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A sister's in the picture

The brother teams are famous, but where are the women? Several sisterly partnerships exist. Nora and Delia Ephron, Suzanne and Jennifer Todd, and others.

August 21, 2011|By Jodie Burke, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • The Burtons, clockwise from top left, Jennifer, Ursula, Maria, Gabrielle and Charity, made "Manna From Heaven." Family motto: "Clap loudly for your sister."
The Burtons, clockwise from top left, Jennifer, Ursula, Maria, Gabrielle… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

Hollywood has been fertile ground for brothers. It has accommodated the Warner brothers, the Marx brothers, the Coen brothers, the Farrelly brothers, the Hughes brothers, the Wayans brothers.

So where are all the sisters?

"There's so many brothers!" exclaims Jennifer Todd, who partnered with her older sister Suzanne for 13 years to produce blockbuster movies as Team Todd. She is probably thinking of the Weitz brothers, the Wachowski brothers, the Wilson brothers.

"It's endless!" agrees "Tao of Steve" co-writer and director Jenniphr Goodman. "I ask myself, 'How come there aren't more sisters?'"When you think about sisters in Hollywood, the ones who immediately spring to mind are the Kardashians. Or maybe the Olsen twins. "I mean, I appreciate them," Jenniphr says.

"Where are the Brontës?" laments Greer Goodman, Jenniphr's younger, blonder sister, co-writer and star of "Tao of Steve."

Sure, it's an industry dominated by brothers. The latest reports from Stacy Smith, who studies gender and media at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, show only 7% of feature directors are women, 13% of writers are women and 20% of producers. But search a bit and you will find there actually are sisters who team to make movies. Women who've found business partners who support them 100%.

There are famous ones, like Nora and Delia Ephron, who co-write classic romantic comedies. Sisters who produce together like Sandra Bullock and her sister Gesine Bullock-Prado, Julia Roberts and her sister Lisa Gillan. Some have charted an independent course. The Burtons — Maria, Jennifer, Ursula, Gabrielle and Charity — run a family business called Five Sisters Productions.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead studied girls in Samoa in the 1920s and concluded that sisters endure the most competitive relationship within the family. But once the sisters are grown, this relationship becomes the strongest. Hollywood is a tough town to succeed in. If Mead's theory is correct, it makes sense to turn an old sparring partner into a business partner. In a place where art and commerce collide and no one trusts anyone, these women have learned to trust each other.

"I think there's something to artistic sisters," Greer Goodman says. "There's a sensitivity and a compassion, being understood and being witnessed by someone who has empathy. You're lucky if you have a sister like that. Or a partner."

Continue reading about the Burton, Ephron, Zenelaj, Todd and Goodman sisters.

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