‘I don’t want any coffee’: Former film executive shares experiences as woman in film industry

When Sherry Lansing was the president of 20th Century Fox, she approached a guest to introduce herself, and he mistook her for an assistant.

“I walked in and said, ‘Hello, Mr. Davis,’ and he said, ‘No honey, I don’t want any coffee,’” Lansing said, prompting a gasp from an audience of 300 in the Folino Theater, where the former film executive spoke about her experiences as a woman in the film industry.

“I turned to him and said, ‘No, no, I’m Sherry Lansing,’ and he responded to me by saying, ‘I see the mistake, I’m here to meet Jerry Lansing.’ I let him know that I was indeed the president, and he stood there. Everything with Mr. (Mark) Davis was fine from there.”

In an evening interwoven with humor, Lansing shared stories from her career and work as a humanitarian with students and faculty Nov. 29.

“I worked every job in the office, and was finally made an executive,” Lansing said. “The thing was, no woman had ever held those positions before.”

During the event, which was moderated by The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway and Dodge College of Film and Media Arts professor Harry Ufland, Lansing spoke about her greatest career achievements and her most significant career downfalls.

“I love ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ and MTV,” said Lansing, the first female president of 20th Century Fox.

“People always say to me, ‘Sherry, you made “Titanic,” how could you like that?’ But I do.”

Lansing, who also served as CEO of Paramount Pictures which produced films including “Titanic” and “Forrest Gump,” during her tenure, has been a powerful role model for women pursuing film, said attendee Spencer Kaseff.

“Sherry Lansing is the strongest female in the film industry,” said Kaseff, a junior television writing and production major. “What is beautiful about her is that, although she has retired from the industry, she still believes in the power of film.”

Kaseff and other attendees admire Lansing’s perseverance and success in a male-dominated industry. Although Lansing praised the progress of women in film, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reported that, from 2016 to 2017, “women accounted for 28 percent of all creators, directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors and directors of photography.”

In addition to telling the audience about her transition from actress to script-reader to executive, the “painful, yet mesmerizing moments” in the editing room and her close friendship with Tom Cruise, Lansing spoke about her work as a humanitarian.

“I have always wanted to give back,” Lansing said. “In my mid-50s, my passion was shifting away from film. I lost my mother to cancer, and I became committed to that cause.”

Lansing, who formerly sat on the board of the American Red Cross, founded the Sherry Lansing Foundation, which is “dedicated to funding and raising awareness for cancer research, health, public education and encore career opportunities.”

Galloway, who wrote Lansing’s 2017 biography, “Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker,” praised her for her morality, determination and breaking the “glass ceiling.”

“As complicated as the world you live in is, women have a very strong voice now, as do men. I am very grateful to the many men who mentored me and helped me along the way. I worked with very wonderful people,” Lansing said.

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