Name at birth: Sherry Heimann
As the head of 20th Century Fox during the 1980s, producer Sherry Lansing was the first woman to reach the top of Hollywood's corporate ladder. Lansing grew up in Chicago and studied math, English and theater at Northwestern University. After her graduation in 1966, she moved to Los Angeles to start an acting career. She taught high school for nearly four years before getting two roles in 1970, small parts in Loving (starring Eva Marie Saint) and Rio Lobo (starring John Wayne). She then went behind the scenes -- first as a script reader, then as a story editor for MGM studios. By the late 1970s Lansing had worked her way up to vice president at MGM, and in 1977 she jumped to Columbia Pictures to become the vice president in charge of production. From there she moved to the top at 20th Century Fox (1980), where she had a successful tenure that included the hits Chariots of Fire (1981) and Taps (1981, with newcomers Sean Penn and Tom Cruise). Lansing left the studio in 1983 and for a dozen years worked in partnership with Stanley Jaffe. Their successes included Fatal Attraction (1987, starring Glenn Close) and The Accused (1988, starring Jodie Foster). She joined Paramount's Motion Picture Group as chairman in 1992, where she presided over Forest Gump (1994, starring Tom Hanks), James Cameron's Titanic (1997) and Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (1998). Lansing left the movie business in 2005 and began the Sherry Lansing Foundation, a non-profit center for cancer research. She was awarded a special Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 2007.
Lansing married film director William Friedkin in 1991.