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Dames in the Making Range From Athletes to Actresses

May 14, 2000|BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The old-fashioned femininity of Marie Brenner's great dames fell out of vogue with the feminist movement in the 1970s. Women bought into the idea that gentility and looking put together were frivolous pursuits to be downplayed in order to overcome gender discrimination.

The irrepressible desire to be a girl went underground for a while, but it's back with a vengeance. The strength and determination of the great dames set the stage for the post-feminist generation. Now that women have more options and more freedom, they have realized its OK to be, well, a woman.

Women have more opportunities in sports, business and politics than ever before, and success can mean anything from starting a dot.com to staying home to raise the kids--or both.

Need proof? Check out these California dames in the making.

Like the great dames before her, controversial TV producer Nely Galan, 36 is known for her "theater of self." The former president of Telemundo television, Galan owns a Venice-based production company committed to creating shows that portray the Latino experience realistically.

Julie Foudy, 29, of Laguna Niguel, and a member of the champion U.S. women's soccer team, recently boycotted the Australia Cup to try to get higher salaries and more respect for female soccer players. It worked. The strike led to a pay raise from the U.S. Soccer Federation, bringing women's salaries closer--but not yet equal--to those of their male counterparts. Foudy, co-captain of the team, was the first American and the first woman to receive FIFA's Fair Play Award for her commitment to eliminating child labor from the manufacture of soccer balls. Before endorsing Reebok, she traveled to Pakistan to ensure the company did not use child laborers.

Pam Nelson, 35, of Los Angeles, started her own publishing company in 1996 when she couldn't find appropriate books to give as gifts to her young girl cousins. Since then, Girl Press has spawned a number of girl power books, including Nelson's "Cool Women," which immortalizes 20th century "sheroes" for the next generation.

When Macy Gray, 30, left L.A. to go home to Canton, Ohio, four years ago, she thought it was for good. Pregnant at the time, the now-divorced mom of three was seeking support from her family after being dropped from her record label, which never released her album. Gray had started her own typing business when she got the call to come back to L.A. Skeptical, she decided to give it another go, and now the soulful hip-hop songs from her debut album, "On How Life Is," are the toast of the music world.

Retailer-to-the-stars Tracey Ross, 39, born in Long Beach, has spent nearly a decade stroking egos and starting trends at her Sunset Plaza boutique, which has been likened to a small-town general store. The Farrah Fawcett look-alike dismisses herself as a dumb blond, but we all know better. Her business is thriving.

Dames-in-the-making aren't afraid to stand up for what they believe in: Environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill, 25, lived in a tree for two years to save Luna, a redwood owned by Pacific Lumber and blue-marked for cutting.

Camryn Manheim, 39, the Emmy-winning star of "The Practice," refused to let her curvy body deter her from pursuing an acting career. She did not cave when casting directors suggested she shed a few, and, after years of self-loathing, has grown to love her size 22 self. Critics say she's overexposed, but Manheim takes it in stride. She has become a plus-size poster girl and a symbol that you don't have to be a waif to make it in Hollywood.

Dames-in-the-making know they can have it all. Lucy Jones, 46, head of the U.S. Geological Survey's Pasadena field office, has given at least one post-quake news conference with her son, Niels, on her hip. Jones has a knack for soothing Southern Californians when temblors hit, helping us understand that earthquakes have psychological as well as physical effects. Like all good Earth mamas, they make it better.

Universal Pictures Chairwoman Stacey Snider, 38, one of only three women heading a major movie studio (including Sherry Lansing at Paramount and Amy Pascal at Columbia Pictures), gets the job done--while raising two children. When Kevin Costner criticized her editing on "For Love of the Game," Snider fired back: "Kevin's not the director, and it's not fair for him to hijack a $50-million asset." You go, girl!

Armed with short skirts and busty tops, toxic avenger Erin Brockovich, 39, challenges the notion of proper workplace attire. She views her physique not as a liability, but as a tool. A single mom, Brockovich worked her way up from administrative assistant to head researcher at Ed Masry's Westlake Village law firm, where the two fought corporate greed, winning one of the largest class-action suits in history.

The queen of deadpan sarcasm, Sandra Tsing Loh, 38, helped put the Valley on the map of hip. Today, she's riding high on the success of her recent one-woman show, but it hasn't been an easy ride. In 1987, Loh played her piano for 90 minutes beside the Harbor Freeway during rush-hour to make the point that she could create art anywhere. Today, her five-minute commentaries for KCRW-FM, titled "The Loh Life," are commuter staples. Call her self-obsessed, even self-promotional, but Loh has grabbed Los Angeles by the horns and made it her own.

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