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Lansing will leave behind several legacies: she and Dolgen pioneered the practice of "creative financing," inviting partners to help pay for expensive projects. (They famously capped their investment in Titanic at $65 million and let 20th Century Fox lose sleep when costs soared.) Lansing herself shattered the glass ceiling for female executives when she became 20th Century Fox's president of production in 1980. The female moviegoing audience, which was largely ignored by studios in the 1970s and '80s, can thank Lansing for helping rediscover them through the success of Fatal Attraction and The Accused, which she produced with Stanley Jaffe. "She was one of the first people [since the Joan Crawford era] to make movies that were successful with female protagonists or antagonists," says Pascal, "movies where a woman was a key character and moved the plot forward."
Lansing, the subject of an Intimate Portrait this week on the Lifetime channel, says her mother was her first role model. "When my dad died when I was 9," says Lansing, "I watched her take over the real estate business in Chicago. So many of my movies are about a woman who is not going to be a victim." When Lansing, who is married to director William Friedkin (The Exorcist), took the Paramount job in 1992, she continued to spin gold out of what she calls "female empowerment films" such as The First Wives Club and Double Jeopardy. She has a stern but maternal demeanor in the office. ("She can say no to you in the most endearing way," says Variety editor Peter Bart, who was a Paramount exec in the early '70s.) Lansing concedes that being a woman heavily influences the kinds of movies she makes. "You have all these rational reasons why you make a movie," she says. "It's a good story, the budget's right. But ultimately it's your gut, and it has to be affected by who you are. It's like a Rorschach test."
But Lansing points out that the ultimate test has not yet been met for women executives in Hollywood. She notes that there are no female Hollywood titans on the level of Disney's Michael Eisner or Viacom's Sumner Redstone. "The women I came up with," says Lansing, "we all got into this business to make movies, not to run corporations. But I think that right now at the Harvard Business School, there's some girl sitting there saying, 'I don't want Sherry Lansing's job. I want to be Sumner Redstone.'"