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A New Kind of Networking

They make movies, forge alliances, throw each other showers and horse around together. The fledgling old-girls' network is changing the way things are done in formerly old-boys-only Hollywood.

March 02, 1997|Irene Lacher | Irene Lacher is a Times staff writer

Of course, it is what you know. But entertaining Barbra Streisand at your bridal shower doesn't hurt either. By now, Dawn Steel's shower is virtually the stuff of Hollywood legend. The bash for the then-Columbia honcho, hosted a decade ago by agent Rosalie Swedlin, was attended by all manner of industry muscle, from the ultra-fit Cher to future UA chief Lindsay Doran.

At one point, producer Polly Platt entertained the troops with a film starring Steel's boyfriends, best friends, flirtees and work buddies, among them Richard Gere, Richard Dreyfus and Don Simpson, who suggestively brandished a fake Uzi. It was coyly titled "All the Men I've Ever Loved."

"She always gave the impression that she could take the heat and I think she paid a price for it," producer Melinda Jason recalls. "They were gruff and rough. The film was outrageous."

"It was the edgiest thing at the shower," producer Lynda Obst says. "It got a little harsh at times because Dawn was one of the boys."

Not exactly.

If the boys have long had their golf and river-rafting trips to help grease the wheels among the powers that be, the girls are chiming in with their own bonding rituals. In a town where pleasure is business, the power shower has become de rigueur for many of Hollywood's female players.

"Little Women" producer Denise Di Novi had one two summers ago. The baby bash at the Polo Lounge was thrown by Amy Pascal, who had shepherded Di Novi's film through Columbia before Pascal's recent return there as president.

Producer Lili Fini Zanuck threw a job shower for Pascal when she took over Turner Pictures in 1994. And when Steel celebrated her last birthday, other industry heavyweights were there to watch her blow out the candles--Paramount Motion Picture Group Chairwoman Sherry Lansing, Columbia TriStar Vice Chairwoman Lucy Fisher, Pascal and Obst.

"There was this remarkable sense of camaraderie, a tremendous sense of empathy and support," Obst says. "I do think very much that there has evolved what I call a tree of girls--enormously dense branches and very strong interrelations, and a very high quality of both mentoring and alliances.

"There was a moment a couple of weeks ago when I was able to say to an executive, 'You don't want to make this script, it's perfectly OK, because there's Lindsay, Sherry, Lucy, Laura [Ziskin, president of Fox 2000 Pictures] and Amy running studios out there and they all have my taste.' And that's a remarkable thing to be able to say. After 20 years, it actually caught in my throat and gave me a cat-that-swallowed-the-canary kind of smile."

Women have lately flexed their box-office brawn with the hits "The First Wives Club" and "Waiting to Exhale." While much has been said about the "surprising" strength of female audiences, those films are also raising the curtain on the women making the films. At "First Wives" studio Paramount, as much as 44% of top-tier creative executives are women, including the queen movie-making bee, Lansing, according to Premiere magazine. At 20th Century Fox, which made "Exhale," the percentage is a respectable 35%, and it also boasts a woman, Ziskin, running a key division.

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And as female filmmakers grow in number, they're not only shattering glass ceilings, they're taking other women with them, much as the old boys always have.

Indeed, just before Pascal took over the reins at Columbia, she told the New York Times that her new teammate, Fisher, was her old mentor. Their relationship began in the mid-'80s at Warner Bros., where Fisher had given a production deal to Pascal's first boss, producer Tony Garnett. Pascal sold her first project to Fisher, "Girl Crazy," which never saw the light of day, although they all teamed up on 1985's "Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird."

"She was my mentor not only because she cared about me but because she had set a great example," Pascal says. "Here was a smart woman who did things her own way who was incredibly powerful at the studio."

Fisher had kept track of Pascal's career since their days at Warner's, and when she heard things were shaky at Turner, she threw her support behind Pascal's hire by Sony Pictures President John Calley, who was already a fan.

"I was flattered that she called me a mentor because I always thought she was a firebrand," Fisher says. "She's someone I've always been anxious to work with again. She's a complete magnet for talent. She has great taste. She's a workhorse, but a productive workhorse. And she's great company."

Fisher, who also considers herself a mentor to TriStar executive vice president of production Amy Baer, says there's been a women's network for years. "I don't know how well known it was," she says. "I owe two of my most critical career opportunities to women"--Marcia Nasatir, the first female studio vice president, who gave Fisher her first job as a reader at United Artists in the early '70s, and Paula Weinstein, who hired Fisher in her first VP post at Warner's.

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