Sherry Lansing (born Sherry Lee Duhl; July 31, 1944) is an American former film studio executive and actress. She is a former CEO of Paramount Pictures, and when she was the president of production at 20th Century Fox, she was the first woman to head a Hollywood movie studio. In 1996, she became the first woman to be named Pioneer of the Year by the Foundation of the Motion Picture Pioneers, and she was the first female movie studio head to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2005, she became the first female movie studio head to place hand and foot prints at the Grauman's Chinese Theater. In 2001, she was named one of the 30 most powerful women in America by Ladies' Home Journal, and The Hollywood Reporter named her fourth on its Power 100 list in 2003.
Lansing was born Sherry Lee Duhl in Chicago, Illinois on July 31, 1944. Her mother, Margaret "Margot" Heimann, fled from Nazi Germany in 1937 at the age of 17. Her father, David Duhl, was a real-estate investor who died when she was nine. Her mother remarried and died in 1984 from ovarian cancer. She was raised in a Jewish household. Lansing attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and graduated in 1962. In 1966, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Northwestern University, where she was a member of Sigma Delta Tau sorority.
Lansing married Academy Award-winning director William Friedkin on July 6, 1991; he had previously been married to French film star Jeanne Moreau. By this marriage, Lansing has two stepsons, Jack and Cedric.
Lansing was a former mathematics teacher, model, and now pursued an acting career (appearing in two films released in 1970, Loving and Rio Lobo, starring John Wayne) but, dissatisfied with her own acting skills, she decided to learn more about the film industry from the ground up. She took a job with MGM as head script reader and worked on two successful films, The China Syndrome and Kramer vs. Kramer, both released in 1979.
Lansing's work at MGM eventually led, after a stint at Columbia Pictures, to an appointment in 1980, at age 35, as the first female president of 20th Century Fox. She was also a partner in Jaffe/Lansing Productions with Stanley R. Jaffe. The company released a consistent string of minor hits through Paramount before achieving box-office success with Fatal Attraction in 1987, for which Jaffe and Lansing received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture the following year. The partnership produced The Accused (1988) starring Jodie Foster. It dealt with the horrors of rape and its impact on a victim's life. The film featured a graphic rape scene and was highly controversial when released. Made with a small budget of $6 million, it grossed over $37 million worldwide, becoming a box office hit as well as receiving critical praise with Foster scoring the Academy Award for Best Actress. In 1992, she was offered the chairmanship of Paramount Pictures' Motion Picture Group. During her tenure at Paramount, the studio enjoyed its longest and most successful string of releases since the 1930s. Under Lansing, the studio produced such hits as Forrest Gump, Braveheart, and what was, at the time, history's highest-grossing film – Titanic (the latter two with Fox). Six of the ten highest grossing Paramount films were released during her tenure which included three Academy Awards for Best Picture.
As studio chief, she focused on bottom-line cost rather than market share, preferring to take fewer risks and make lower-budget films than other studios. Viacom (which purchased Paramount in 1994) decided to split the company into two parts in 2004 and Lansing stepped down at the end of that year after an almost unprecedented twelve-year tenure atop Hollywood's legendary "Best Show in Town."
She is a Regent of the University of California. She sits on the boards of the American Red Cross, The Carter Center, DonorsChoose, Qualcomm, Teach for America, The American Association for Cancer Research, the Lasker Foundation and Friends of Cancer Research.
In 2005, she created The Sherry Lansing Foundation which is dedicated to raising awareness and funds for cancer research. She is a recipient of UCLA Anderson School of Management's highest honor-the Exemplary Leadership in Management (ELM) Award.
In 2007, she received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her work in cancer research at the 79th Academy Awards. The award was presented to her by Tom Cruise, her longtime friend and business partner.
In 2011, Lansing pledged $5 million to University of Chicago Laboratory Schools to build a new arts wing, including a 250-seat performance venue.
As of March 2013, Lansing was a member of the board of directors of the Dole Food Company. Beginning in 2012, she has also served as a member of the board of directors for the W. M. Keck Foundation.
In May 2018, Lansing joined the board of directors at The Scripps Research Institute.
Awards and recognition
- 2017: National Women's Hall of Fame Inductee
- 2008: CSHL Double Helix Medal Honoree
- 2007, Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, presented by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- 2007, Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Pennsylvania State University
- 2006, American Association of Cancer Research Public Service Award
- 2006, Business hero, The My Hero Project
- 2005, Big Brothers Big Sisters (L.A.) Legacy Award
- 2005, Exemplary Leadership in Management Award presented by UCLA Anderson School of Management
- 2005, hand and foot prints at Grauman's Chinese Theater
- 2004, Horatio Alger Humanitarian Award
- 2003, Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship
- 2003, Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from the American Film Institute
- 2002, President's Award, presented by Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films
- 2000, Milestone Award presented by Producers Guild of America
- 1996, Overcoming Obstacles Achievement Award for Business, presented by Chicago Women in Film
- 1996, YWCA Silver Achievement Award
- 1996, Pioneer of the Year by the Foundation of the Motion Picture Pioneers
- 1996, Star on the walk of fame, presented by Hollywood Walk of Fame
- 1994, Outstanding Alumna Award presented by Sigma Delta Tau (ΣΔΤ) Sorority
- 1994, Razzie for Indecent Proposal, presented by Razzie Awards
- 1992, Simon Wiesenthal Center Distinguished Service Award for the Performing Arts
- 1989, Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Memorial Award
- 1988, Oscar nomination for Fatal Attraction, presented by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- 1982, Distinguished Community Service Award from Brandeis University
- 1981, Crystal Award, presented by Women in Film for outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.
- 1980, Economic Equity Award from the Women's Equity Action League