dolly.’ I would have liked to be called mate, but there was no corollary in Australia for women.”
Sock it to him: De Passe is married to actor Paul (American Graffiti, Melvin and Howard) Le Mat. “I can run a company and I can get a miniseries made,” she says, “but I can’t get my husband to pick up his socks.”
STORY EDITOR, REFERENCE MODEL
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT THE GIRL-SHE’S A HUMAN ‘TOON
Sherri Stoner’s career is all wet. And she’s gurgling all the way to the bank, thank you very much. Although Stoner, 31, has shown up on TV’s Little House on the Prairie and Murder, She Wrote, she is invisible in her biggest hit, The Little Mermaid. As Disney Studio’s reigning “live-action reference model”—the behind-the-scenes human model for Ariel in Mermaid and for Belle in the currently filming Beauty and the Beast—the 5’ 2”, 92-lb. actress enjoys one of the least-known leading roles in Hollywood.
Could Milli Vanilli talk to a teapot? She has cavorted for days in a tank of cold water, talked to an imaginary teapot and a cabinet (memorizing and lip-synching her lines), ridden horses, danced with an imaginary prince and battled imaginary wolves while animators videotaped her gestures and expressions to lend their subsequent drawings greater verisimilitude. Right now, this is just her moonlight work—a couple of days a month at Disney ($500 per day)—leaving the unmarried Stoner plenty of time to focus on her regular job. She’s a story editor at Tiny Toon Adventures—a cartoon show, of course.
She always thanks the little people…even if they’re not human: “I know they are just cartoon characters,” says Stoner, “but I try to bring real emotions to the work. If it’s there, it will come through in the movements.”
The seaweed is not always greener: “I love what I’m doing, and it really doesn’t bother me that my face isn’t up there on the screen,” says Stoner. “Since I’ve discovered my writing talents, I have no big dream anymore about being Michelle Pfeiffer. Doing these Disney movies, I feel I’m involved in something special, something that will live forever.”
SHUNNING MEN WHO DISLIKE WOMEN
Sure, she’s gorgeous, sexy, Aussie and all that—but don’t tell Tom Cruise that Nicole Kidman‘s no brain surgeon. His race-car driver fell in love with her knockout neurologist on the set of Days of Thunder, and the only second opinion he needed was from the civil celebrant who married them last Christmas Eve. In June they’ll begin making another movie together, Irish Story.
Kidman wonders what kind of doctors movie critics go to: A gripping performance in the Australian chiller Dead Calm brought Kidman to America in 1989. In Days of Thunder some reviewers found the 23-year-old actress too comely, seductive and stylishly dressed to be convincing as an M.D. “Very narrow-minded of them, not a legitimate criticism,” she says. “I’ve been to women doctors who are incredibly good-looking. I didn’t try to pull my hair back and wear glasses and look goofy exactly because that’s the stereotype of a doctor. A lot of actresses think they’ve got to look ugly in a part before they’re taken seriously as an actress. I don’t think that’s true.”
Cancel the ego trip: On her upcoming Billy Bathgate, she found, “My opinions and choices were treated exactly the same as Dustin’s or Bruce Willis‘s, which was fantastic and certainly says something about the director [Robert Benton] and those people as well. Everybody helped each other. There was no star system going on.”
Screen nudity? No dead qualm: “I’m not one of those people who go, Td never take off my clothes—that’s a terrible thing!’ I’ve done it, and it’s fine as long as it’s not gratuitous—not some director or writer getting his rocks off. A lot of directors are known for misogynistic work, for treating women as second class. I have no hesitation saying no to working with them. I also have a thing about violence and nudity together, like a woman being cut up and beaten. Lovemaking—I haven’t got anything against that at all.”
A woman can just tell: “In Australia I was lucky to have worked with people who really loved and admired women. I mean, as a woman, you can tell immediately. When you meet someone at a party, you can tell. I’m not one of those people who is attracted to the person who doesn’t treat you well. I don’t have that in my nature.”
Bimbobusters: “In Hollywood you hear the term bimbo used a lot. You hear a lot of women use it, too, about other women, and I don’t know why they do. I don’t believe in using it, because it’s a stereotype.”
THE BOSS SAID SHE’D GET IN OVER HIS DEAD BODY, AND BY GOLLY SHE DID
In a profession that is the Hollywood version of an Elks lodge—a male bastion where jobs are handed from father to son and women are thought too fragile to carry equipment and boss around 60-man crews—Brianne Murphy is the woman who broke down the barriers. She got an early job because someone thought her name was Brian and became the first woman admitted to the cameraman’s union in 1973. She remains the only woman ever elected, as a director of photography, to the prestigious American Society of Cinematographers. Winner of a 1982 Oscar for engineering achievement, Murphy, 52, has done some features but works mainly in television (Highway to Heaven, Little House on the Prairie). She is currently shooting the syndicated series Shades of L.A.
How did she get the idea she could do a “man’s” job? Brought up fatherless by an alcoholic, frequently absentee mother, Murphy spent much of her childhood in roach-infested New York City apartments, where she and her sister Gillian fixed toilets when necessary. “It didn’t occur to me that women do some jobs and men do others.”
Talk about checkered: Murphy acted on Broadway at 6, graduated from Brown on scholarship, hung around the set of On the Waterfront watching Elia Kazan direct, shot stills for the circus, then photographed couples in Hollywood nightclubs—until she realized nobody wanted to be photographed with whomever they were with.
Hey, Joe, the lady wants to know about filters: While working as a hairdresser, coffee maker and floor sweeper on a B movie, Murphy asked the cameramen a lot about what they were doing. They spilled, figuring she’d never be able to use the info.
But as luck would have it: The monster suit she was asked to wear for a quick scene didn’t fit her. Lo and behold, it fit the cameraman. They switched places.
The ultimate over-my-dead-body story: For 15 years she knocked on the union’s door. The union boss kept slamming it in her face. ” ‘My wife don’t drive a car, and you’re not going to operate a camera,’ he told me. ‘You’ll get in over my dead body.’ Well,” she says, “he died.”
Surviving in the sexual jungle: “I pretended not to hear the lewd remarks, and they went away,” says Murphy, a childless widow. “Also, I tell women no short shorts on the set, no sleeveless T’s without bras. Dress the way you expect to be spoken to.”
Fulfillment: “Just by placing a light or selecting a lens, you’ve got dramatic input. You’re creating art everyday.”
“EVERY HERO HAS A GIRLFRIEND”
It takes something special to go from movie novice to buzzed-about supporting actress. Better than wearing see-through harem pants to the Academy Awards or having your ear publicly nibbled in the Polo Lounge is to make magic on the screen. Annabella Sciorra, 24, did just that with her dead-on portrayal of an Italian-American girl preparing for her wedding in True Love, a low-budget 1989 critical hit that won her kudos and casting calls. She has since appeared in Internal Affairs, Cadillac Man and as the feisty lawyer-lover of attorney Alan Dershowitz (played by Ron Silver) in Reversal of Fortune.
Why there will always be supporting actress roles: “Every hero has a girlfriend.”
Offscreen she’s just like you and me: Born in Connecticut and raised on New York City’s Upper East Side, Sciorra wanted to be an actress since she was 13. “I wished I had as much in my everyday life as I did when I got up to perform in class. When I wasn’t acting I felt like I was very boring. I was almost paralyzed by this fear that people would laugh at me or think I was weird.”
The long and winding road: In her next exposure, she’ll play a leading role—an Italian secretary involved with a married black architect in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. “True Love got me seen, and the director of Internal Affairs happened to see a screening of the movie. The minute you get work, everybody wants to know how you did it. If I had a formula for how to become successful in this business, I’d patent it and sell it and make a lot of money and retire.”
That’s why they call it show business: “I thought everybody was in it because they loved to act and loved to direct and loved to produce. But you have to make a couple of formula movies that are big budget and glossy before you can do Hamlet. Mel [Gibson] didn’t get to do Hamlet because he’s a good actor. He got to do it because he’s done a couple of Lethal Weapons.”
STANDING IN JESSICA LANGE’S SHOES, SHE THRIVES ON DOUBLE TROUBLE
Diane Peterson is one of the few working actresses who do windows. She doesn’t clean them, however; she crashes through them. For the past 16 years, from The Stepford Wives to RoboCop 3, Peterson has been socked, chopped, flayed and shot—and has dished it out as well. All this so such leading ladies as Diane Keaton and Jessica Lange don’t get their hair—or worse, their bones—messed up. “Four of my good friends,” she says, “have been killed in this kind of work.”
Burn, baby, burn: One of about 50 working stuntwomen today (there are 500 men), Peterson is proficient in scuba, karate, rappelling and equestrian skills; she is the only stuntwoman licensed as a pyrotechnic operator, which means that she can set fires, be set on fire, set off explosions or be blown up.
On Sundays she does not knit doilies: “The work I do doesn’t lend itself to a happy married life,” admits the 30ish Peterson, who is divorced. “There aren’t that many guys around who can handle a wife being gone so often, being in a so-called glamour profession with lots of men around and making more money [an average of $150,000 a year] than they do. But I love the intensity of it. It’s very mental—going over the mechanics of the stunt, overriding your fears.” For relaxation, she works out two hours a day, races cars and manhandles dirt bikes through the mountains.
How to meet Hollywood hunks—bowl them over: In 1986’s Tough Guys, on her first try at stopping a speeding car as close as possible to a standing Burt Lancaster, Peterson screeched to a halt several inches from the actor, who had insisted on doing the stunt himself. “You can do better than that; I know how good you are,” he admonished. “Next time,” he said, holding his hand an inch from his leg, “come that close.”
Shattering stereotypes along with plate glass: The daughter of a New Jersey trucking company owner, Peterson could double-clutch an 18-wheeler by age 9. Awestruck by the car-chase work of top stuntman Alex Stevens in a Kojak episode in which she had a bit part, the struggling actress bugged him until he finally relented. “When I began working, there were stuntwomen from the cowgirl generation working in Hollywood but none on the East Coast. So there was resistance to hiring a woman. It took persistence and determination to break through. Someone had to teach you the trade. You couldn’t learn these skills in school somewhere.” Now, she says, “there is a big brother-big sister feeling to it. I experience nothing but protective-ness and respect.” As president of the Stuntwomen’s Association of Motion Pictures, she has helped push through an industry rule that a stuntman can no longer double for a woman unless three qualified women have turned down the job.
Worst thing about the job: “Wearing those damn wigs. They have to anchor them to your hair so they don’t fly off. The bobby pins they use are like daggers.”
STUDIO BUSINESS AND LEGAL CHIEF
FROM STENO POOL TO SHARK POOL
When Helene Hahn was temping at Paramount Pictures in 1972, her boss told her she was too smart to be a receptionist. She replied that what she really wanted to be was an executive in the entertainment industry. He said, “Do you think you go from receptionist to a studio president just like that?” She said, “No, I know you have to be a vice president for at least six months first.”
Well, maybe a tad longer: Twelve years, a law degree and some mid-to upper-level jobs at ABC and Paramount later, Hahn, now 42, became senior vice president of Walt Disney Studios, one of the youngest people—and the first woman—ever to head the business and legal operations of a major studio. In ’87 she was anointed executive VP.
Mickey and Goofy’s bottom line: The Long Island-raised Hofstra University alum handles her demanding position with notable aplomb. She supervises contract negotiations with actors, writers and directors; helps set production budgets; oversees minority recruitment, administration and all labor relations for the studios, among other duties. “When I was starting out, one of the things that I learned was to never second-guess myself,” she says. “So many people torture themselves. Everybody makes mistakes. If you do, you go on and don’t do it again.” Are there mistakes that she regrets? “I’ve never made a mistake,” she laughs.
Hold the double martini and rare T-bone: Hobnobbing on the golf course or at the poker table has never been a criterion for success in top management in the film industry, according to Hahn. Divorced for 10 years and a passionate skier, she says, “I’ve never felt that I had to act a certain way or dress a certain way. The ability to work hard and do a good job are what matters. Maybe that’s why more women are going into the business side.”
Infiltrating the boys’ club: “When you’re looking to hire somebody, I don’t think women are excluded as they were maybe 10, 20 years ago. There’s a women’s network, but women are not totally outside the network. There are enough women that you can’t avoid doing business with them.” In Disney’s motion picture division, for instance, half of the studio’s 20 lawyers and four of the senior business executives are female.
JANET HIRSHENSON & JANE JENKINS
UNDER THEIR EXPERT EYES, ASPIRANTS GO FROM GLOSSIES TO GLORY
Anyone trying to get a foot in the door in Hollywood would do well to start with the wooden door between Jack’s Auto Service and the Civilization furniture store in a somewhat littered part of town near Culver City. Behind this purple portal—with its small, black sign reading THE CASTING COMPANY—actors try to get off unemployment, and often stars are born. This is largely where Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins, both in their 40s, auditioned and assembled the casts of Ghost, Home Alone, When Harry Met Sally and The Godfather Part III, among other films. Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Rob Reiner and John Hughes are regular clients. In a field dominated by women, Hirshenson, who began as a typist, and Jenkins, once a theater dresser, have earned themselves leading roles. Their instincts are impeccable.
Why so many casting directors are women: “Women have only been allowed to encroach on areas that have limited power,” says Jenkins. “Basically women were assistants to casting directors and were cheaper replacements when the men went on to more lucrative things like producing. We can type up our own lists and make a deal at the same time.”
Their discoveries get rich; they don’t: “No matter how successful you are as a casting director, your price doesn’t keep going up—unlike actors’,” says Hirshenson, whose husband of 20 years, Michael Hirshenson, handles business affairs for The Casting Company. Adds Jenkins: “We hired Julia Roberts for $50,000 for Mystic Pizza, and she’s now getting several million dollars a film.” The Casting Company still gets $30,000 to $50,000 per film it casts—usually 10-12 weeks of work to fill an average of 45 speaking parts.
Birth of the Brat Pack: One of the team’s first projects, in 1981, was casting relative unknowns Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez in The Outsiders, launching the actors’ careers—and their own.
Have a nice day or I’ll moida ya: “We turn down films that we feel are sexist, vulgar and violent,” says Jenkins. In auditions, Jenkins and Hirshenson read lines opposite the performer who is trying out. And, Jenkins explains, “there are only so many times in a day you can say ‘I’m going to blow your f———head off!’ before you go home and string yourself from the rafters.”
Inching toward enlightenment: “You can suggest that if there’s, say, a judge, ‘Why not make the character a woman or a minority?’ ” notes Hirshenson. “A lot of producers and directors want to do that. So unless there’s a story point, it’s like, ‘Why not? Open it up to everybody.’ ”
Casting couch? Get real: “I’ve got a couch,” says Jenkins, who is divorced and has a grown son. “I’ve had directors who were single ask me if an actress is married and would she have dinner. Most of the time the answer is no. But there’s too much at stake in movies today to give somebody a job just because you want to have sex with them, when sex is pretty readily available most of the time.”
FLYING HIGH AT HOME AND ON THE SET, THIS BIRD’S GOT IT WIRED
In Hollywood,” observed movie critic Rex Reed, “if you don’t have happiness, you send out for it.” Pixie-turned-mogul Goldie Hawn can hold the phone. From go-go dancer and Laugh-In’s giggling airhead to Oscar-winning comedienne in Cactus Flower and star-cum-executive producer of Private Benjamin, she has become a power center without losing her personal center. Relaxed, confident and brimming with self-esteem in the wake of her recent $30 million, seven-picture deal with Disney, Hawn, 45, keeps the cosmic picture in focus. “My daddy said that if you think you’re too big for your britches, just go stand in the ocean and feel how small you really are,” she says. “I always remember that.”
Putting on the ditz: “Being called a ditzy blond doesn’t bother me. When I started out I realized that I was sort of an inkblot and people would see what they wanted, or needed, to see and that it didn’t have much to do with who I really was.”
Love-in: Hawn, who has been married twice (to director Gus Trikonis and singer-actor Bill Hudson), has found stability in her eight-year live-in affair with actor Kurt Russell, 40, whom she met in 1983 when they co-starred in the World War II comedy-drama Swing Shift. “Kurt and I had marriages that didn’t work. It can be hard when a woman is very successful. It takes a special man to put that into perspective, and men are more fragile when it comes to who is top dog. But Kurt is the greatest. He says, ‘Hey, if you have a racehorse, race it.’ ”
Common law, uncommon bond: “Maybe we will get married one day. Kurt has given me two rings, the second when we were together seven years—our common-law ring. Both times we did a ceremony bedside in front of the children. Sometimes I get scared because I’m so happy with my life. I’m a worker bee, I have a family that is the greatest treasure and a man I love so much.”
Mom runs red lights: Hawn has three children—Oliver, 14, and Katie, 12 (with Hudson), and Wyatt, 4 (with Russell). “I was doing two movies back-to-back [Private Benjamin and Seems Like Old Times]. I was a single parent then. I brought the nanny with the kids to the set, and we’d have lunch in the trailer. At night, I’d run stoplights to get home in time to bathe them or just see them fall asleep. I never made a movie on location until they got older.”
Venus envy: “I’ve always felt liberated. I’ve never not done anything because I was a girl. But by raising two boys and a girl it’s become clear to me that this gender gap will never close because boys are made of very different things—different hormones, impressions, physical strengths. That doesn’t mean better. I wouldn’t be a man if my life depended on it. I wouldn’t give up bearing a child, making a human being and being the vessel it grows in. Also, I wouldn’t like to have to deal with the struggles of manhood, trying to be more than you are. I have a lot of compassion for men.”
From pawn to producer: “Actors are basically pawns. If you want someone else to design your life and take responsibility away from you then it’s great to be an actor. Producing for me was a pragmatic choice. I felt it was important to parlay what I had into something more. I think that’s genetic. My mother ran a dance school and a jewelry store. My dad is a musician, an artist. They both worked very hard. Growing up I felt I’d just open a dance studio and marry a Jewish dentist. Yet I’ve done everything but direct, and I’m just getting to the time in life when I want to do that.”
The painful reality for actresses: “Male action films generate more income. It’s boys who go to movies and take the girls. So the people who put up the money are going to put it up for men. When I first got paid a million for a movie, I was so grateful. If a film could pull in $16 million in a week on my name alone, I’d go in and say, ‘We have to talk.’ But that just doesn’t happen.”
Have gun, will star: “Men can make the same plot in movie after movie. He’s got a gun, he’s got to get the other guy who’s got a gun. He gets wounded, but he gets the girl. A woman can’t make a film about girls over and over. I’m not sure why. We aren’t action oriented. Maybe we are just creatures that are more complex. I was in so many films where I was a woman in a man’s world [Private Benjamin, Protocol] that after Wildcats I just refused to do any more.”
Mirror, mirror: “My looks matter to me, probably because I’ve been a dancer since I was 3. It’s sad when a woman loses her looks and worse when she loses the quest for life. Of course I’d have a face-lift. Absolutely. It’s keeping yourself afloat in this business.”
You mean an Oedipus complex isn’t an eight-screen theater in a mall? “It’s harder for a female to break in because you are not taken seriously sometimes and sometimes you are threatening. God knows the reason. Maybe the guy loved his mother, maybe he didn’t love his mother.”
The animal within us: “I’m a physical person in every way. I like to touch people. I like to be touched. I like to run, dance, breathe hard, and I love to sweat. I love visceral pleasures. If I am making love to my husband and I had a choice of whether I had a fat, flabby old tummy or I could do sit-ups every day and work to keep my tummy together, I’d be a much happier person and take more pleasure in the act itself for having done the work. We are just animals, and at the point of consummation, the point all the foreplay has led up to, do you really think that you are a thinking human? No, it’s complete abandon, just an animalistic great feeling. I am a sexual object because Kurt loves me, and he’s my sexual object too. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
SHE WRITES THE BLURBS THAT MAKE THE TURNSTILES SING
Would you have paid to see a movie called Teenie Weenies? No, Cheryl Kellough wouldn’t have either. So when the studio presented her with that tentative title, the ace blurb writer came back with a snappier alternative: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Would women flock to a baseball flick called Shoeless Joe? Not on your horsehide. Kellough retitled it Field of Dreams. In addition to doctoring titles, Kellough, 34, writes copy for movie print ads and scripts for coming attractions, working at home with husband Glen Faber, a fellow writer.
Kellough’s greatest hits: For Three Men and a Baby: “They changed her diapers. She changed their lives.” For Lethal Weapon: “Two cops. Glover carries a weapon…Gibson is one.”
Recent alchemy attempt: For Meet the Applegates: “Four decent, self-respecting South American beetles have just mutated into something really revolting…the typical American family.”
Modus operandi: Kellough sees the movie or script up to a year or “just weeks” before release, lists the themes and tries to focus on a marketable one. “Sometimes the right phrase is the first thing that pops into your head,” she says with a shrug. “Sometimes it’s the 100th.”
KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE KETCHUP AND YOU COULD MAKE IT BIG
I’ve always tried to pick things I was really emotionally connected to,” says director Randa Haines, 46, and though she doesn’t pick often, she does pick well. Her very first feature was Children of a Lesser God, about the relationship between a devoted speech teacher (William Hurt) and a deaf and headstrong beauty (Marlee Matlin). It took four more years for Haines to find the right script for her second film, now wrapping, The Doctor, again starring Hurt, who plays a heart surgeon stricken with cancer.
Silver lining in the pink ghetto: Brought up theater crazed in Greenwich Village, Haines worked for 10 years as a script supervisor, which requires bird-dogging the set to prevent visual gaffes—such as making sure a ketchup bottle is in the same spot on each take. As a “watchdog for the director,” she says, “if you really apply yourself you can learn how directors see a film, why they make certain decisions.”
Rise and shine: “It was better than going to film school,” Haines says of her script-supervisor years. After a while, “I would whisper into someone’s ear, ‘Maybe you should try this.’ Then I wanted to try it myself out loud and see if it worked.” After taking a workshop at the American Film Institute in the mid-’70s, Haines, who is single, began directing in TV—Knots Landing, Hill Street Blues and the much-praised 1984 television movie on incest, Something About Amelia.
The director as juggler: “You’re always balancing what you see in your head and what everybody is capable of giving you with the fact that the sun is going down, there are only so many days in the schedule and someone’s in a bad mood. At the moment the camera rolls, everything has to be operating at its best. The actors have to feel the most nourished and stimulated. Your will is the driving energy.”
On working with William Hurt on yet another terribly tony tearjerker: “We’re both perfectionists. We joke that our next film will be a really stupid comedy, but we figure by the time we’re finished, people will be weeping.”
A DIVERGENT DUO RULED BY THE ‘F’ WORD-FUN
Carol Burnett knows punch lines. Marcia Brandwynne knows bottom lines. Together they’re making Kalola Productions a force in both areas. Formed to handle Burnett’s operations, Kalola (Hawaiian for Carol) produces her NBC comedy series, Carol & Company, and has 12 features and six TV properties in development.
Money isn’t everything (if you have it): “We’re interested in projects about family relations and how people come to be who they are,” says Brandwynne. “Carol’s not having to make tons of money gives us an edge. We don’t do things just for the bottom line. We decided early we would be ruled by the ‘F’ word—fun.”
Carol opens the door, Marcia nails the deal: “I’m fortunate that I can get a meeting with anybody, but Marcia can talk about a project better than I can,” says Burnett, 57. Explains Brandwynne, 47, a former TV anchor and managing editor: “I know how to tell a story in a minute, 30.”
On the enduring “bitch” issue: “I’m never a bitch,” says Brandwynne, who’s married to TV-movie director Jud Taylor. “I just say what I think.” When she was in news, she admits, “I was a perfectionist. Those who agreed with me thought I was terrific. Those who didn’t thought I was a bitch. [Eventually] I learned to be authoritative without being strident or mean. That’s a strength that comes out of being a woman, being confident, intelligent and straightforward.” Burnett, says Brandwynne, “feels guilty when she’s not nice, even when she has cause. But she’s changing—a little.” Burnett, recalling her decades-long collaboration with producer and ex-husband Joe Hamilton, concedes, “I found it difficult to say, ‘Gee, guys, this sketch just doesn’t work.’ I would say, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I’m just not comfortable doing this.’ I still do tread a little lightly. A man can be forceful, but if a woman is, there are certain people who will say—maybe not to your face—’She’s a bitch.’ ”
Bumping against the “glass ceiling”: “When I go above my own level,” says Brandwynne, “I see no women. Many can say no, but who are the women who can say yes?”
What’s sexy in a man: “A man who is funny and talented and has a twinkle in his eyes is sexy,” says Burnett. “Burt Reynolds has it, Tom Selleck has it, John Cleese has it, Woody Allen has it.” She adds, “If a man doesn’t want a woman to express her own opinions and be funny, then he’s not worth impressing.”
Trading hanky-panky for parts or power: “It may happen,” says Brandwynne, “but I don’t see it. But then I’ve never seen people use cocaine either.” As for her partner, “Never was a problem,” hoots Burnett, noting that in her grandmother’s day, “You were only as good as your husband, and so Nanny, being a survivor, would just go after the men who could help her, and she married all of them. It still didn’t work out.”
FOR HIRE: PARAGON STAGE MOTHER, PROFESSIONAL, UPBEAT, SASSY
I consider myself first a human being, second a woman; then black is somewhere down there, but other things, like mother, come before that,” says Dolores Robinson, 54, exhibiting photos of her daughter, Holly, 26, a Sarah Lawrence grad and star of 21 Jump Street; her son, Matt, 29, who owns his own record label; and her newly adopted nephew, Tommy, 14. In a town of devouringly eager stage mothers, motherhood so suits her that in a sense she has made it her career. As a personal manager, she is “the closest business associate to my client,” a liaison between the star and the support team of agent, publicist, lawyer and business manager. She also squires hopefuls around town, plugging them into the Hollywood network, and stands by to boost their sagging spirits. In 16 years in the business, she has guided Martin Sheen, Harry Hamlin, Pierce Brosnan and Randy Quaid. Now she’s nurturing a hot younger crowd, including Jason (After Dark, My Sweet) Patric, Rosie (In Living Color) Perez and Wesley (Mo’ Better Blues) Snipes.
She started in a pump-and-outhouse shack: Raised outside Philadelphia by a single mother who worked as a domestic, Robinson put herself through a state teachers college. Later she married Matt Robinson, Sesame Street’s original Gordon, now a script consultant for The Cosby Show. The marriage busted up in 1974. “He recommended I not take a job,” Robinson says. “But I did—and I didn’t even know about that woman he had in New York!” Kids in tow, Robinson split for L.A.
Crossing the color line: After several years as a secretary, Robinson signed her first client—Levar Burton, just before Roots premiered. Business burgeoned after she marched up to Martin Sheen in a supermarket and “told him he was getting some bad advice and I could do better. When I signed him, I raised a whole lot of eyebrows. When I signed his son Emilio [Estevez], tongues started wagging.”
A good token: “There’s something really spiritual and caring about black people, and I’m glad I have that in me, but I don’t function as a black person. I function simply as a person.” Adds daughter Holly: “She always used to tell us, ‘If I’m going to be a token, I’m going to be a good token.’ ”
ALL GROWN UP AND EVERYWHERE TO GO
In the hot, sticky nights of Cincinnati last summer, she stayed up late chainsmoking, rethinking the script. Often she dreamed about each day’s work, second-guessing herself in her sleep. But directing her first picture, Little Man Tate, was a job right next to heaven for Jodie Foster. At 28, she has appeared in nearly 30 films, more than many stars manage in their careers. But directing, she says, “is where I feel sanest and healthiest. That doesn’t mean I’m always Miss Cheerful. I just enjoy being the benevolent leader who is also one of the people.”
Déjà vu: In Little Man Tate, due later this year, Foster appears as the cocktail waitress-mother of a 7-year-old genius, played by 9-year-old newcomer Adam Hann-Byrd. Their director-actor relationship sparked memories for Foster, who was shooting commercials at age 3. “Watching him grow up and become an independent little human being made me remember what I loved about acting. It is horrible, painful and yet also intoxicating and emotionally liberating. I wanted to give Adam this same love of work.”
She does it her way: “As an actress you have to give yourself up to the director’s vision. But if you have the ego for it, you get frustrated being just one of 85 people working on a movie. As a director, you listen to people’s creative input, but ultimately you have to say, ‘This is the way it is because that’s how I feel it in my heart.’ ”
That’s no stick, that’s a boom mike: Playing a rape victim in 1988’s The Accused, Foster cried so much she broke blood vessels over her eyes during the filming of the gang-rape scene. Even the crew had trouble sleeping. “People don’t hold a boom mike in their hand and think, ‘What I’ve always wanted to do in life is hold a stick.’ They want to feel that they’ve given a piece of themselves. People died for The Accused every lick of the way, whether it was a prop-man or an actor.” Such devotion to craft is what makes Foster tick.
That’s no mannequin, that’s an Oscar: Of winning the Best Actress award for The Accused, the informal Foster jokes, “I felt as if I never had to get dressed up again.”
No Rambo redux: In the thriller The Silence of the Lambs, Foster played an FBI trainee who must tell an imprisoned serial killer her childhood experiences to win his help in finding another killer on the loose. Her character, she says, “is not a male, Rambo-like superhero rewritten for a woman. She’s not a victim or a crying mom, the usual stuff offered to actresses. She’s a real developed person put in a situation where she has to use her mind to combat evil.” Foster herself has had to combat adversity. Never married and very private about her love life, she has rebounded from publicity that might have crushed a lesser career when deranged fan John Hinckley Jr. shot President Reagan in an attempt to impress Foster, with whom he had become obsessed.
She’s got the whole world in her hands: “Directing is basically creating life. Life in the big picture. And making sure the seams don’t show.”
PENELOPE ANN MILLER
NO LONGER AN ARMPIECE BUT STILL A CHAMELEON
I’ve never wanted to be considered a personality, where someone will say, ‘This is a Penelope Ann Miller kind of movie,’ ” says the 27-year-old actress. “To me it’s more of a compliment if someone would think of me as a character actress.”
Call me chameleon: “I’ve been told that I’m very malleable,” she says. “So depending on my hair color and makeup, I can totally change my look. That’s an advantage as an actress.” So far the strategy has worked brilliantly. In The Freshman, Miller was a Mafia don’s dotty daughter. In Kindergarten Cop, she was the peachy teach who steals Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heart. And in Awakenings, she was the sweetly sincere plain Jane who stirs Robert De Niro.
From De Niro to DeVito: Now she is stepping up to costar opposite Danny DeVito in the film of the off-Broadway hit Other People’s Money. “I’m a high-powered executive lawyer on Wall Street,” says Miller. “I haven’t really done that before, played someone who’s very tough and savvy.” For practically the first time in her career, Miller, who is single, won’t simply be playing a girlfriend. And more significant, she reportedly beat out Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon and Debra Winger for the part.
My life as an armpiece: “I see a lot of scripts where the woman is the girlfriend—the armpiece. The character’s not fleshed out. You don’t know who she is. When it’s not there on the page, I’ve tried to bring as much to it as I can—which is probably why I’ve been cast in those kinds of roles.”
Starting out legit: Daughter of actor Mark Miller (the dad in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies), Penelope grew up putting on plays with her big sister in her family’s L.A. backyard. She began acting in New York City “because I thought that people took actors more seriously there and that there was more respect for the theater.” After a Ban Roll-On commercial and some soaps, she landed on Broadway in Biloxi Blues and in 1989 was nominated for a Tony in Our Town.
Why some bad actors always get work: Convinced she flubbed her first Broadway audition because of fear, she has developed a reliable routine. “Some of the greatest actors in the world just cannot audition well. They get nervous and self-conscious, so they act weird around people. Instead of thinking, ‘I hope I’m right for this role,’ I go in thinking, ‘Look, I’m right for this role.’ Also I’ll pick up on the vibe in the room and go with it. There’s a mastery to that, because some people who aren’t great actors are great auditioners. You wonder why they’re getting work when they’re not that exceptional, but it’s a different talent.”
A SENSE OF HUMOR AND A LIVE-IN NANNY DO HELP
Swift-kick that dated image of the woman agent as shrill and vulgar. What’s now is Paula Wagner’s blend of cool, control and concern. She’s done rain-forest volunteer work, has acted with the Yale Rep and is a wife and mom. A top agent at the potent Creative Artists Agency (where 30 percent of the agents are women), Wagner, 43, makes deals for Tom Cruise, Oliver Stone and Val Kilmer, among others.
Buffer zone: Wagner once helped produce an off-Broadway play on early feminists. In 1978, after a year acting in L.A., she was offered an agent’s job by her agent. “I love being a mediator between the business side and the creative side,” she says, “and I understand both.”
A “juniper” is not something you wear: “Your negotiating skills have to be more developed than a man’s. But that is a transitional period we’re going through.” Until the millennium arrives, “You need to understand football, basketball and baseball terms, which are used a lot in this business.”
It’s nuttin’, honey: “If someone calls you ‘honey’ in passing, you have to realize that’s just their way. Humor is the best way to deal with it. You don’t want to alienate anyone, particularly in a business that’s all about having good relationships with people.”
Who needs spare time? “I think the concept of giving up something to have a child is wrong,” says Wagner, who is married to fellow CAA agent Rick Nicita and took but two weeks off to have their son, Zachary, 3. (Wagner’s 11-year-old stepson visits on weekends.) “The only thing you give up is spare time. You need tremendous energy and a very carefully organized life.”
But delegate the details: Zachary frequently pops by the office to visit his parents, but household duties are left to the live-in nanny, says Wagner. “One day she was off, and I had to pack Zachary’s lunch. I couldn’t find his lunch box, so I packed this big shopping bag with three sandwiches, a package of pretzels, a couple of boxes of juice. I kept packing and thinking, ‘God, what do you put in?’ I took him to school, and everyone was looking at this huge lunch. Later, he said he shared it with two or three friends.”
GALLERIES ARE BYGONES: PATRICK SWAYZE HANGIN’ 10 IS HER KIND OF ART
I was steeped in the art world,” says Kathryn Bigelow, 39. “My entire attention was art.” But after graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1972 and pursuing independent studies at the Whitney Museum in New York City, a funky thing happened. Bigelow discovered she was really a film nut whose thing was movies rather than Bergmans. She got a degree from Columbia University’s film school, then made her directorial debut with the 1984 biker flick The Loveless, which was also a landmark for launching actor Willem Dafoe. She now makes gut-punching thrillers (Near Dark, Blue Steel) that are, as one critic put it, “gross and great-looking.” Come summer, she’ll release Point Break, executive-produced by her husband, director James (Aliens, The Terminator) Cameron and starring Keanu Reeves as an FBI man and Patrick Swayze as the surfer who helps him crack a beach bum bank-robbing ring.
“B” stands for budget, not bad: Invited to teach classes in B films at California Institute of the Arts, Bigelow befriended top B directors and “responded to their maverick quality. They were working in fringe areas, which is how I saw myself. They’re like Mack trucks. They don’t wait for the time, the money or the actors—they just go. Some of their films were made in six days.”
Rub two images together: “Film classes tend to mystify the process. I wanted to demystify it. Filmmaking is as simple as finding an association between two images and thereby telling a story.”
Superior-schmerior: “In art you’re almost in an adversarial position to an audience. To pander is to denigrate all integrity. In film the important thing is to work in a way that doesn’t take a superior relationship to your audience. Making material that’s accessible, with a conscience—that’s sort of it.”
On women’s progress: “Many women in my classes don’t think directing is realistic to pursue. I try to dispel that notion. They want to produce or write. When women directing ceases to be a subject, women will be equal.”
On being 5’11”: “Since I can’t have a deep, bellowing voice on the set, at least I have size.”
A MISERY-ABLE TRIP FROM STAGE TO BIG SCREEN
Suavely sleek, brilliantly blond, vivaciously vacuous, lithely liposuctioned—necessary attributes of the successful star, right? Hold it right there, warns Kathy Bates. The description inspires the normally genteel stage and screen actress to boil over much as she did for her Oscar-nominated performance as the demonic Annie Wilkes in Misery. An unabashed 42 years old and cherubic of shape, Bates says of filmdom’s obsession with beauty, “I wish living in my own skin wasn’t attached to so many other things in Hollywood. My body, my face, my hair are all fair game. I look at Marlon Brando and think, ‘He does whatever the hell he wants to.’ ”
Got a little room on your pedestal, Michelle? Even though Bates came to Hollywood from Broadway in 1985 to further her career, her role as a suicidal daughter in the play ‘night, Mother, for which she won a 1983 Tony nomination, went to Sissy Spacek in the film version. Off-Broadway in Frankie and johnny in the Clair de Lune, Bates gave a bravura performance as a 40ish waitress apprehensive about love. This year the role will be played onscreen by Michelle Pfeiffer. “Every script gets offered to Michelle Pfeiffer because she’s on top right now,” says Bates. “Nothing against her—she’s terrific. The answer isn’t yanking her off a pedestal. It’s putting everybody else up there too.”
Lighten up, ladies: “A lot of scripts by women have this knee-jerk anger at men, and that’s unfortunate. If we don’t respect each other in society, how the hell are we going to respect each other onstage? If relationships between men and women in the world are healthy and loving, then that will be reflected in our art.” Bates, who has had a relationship for 12 years with actor Tony Campisi, says that they “want to get married and have a family at some point.”
Sex Ed. 101: “If a director asks you out for a weekend in the country, you think, ‘Well, I really don’t want to do that.’ But you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you don’t go, they take it as an affront. And if you do, they’ve gotten their way and don’t have any more use for you. I never fell prey to that, maybe because I’m older and have a track record. But it happens all the time.”
Sex Ed. 201: “You can’t just say men-are bad. Women use men in the business too. They think if they ball this guy they’re going to get a role. It doesn’t work though.”
Kill the car chases: “There’s a whole group of people out there who would like to see good films—no matter who is in them, who wrote them, who directs them. I want to come out of a theater feeling that someone has touched me…. The whole point is to have a revelatory experience, to be carried to the heights.”
SHE MARRIED A MOGUL BUT IS BECOMING ONE HERSELF
Getting discovered is the cliched dream of thousands of restless youngsters who arrive each year with a portfolio and enough innocence (or ignorance) to feed a thousand fairy tales. Lili Fini bought the dream, no money down. In 1977 she left her job at the World Bank in Washington and drove to L.A., bent on becoming a film editor. End of story? No. Beginning of fairy tale.
How to marry the boss without really trying…and make it work: Fini began hanging out at the celeb watering hole Ma Maison, where she struck up a friendship with the place’s founder, Pierre Groleau. “He kept saying, ‘I know the perfect guy for you,’ ” she recalls. The 23-year-old balked at the idea of a blind date, even if he was a successful producer and the son of the legendary Darryl F. Zanuck. As for the twice-divorced Richard Zanuck, 20 years Lili’s senior, he wanted no part of a woman whose first name—even the unusual spelling—was exactly the same as his first wife’s. But the matchmaker persevered, and a date was arranged. And four months later Lili Fini became Lili Zanuck.
Hear no evil: “I was a third wife and I was young. You assume people will talk. But have I been confronted with it? No. An old-timer told me, ‘When I first heard this, I thought, Jesus, what’s Dick doing now? And then I met you, and I understood.’ ”
Never a night apart: Lili enthusiastically took over the raising of Harrison, then 5, and Dean, then 6, Richard’s sons from his second marriage. She boasts that in 12 wedded years, she and Richard have never spent a night apart. “The foundation of my life isn’t work,” she says. “It’s my marriage.”
Unpaid labor: Declining to merely lunch with the ladies, Zanuck started working part-time, doing research for her husband’s then-partner, David Brown. Soon she was working full-time without pay. “Women working for free or for peanuts—doing all the work for their bosses and never getting any credit—is very, very common” in Hollywood, notes Zanuck. She began getting a regular paycheck from her hubby only after another firm made her an offer. Eventually she started handling contracts, reading scripts, negotiating deals.
Leaving the cocoon with Cocoon: In a ho-hum manuscript Zanuck found a gem of an idea that she then spent two workaholic years developing into the 1985 sleeper hit Cocoon. Her husband and Brown advised her to settle for associate producer credit—it was her first picture, after all. Lili fought for, and won, her producer title, but she says, “I didn’t get it easily.”
Messages don’t play in Peoria: In Brown split, and the new Zanuck Company fought to make Driving Miss Daisy, succeeding after they slashed the budget by $5 million. It went on to gross $105 million and win four Oscars last year. “What attracted us was that it was a relationship story that had an interesting conflict,” says Lili. “We didn’t want a message film. That’s not why people spend money on Friday nights.”
The missing link: Lili—who has so far lived up to her audacity and will also direct the next Zanuck production (Rush, with Jennifer Jason Leigh)—thinks that Hollywood’s few successful women aren’t giving a leg up to other women. “Most of the time when somebody gets ahead and you call them, a man answers the phone.”
TO PULL FOR MOTHER EARTH, SHE MAKES THE STARS COME OUT
It’s no accident that we use terms like Mother Nature,” says entertainment lawyer, CPA and eco-activist Bonnie Reiss (pronounced Reese). “There are many phenomenal men in the environmental struggle, but in Hollywood the way is being led by women.”
Nurture is our nature: “Despite the new values of the ’60s, we realized women will always be the mothers, the nurturers. It’s important to put that energy into partnership with men in every area of society—not so much equal as balanced.”
Deal me out: In 1988, Reiss attended a Washington, D.C., conference on the global environment and, alarmed, set up a series of informational meetings at celebrities’ homes in L.A. After that, she says, “I knew I couldn’t any longer just pursue my next million-dollar deal, my next car, my next client.” Reiss, 35, who is single and lives in Malibu, closed her lucrative law practice (Kirstie Alley and Mimi Rogers were clients) to found and run the Earth Communications Office (ECO). Since then she has shepherded Tom Cruise to the Brazilian rain forests, encouraged Olivia Newton-John to take ECO to Australia and galvanized stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Meg Ryan and Ron Howard in other fund-and consciousness-raising projects.
Political pygmies: In 1982, Reiss helped found the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee with, among others, songwriter Marilyn Bergman and producer Paula Weinstein. The group raises money and pressures Congress on women’s rights, arms control, health care and peace initiatives. A onetime aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy, Reiss is less enchanted with politicians than she once was: “Most of them—unlike the heroes I grew up believing in, people who’d lay their lives on the line—weren’t even willing to lay their jobs on the line for the big issues of our day.”