Sherry Lansing Becomes the First Woman to Head a Major Movie Studio

February 2, 1980
by Sara Weinberg

When Sherry Lansing was named president of 20th Century Fox Productions on January 2nd, 1980, she became the first woman to head production at a major movie studio. At the same time, she became the highest-paid female executive in any industry. Her unlikely path to lead this iconic, Hollywood institution included opportunity, hard work, tenacity, and determination.

Prior to her interest in the film industry, Lansing, a graduate of Northwestern University, had worked as a high school math teacher and a model, featured in Max Factor hair product commercials. Her role in the John Wayne movie, Rio Lobo, led to her landing a job as a script reader for an independent producer. Lansing rose through the ranks from executive story editor to executive vice president of creative affairs at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, before leaving for Columbia Pictures, where she was vice president of production and later senior VP.

After Alan Ladd Jr, president of 20th Century Fox, stepped down from his position, the new vice-chairman and Chief Operating Officer, Alan Hirschfield, former president of Columbia Pictures, brought on people from his former studio. Lansing, who worked as the senior production executive on Columbia’s critically acclaimed hit Kramer vs Kramer, was one of his hires. When asked why Sherry was hired, Hirschfield told the New York Times, “The latest Motion Picture Association of America report shows that the audience is still trending down in age. Sixty percent of the audience is between the ages of 14 and 24. Sherry can attract the younger creative movie makers who can make pictures that attract the younger audience.”

Sherry told Life Magazine that she did not expect to see a female studio head in her lifetime, but she proved herself wrong with her own success and rise to president of production at 20th Century Fox.

This entry was created for This Week in History as part of a course on the history of American Jewish women taught by Karla Goldman at the University of Michigan, Winter 2019.

Sources:An Evening with Sherry Lansing - Hollywood's First Female Studio Head.” Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. “1980 Sherry Lansing Named First Female Studio Production Head.” Bowie News. “Sherry Lansing named first female studio production head.” History.com. 13 Nov. 2009. A&E Television Networks. 28 Mar. 2019. “Sherry Lansing.” Jewish Women's Archive. Staff, THR. “1980: When Sherry Lansing Became the First Woman to Head a Major Studio.” The Hollywood Reporter, 17 Mar. 2018.

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Sherry Lansing.
Courtesy of University of California, Los Angeles.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Sherry Lansing Becomes the First Woman to Head a Major Movie Studio." (Viewed on May 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/feb/02/1980/sherry-lansing-becomes-first-woman-head-major-movie-studio>.

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