“The Queen of Cool” and “The Queen of Mean”: The Hollywood Careers of Sherry Lansing and Dawn Steel, the First Female Studio Heads

  • Holly Chard (Presenter)

    Activity: External talk or presentationOral presentation


    Sherry Lansing and Dawn Steel were two of the most powerful women in American cinema during the 1980s. Part of a new generation of female Hollywood executives, both women played a prominent role in the development of production agendas at various major studios throughout the decade. Lansing became the first woman to head a major Hollywood studio when she assumed the role of president of production at 20th Century Fox in 1980. Following in Lansing’s wake, Steel became president of production at Paramount in 1985 and then president of Columbia Pictures in 1987.

    Through analysis of a wide range of archival materials, including press releases, reports in the trade press, newspaper articles and popular magazine features, this paper examines Lansing’s and Steel’s careers as studio heads and the impact they had on the US film industry. This paper also examines the ways in which these women were portrayed within the entertainment industry press and American media more generally. By doing so, it reflects on the discourses and wider social changes that shaped how these pioneering female executives were represented.

    Thanks to their professional status, both women had significant opportunities to shape their public images and to articulate their personal perspectives on Hollywood. Consequently, this paper also considers how Lansing and Steel used interviews and personal written accounts, such as Steel’s memoir They Can Kill You But They Can’t Eat You, to share their experiences and express their attitudes towards the growing influence of women in the American film industry.
    Period17 Jul 2019
    Event titleXXVII IAMHIST Conference: Power and the Media
    Event typeConference
    LocationNewcastle Upon Tyne, United KingdomShow on map
    Degree of RecognitionInternational


    • Film
    • Cinema
    • Hollywood
    • History
    • Media
    • feminism
    • Women