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The Woman Behind 'Navy SEALS' : Movies: A radical feminist producer calls the shots in the macho action-thriller. 'I think it is feminist, humanist to hate terrorism,' she says.

July 25, 1990|DAVID WALLACE

"Barrooooom!" A ramshackle Beirut building collapses in a cloud of blazing orange flame. "Ak-ak-ak-ak-ak-ak!" The sub-machine guns and Kalishnikov rifles spit fire and death. "Craaaack!" Blood spurts and brains splatter as one of the good guys is executed by a Middle Eastern terrorist.

Meet Orion's "Navy SEALS," the latest entry in this summer's parade of action-adventure films where the body count and expletives run high and the prop blood flows freely. Like most of the others, this is a mostly men-only story, the one female role could be filled by a man. The love interest: nil. The main relationship is one where co-stars Charlie Sheen and Michael Biehn try to out-tough one another. Weapons, tough guys, more blood, more bodies. "Tag 'em and bag 'em," says one character.

But wait a minute. On the screen credits, we see this: "A Brenda Feigen Production." Brenda Feigen? The Brenda Feigen? The to-the-barricades radical feminist of the '60s and '70s? What on earth is she doing producing a film light-years from what one thinks of as a "woman's" movie, a film that celebrates with a vengeance a gung-ho organization that is one of the very few military operations left still prohibiting women (because of its state of constant combat readiness)?

The SEALS, by the way, are an elite force of 1,200 men, descended from World War II's Frogmen (a term they still use for themselves) and created in 1962 by John F. Kennedy, who saw a future need for highly-trained teams that could be mobilized fast for hazardous reconnaissance and counterterrorism action.

Feigen, still a radical feminist and whose hazel eyes blaze with the intensity of her commitment, sees no conflict between her personal philosophy and this, her first film production: "If this movie had been made about dropping nuclear bombs, I never would have done it," she says. "But I think it is feminist, humanist to hate terrorism. It is natural and logical. I had no problem making a movie about the guys who go after these people. I may be a feminist but I don't want to be blown up by a terrorist's bomb any more than anyone else."

At 46, deeply tanned and with streaked blond hair, Feigen says she has been a feminist all her life. Her passionate commitment to the cause, however, began soon after she entered Harvard Law School in 1966.

"They had 'ladies day' then," she recalls, "the one day in the year when women in the classes were called on. I remember in Criminal Law the professor called on women to discuss how much penetration constitutes rape and in Property Law class called on us to discuss who actually owned the engagement ring when an engagement is called off! Totally sexist.

"I was instrumental in integrating Lincoln's Inn, the eating club for the law school that had never allowed women, and the squash courts so I wouldn't have to disguise myself as a man to play--which I had been doing."

While at Harvard she met and married classmate Marc Fasteau (they divorced in 1987). "Just as I was graduating I was contacted by (the National Organization for Women) to run for national vice president for legislation," where she was in charge of hearings on women's legal rights.

In May, 1970, she and her husband moved to New York where Feigen and Gloria Steinem eventually started the Women's Action Alliance and Ms. Magazine. Steinem recalls the early days of the magazine: "In a way it was her idea. Together we had formed the Womens Action Alliance which is basically an information center. We were initially thinking of a newsletter and Brenda said no, it should be a real magazine . . . she was in on the founding."

"I learned, many years later," Feigen smiles, "that that was what gave me the honor of having a CIA file started on me," which she discovered in 1976 under the Freedom of Information Act.

Feigen then was offered the job of running the Women's Rights Project of the ACLU which, after two years, she left to go into a law partnership with her husband. In 1978, she ran for the New York State Senate from New York's silk-stocking district. Feigen lost by 3% to a candidate who spent $600,000 to her $38,000.

In 1982, she joined the New York office of the William Morris Agency, first as a business affairs attorney and then as an agent (her clients included Jane Alexander, Karen Allen and Loretta Swit), eventually segueing into the production of "Navy SEALS." "I'm glad I lost that election," she laughs, "or I might still be in Albany instead of having produced my first film."

Through a writer client she met Chuck Pfarrer, an active duty SEAL writing screenplays in his spare time. "I tried to talk to him about it," she recalls, "but couldn't get much information. When the Achille Lauro happened he disappeared, and when the Pakistani jet was hijacked he disappeared again. He kept disappearing. . . . Chuck was the commander of the counter-terrorist SEAL team from the Atlantic Fleet.

"The mortality rate among these guys is about 40% and I kept telling him he should leave."

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