Sherry Lee Heimann (Lansing) was born in Chicago on July 31, 1944. Her father, a real-estate agent, died of a heart attack when she was nine years old, leaving a thirty-two-year-old wife and two daughters, of whom Sherry was the elder by four and a half years. His widow declined the offer of his colleagues to help her by running his business and insisted on carrying it on by herself. This provided an excellent example of female independence for Sherry, who frequently accompanied her mother on her business rounds. Lansing graduated from Northwestern University and worked as a schoolteacher, model and actress (1970, in the films Loving and Rio Lobo). She joined MGM studios in 1973 and quickly moved up the corporate ladder.