Sherry Lansing was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 31, 1944. Her mother, Margaret "Margot" Heimann, fled from Nazi Germany in 1937 at the age of 17. Her father, David Duhl, was a real-estate investor who died when she was nine. Lansing attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and graduated in 1962. In 1966, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Northwestern University, where she was a member of Sigma Delta Tau sorority.
Sherry initially pursued an acting career (appearing in two films made in 1970, Loving and Rio Lobo, starring John Wayne) but, dissatisfied with her own acting skills, she decided to learn more about the film industry from the ground up. She took a job with MGM as head script reader and worked on two successful films, The China Syndrome and Kramer vs. Kramer. Lansing's work at MGM eventually led, after a stint at Columbia Pictures, to an appointment in 1980, at age 35, as the first female president of 20th Century Fox. She was also a partner in Jaffe/Lansing Productions with Stanley R. Jaffe. The company released a consistent string of minor hits through Paramount before achieving success with the box-office smash Fatal Attraction in 1987, for which Jaffe and Lansing received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture the following year. During this period, in 1991, Lansing married Academy Award winning director William Friedkin (“The French Connection” and “The Exorcist”). In 1992, she was offered the chairmanship of Paramount Pictures' Motion Picture Group. During her tenure at Paramount, the studio enjoyed its longest and most successful string of releases since the 1930’s. Under Lansing, the studio produced such blockbuster hits as Forrest Gump, Braveheart, and what was, at the time, history's highest-grossing film – Titanic (the latter two with Fox). Six of the ten highest grossing Paramount films were released during her tenure which included three Academy Awards for Best Picture. Overall, 80% of the films released by Lansing were profitable, a track record unmatched by any other long term studio management leader.
As studio chief, she focused on bottom-line cost rather than market share, preferring to take fewer risks and make lower-budget films than other studios. Viacom (which purchased Paramount in 1994) decided to split the company into two parts in 2004 and Lansing stepped down at the end of that year after an almost unprecedented twelve-year tenure.
Mark Zunino’s relationship with Sherry started when she was head of Paramount Studios. Initially, he designed custom day/evening business garments for her. At this time, Sherry had a much more serious, business-like personal style.
In the beginning of their working relationship, Mark would go to the studio to discuss fashion and have fittings. Later the fittings moved to Mark's Beverly Hills Atelier or Sherry's private home. After several years of working together, the two developed a close relationship. “What I loved about Sherry,” says Mark, “is that Sherry does what she says, and says what she means; very simple. She's very upfront and honest. Sherry can also take criticism. She listens and evaluates. Once in her inner circle, she develops absolute trust in you, as long as you don't mess up!"
In the beginning of their working relationship, Mark would go to the studio to discuss fashion and have fittings. Later the fittings moved to Mark's Beverly Hills Atelier or Sherry's private home.
For Mark, Sherry's fashion style started to change when she received her Academy Award. “We collaborated on a gown that was appropriate, sophisticated, serious enough, yet soft and feminine” says Mark. “It was the beginning of Mark pulling out Sherry's inner ‘girly-girl!’”
Mark now dresses Sherry for all personal as well as business events. From Hollywood Award shows and parties to personal travel and entertaining, Mark and Sherry keep pushing her style envelope.
In addition to business, Sherry is very active in public causes. Currently a Regent of the University of California, she also sits on the boards of the American Red Cross, The Carter Center, DonorsChoose, Qualcomm, Teach for America, The American Association for Cancer Research, the Lasker Foundation and Friends of Cancer Research. In 1996, she became the first woman to be named Pioneer of the Year by the Foundation of the Motion Picture Pioneers and she was the first female movie studio head to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2005, she became the first female movie studio head to place hand and foot prints at the Grauman's Chinese Theater. Also in 2005, she created The Sherry Lansing Foundation which is dedicated to raising awareness and funds for cancer research. She is a recipient of UCLA Anderson School of Management's highest honor: the Exemplary Leadership in Management (ELM) Award.
In 2007, she received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her work in cancer research at the 79th Academy Awards. The award was presented to her by Tom Cruise, her longtime friend and business partner. In 2011, Lansing pledged $5 million to University of Chicago Laboratory Schools to build a new arts wing, including a 250-seat performance venue. As of March 2013, Lansing was a member of the Board of Directors of the Dole Food Company. Beginning in 2012, she has also served as a member of the Board of Directors for the W. M. Keck Foundation. In 2016, Sherry (along with friends Jane Fonda, Sidney Poitier and David Foster) was an honoree at the Carousel of Hope Ball.
From the top of the Hollywood business ladder to personally committing her time and energy to important social causes, it seems that there is little that Sherry Lansing can’t pursue and make successful. Mark Zunino is honored to call this incredible woman, an inspiration to all, not just a wonderful client but an incredible friend as well.