Book Review | “Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker” by Stephen Galloway #BloggingForBooks

Posted Sunday, 15 April, 2018 by jorielov , , , , , , 0 Comments

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Acquired Book By: I decided to join the “Blogging for Books” programme (on 9th July, 2014) which is a book for review programme created by the Crown Publishing Group. As a book blogger you are offered books in exchange for an honest review on your book blog as well as the ability to reach new readers when you cross-post your review to the Blogging for Books website. The benefit for the blogger is exposure as a reviewer as they put direct links back to your blog post on the book you select to review as well as your homepage.

I received a complimentary copy of “Leading Lady” direct from the publisher Crown Archetype (an imprint of Crown Publishers), in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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A book blogger’s note of gratitude to Blogging for Books:

It’s hard to admit you’ve forgotten about a book you requested for review, but sometimes it’s the easiest explanation to give as is the case with Leading Lady. I remembered I had requested it closer to the time it arrived last year, but so much happened between that moment and the months afterwards to where I quite literally did manage to forget I had this book on my shelf awaiting to be read! Then, after a hard ending to [2017] and a difficult start to [2018] – you could say, this is the first time I could theoretically get myself re-interested in reading it!

I was properly shocked hearing the Blogging for Books programme was ending – as I did enjoy my brief time participating in the programme – I will miss the insight it gave towards the Non-Fiction releases I was earnestly starting to appreciate getting to know a bit better as I had overlooked seeing which ones were in queue for years, as it was only in the last few years where Non-Fiction has attracted my attention.

I also enjoyed getting to know their INSPY line of Fiction and Non-Fiction – observing their releases and also, finding that they regularly publish a lot of lovely releases for those of us who are foodies at heart by way of cookbooks or books centred on all things divinely kitchenary.

What truly motivated me to request Leading Lady was finding the story itself – I felt pulled into the premise behind who Sherry Lansing was and I wanted to know more about her life. I grew up with a healthy passion of following beloved tv series and motion pictures alike – both interests are still a big part of my life, even if I regularly opt-out of new releases in favour of classical ones. It takes me a bit longer these days to find newer releases I can sink my teeth into – the last of which were: The Mountain Between Us and Murder on the Orient Express – I was quite gobsmacked I found two so close together I loved! Sadly, this is far more rare these days than it had been even a decade ago where I would find several releases a month I would embrace rather than a handful of releases a year if I’m lucky in the years since.

I suppose in a way, I was intrigued by the premise of finding out more about the back-the-camera world of motion pictures. The allure was also appealling to learn about how a woman grew to become the head of studios previously only held by men. I mostly wanted to learn how she exchanged one life for a new one – how she forged her path and how she found her passions in life to sustain the legacy she gave to each industry she endeavoured to give her heart and life.

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Book Review | “Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker” by Stephen Galloway #BloggingForBooksLeading Lady
Subtitle: Sherry Lansing and the making of a Hollywood groundbreaker
by Stephen Galloway
Source: Publisher via Blogging for Books

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 978-0307405937

Genres: Biography / Autobiography, Current Events, Film History | Classic Hollywood, Interviews & Conversations, Motion Pictures and/or Television, Non-Fiction, Travelogue, Women's Studies


Published by Crown Archetype

on 25th April, 2017

Format: Hardcover Edition

Pages: 416

 Published By: Crown Archetype

(an imprint of Crown Publishing Group)

Available Formats: Hardcover, Ebook, Audiobook and forthcoming Trade Paperback

Converse on Twitter via: #SherryLansing & #BloggingForBooks

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my review of leading lady:

I was smirking reading the entire first Chapter of Leading Lady. It was within those pages I remembered what drew my discerning eye to read this Biography – I have been drawn into Feminist Historical Fiction since [2016] whilst my heart has been gathering steam towards wanting to seek out Non-Fiction of the same caliber I am finding in Fiction. In [2017] it was an honour to cheer on behalf of an eloquently conceived series spotlighting Edith Head by the dual writing team behind Renee Patrick. When I stumbled across the blurb for Leading Lady, not only did I think it would give me a new perspective on my own observations of the Film Industry, but it would be interesting to back-trace through the knowledge I had of the Industry against the films I knew of (either directly or indirectly) whilst seeing how this woman I never heard of did something quite remarkable with her life – both within and outside the world of film. She caught my eye because she was fiercely independent, dearly passionate and full of conviction. She had a story I knew I wanted to read about and that’s why I requested this book.

And, there dear hearts – right on the cusp of trying to better understand who Sherry Lansing is or was or will be – is the real truth of who we all are ourselves: a person who is in the process of discovering themselves. When I read she wanted to reinvent her life and the trajectory of her life therein at the age of sixty – being on the fringes of my thirtytenth year with the same goal in mind – I understood her in a way most might not be able too. Yes! I knew exactly why she wanted to leave Hollywood – even though I never worked a day in the field of her choice, it doesn’t negate the fact I know exactly what motivated her to reinvent herself. For that, is a very real goal a lot of us have at some point in our lives – to dare to dream a new way of living and to go after it with everything we have to give towards that end. Yes, this was going to be interesting and exactly what I needed to be reading right now. The timing in other words was beyond perfect!

My eyes widened and my smile grew tenfold – she was taking a meeting with President Carter! She wanted to mentor under someone who had radically taken a different path after a very different kind of public life – I wasn’t sure who she would meet – but when I saw who it was something clicked in my memory! I remembered seeing him on a television series which was centred around food but where it was really focusing on his down-home country lifestyle and his humbled roots in a small community. I can’t remember the specifics but he had a calmed ease about him – he was settled in his private life, with a happiness you could see reached his eyes. I knew from the programme I saw him on, Ms Lansing had chosen the right mentor.

Your heart lurches a bit at the back-story of Ms Lansing’s Mum – of how she left Germany with such tragedy alighting at her feet and how hard-won her new start in Chicago was achieved. As I was reading the passages of these early years of Lansing’s life, my heart warmed – as I knew of some of it already, not on her behalf, but of members of my family. They were of the same generation – their impressions of Chicago and of the South Side mirroring each other and ringing a heap of truth of the stories I had heard myself.

As Lansing shares her acting history, you gathered a sense she was ‘acting against type’ from the very beginning. What she originally envisioned as her dream could not fuse itself into the reality of what she found – so much so – despite her willingness and eagerness to work with any director or actor she was matched to go against, her heart simply let out. She also talked openly about the issues women faced in the Industry itself – from the pressures of being ‘more than you are’ to what might be inferred and implied as ‘part of the arrangements’ of acting. In essence, the key reasons we have the #MeToo movement today and the rise of women standing up for their innate rights to be treated better than they have been in the past. Blessedly, she was not taken advantage of per se, but in some ways, she was led to behave outside her own soul. Her layer of comfort was shredded as she felt acting was extracting a portion of herself which she could not easily recover – in essence, the more she complied to do what they bid her to do, the more she felt herself slipping outside her own foundation as a person.

I was fascinated by how Lansing switched from acting to reading – she would work in a tiny office, reading scripts and other materials coming in to the studios to be produced, honing her craft for how writing works and the reasons why it fell short – through her readings, she gained the most knowledge of the Industry itself as it showed how scripts can make or break the future of the film they build. In many ways, I saw a lot of cross-comparisons to her work as a reader and to my life now, as a book blogger – as when your reading with a critical eye attuned to how writing itself relates to how your perceiving it and how it relates to how it’s being told; you grow and you learn from the material itself. You see stories differently and you see the writers who know how to build a story as it relates to the the audience. In essence, I knew why she loved her work, it is why I love mine. The only key difference is being a book blogger is a labour of love (unpaid) whereas Lansing was making $5 per hour.

She travelled the world – to some of the places I had been keen on seeing myself, such as Africa and Australia but she also went to the Amazon – a place I have become saddened over the years of seeing destroyed ever since I was a ten year old fifth grader who watched a new film called Medicine Man and knew sadly, the fate which was yet to come would be within my lifetime. She even saw parts of India – I love to travel myself, and I understood why she had wanderlust. To see different parts of the world was a dream of mine as well – however, a lot of the stories I have read in recent years have taken me to places in ways I could not have imagined possible. Reading is a kind of travelling too – even if I love the open road the the zest for seeing a new place, I am thankful for the travels I’ve taken and will continue to seek out adventures whenever I can.

Lansing admits herself she should have been more aware of the sexism and inequality of Hollywood – of how there was an established bias against women running concurrent to her rise in the field. She saw it but chose not to acknowledge it – she wanted to succeed but didn’t want this to prevent her from achieving what she had set out to do, thereby causing a bit of a misconception on where she stood for Women’s Rights – at least by what I can infer by what is being shared. She changed her mindset through the women who would pioneer the movement forward in the ‘70s (ie. Gloria Steinem) but as far as being a part of the change whilst it was happening, she took a different trajectory: she focused on her own career.

What was interesting to me, there were key passages of thought where it pointed out there were many women who had strong ideals and principles proving the point women have something to give which is too often overlooked, shrugged upon and otherwise tossed under the rug in deference to men. It was discerning all of these women felt they had more than what they were told they could be chose to rise as individuals rather than to rise as a united front. They didn’t band together, they didn’t strive to vocalise themselves as women who saw each other as equals who could battle together for change – no, they elected to go it alone and only effectively change the tides of their own lives. In essence, they wouldn’t understand why the women marched in January, 2017 or any of the marches of the recent past, because they were of a different generation where women fought for their own rights and hoped others would be spared but did not do anything to help lead the path forward. Except of course, to prove you could change the system which sought to work against you – even if it was one woman at a time, they did make an impression and a difference in that regard – I only felt it was sad that no one thought to become organised for wider reform and change.

Lansing liked making the films which created social change and social reform the best – she wasn’t into the films which are a nice holiday from real life; a dash of romance or an adventure. She wanted the films she backed to deliver something outside the box in regards to what films could accomplish past the box office returns – in this, you had to admire her grit. She was behind The China Syndrome which I vaguely felt I had heard of in the past, but I hadn’t realised its direct connection to Three Mile Island. To the extent that art and real life started to blur into each other during the same month back in 1979. She was also a key person who helped bring Kramer vs. Kramer to the screen – a film I’ve oft known about but never saw. After hearing about what occurred on set, I am less interested now than I was prior to reading her biography – as there seems to be a rampant increase in how badly women were treated on sets – not that the actions are increasing, but the information is being released by flood gates now whereas in the past, you never knew about any of it. Hearing it now, puts a lot of new perspective on a lot of different things – from the films themselves to the people who populated them. Sometimes, I find it is hard to justify what you thought you knew in the past with what you’ve learnt in the future. This is definitely one of those times.

I had to smile when it was broached about the rights George Lucas secured for himself – mostly as it is something I knew for a long time was the right way to approach your interests. You should always try to obtain as many rights as you can – keep them or have them given back – whatever way it works out, and in this regard, Lucas made the ultimate power play by getting his rights back from Fox. I hadn’t even realised Star Wars was connected to Fox, as to me, Lucas has always been his own entity. This move of his to retain both merchandising and the rights to his sequels is what placed Fox in danger for loss of revenue. It is also what made Lucas a household name – even if this isn’t mentioned in the book. He was able to use the profits to fuell his interests and in creating his companies to be what they were before he sold them in recent years.

There was great heartache and adversity in her life – the kind which are gutting to read about because you can have empathy for how hard it was for her to transition past them. The first of course, is when she was struck head-on by the car and nearly died. The second is when she had to watch her mother face Cancer and succumb to the disease. There are no words to help anyone in either situation – you can only lend support, kind words and prayers – as so much of our lives is guttingly hard to live through but you have to find the strength to make it through irregardless of how blindsided you feel whilst your living in the moment. These moments of her personal life are tucked close to her rise in the Industry itself – of how her job was overtaking everything else she felt connected and yet disconnected at the same time. Both of these experiences forced her to take stock of her life, re-examine what she wanted and what truly would make her happy in the end. A few other moments rocked her out of the pursuit of a career but when the circumstances turned personal, she fought to sort out what she wanted most outside of the Industry which demanded everything out of her in order to stay successful.

You can’t be in GenX without knowing about Fatal Attraction, however, I have avoided the film on principal for years. Finding out the entire back-story about its production was quite eye-opening – in the end, I sided with Glenn Close about which ending was the better one for her character. Full stop: it’s not the one in the film.

This is one instance of how you get to feel you’ve become a part of Lansing’s journey – where she was making choices she felt were right for the films she backed and created but also, your gaining a different perspective on all facets of the Industry itself – from the writing, to the production to the casting and the crew. It’s a bit numbing after awhile because you’re curious about what your going to learn next and how that new knowledge is going to impact your view on the film Industry today. If it does at all – would it make you think twice about the films which are being produced or would you continue to seek out the films you love to watch without too much thought placed on what went on behind the scenes? It’s a curious thought all round – because sometimes the truth of it is that you don’t always know what your reactions are after you read a book – you have to let everything ruminate for awhile and then, see how your reactions weigh against what you’ve learnt.

As I was reading over her history in creating films, there were times where I felt she did like the films that were more sensational rather than socially reforming. Clearly a difference of opinion – it also speaks to what kind of film we individually prefer – most of the films she produced or created as a studio executive are the ones I’ll never watch or wish to see. There were a few exceptions, but overall, a lot of the films I tend to shy away from are the ones she helped launch. However, the struggles she had to create them is jarring as much as how difficult it was for her to find self-confidence – she had a lot of power in the Industry but she never seemed to truly believe in herself. I found this an interesting takeaway as by all other appearances, confidence didn’t seem to be her Achilles heel.

Despite the eclipse of joy I had in reading this biography up until the middle bits, I slowly found myself disillusioned by the ways in which it was being told. There is a lot of fodder involving the dismemberment of the Industry – how there was more than one insurrection occurring at different studios and how the impulsion of the Industry as a whole was slowly eradicating the purity of film-making from the aesthetics of what made Hollywood legendary in the past. When the corporations took over and where special effects films eroded away the presence of live-shoots in option for digital sets – the film Industry re-shifted towards a for-profit Industry over an artistic one. They always wanted to make a return on their investments, yes, that’s a given – that’s just good business practice but there was a curve in the road. You can observe itself if you look at the decades after the ’50s and especially from 1990 – forward to present day.

In many ways, this is why the film Paris Can Wait directed by Eleanor Coppola had such an impact on me as it was old school and it was brilliant. It wasn’t about sensationalism it was about the artistic merit of telling a story and allowing the scenery and the characters drive the film forward. In essence, it holds a lot more substance than most releases of this generation.

The most disappointing aspect of reading Leading Lady, for me personally was the absence of the conversation with President Carter. It was a pivotal conversation for Lansing as it is what inspired her to re-direct her efforts in medical research reform, educational opportunities and fighting for the rights she felt were being overlooked by other non-profits. Although her second phrase of her life is admirable, what I was surprised about her choices herein is how she went against what she was talking about for most of the book – to find personal time, to carve out a private life and to spend time doing things which restored her own soul.

Perhaps she said it best when she said there are those who retire and there are those who can never retire – as she stipulated towards the end of Leading Lady. What is a bit sad as a reader though, taking this journey with her through Galloway’s interpretation of her life leaves you feeling you’ve been short-changed. There was too much time spent on the destruction of the film Industry from where she stood in charge of the studios and not enough time to tie together her re-emergence as a non-profit warrior. Again, the absence of antidotes from her conversation with Carter stung as it felt like such a critical piece of the biography to be included. Overall, in the end, I have mixed feelings about what I read – not about her life per se but of society in general. Of the things we are still hearing about right now through the #MeToo movement and of how quite seriously women are not seen as equals no matter how much power they gain or how much wealth they have behind them – they are still being manipulated and forced to sacrifice their souls in order to succeed. This can’t continue and it never should have been allowed to reach this level of stagnation to where it takes the Woman’s March to re-voice the reasons why we need to stay united and take back our rights: as women and as a united front for change.

Fly in the Ointment:

Interestingly enough, as most of the strong language was being eluded to in the narrative of Lansing’s story – I wasn’t expecting it to pepper itself out into plain view as honestly, it didn’t need too. You had the full gist of what was happening without taking that move towards revealling the words themselves. Of course, I also am uncertain why everyone is so in love with using one particular word – others would do just as good and aptly lend the same impression. To say I was surprised would be putting it mildly as I just didn’t see the point of having such a strong inclusion of words when a lot of this story is being told second-hand, with partial revelations of quotations by Lansing herself thrown in here or there but mostly it’s a tale as told through the lens of another – perhaps the person she told her story too, and thereby, not a direct account but a perceived account of the life she lived. In essence, I didn’t have to have a complete recollection of every word spoken or said – there was enough history here to wade through to best understand what she had to go through in order to get to where she is today.

On the biographical writing styling of Stephen Galloway:

It isn’t often I feel so captured by a Biography – as generally speaking, when I feel this connected on an emotional layer of insight, I’m reading Biographical Historical Fiction – where the fusion of a lived life is thread into a narrative of Historical enlightenment. In many ways, this feels the same at it’s heart – as the whole narrative is not entirely writ in the traditional styling of a Non-Fiction work, it is rather approached with the sensibility of a fictional story wherein the journey being taken is based on someone’s life.

To have the antidotes of filming inserted alongside the time-line narrative of Lansing’s rise in Hollywood was a true delight. Finding little bits of trivia from films I either knew of by name or had seen myself (thanks to TCM: Turner Classic Movies) was what endured this biography to be a gripping narrative overall. You can’t help but want to drink in the text to re-trace Lansing’s footsteps and understand the journey she walked. It is one thing to be a part of the audience of the movies and to see the perspective from the final cut showcased in a local cinema or even if you have an interest in film-making (such as I) and have undertaken research into the field itself – this takes you further, past the closed doors and into the lifestyle itself as it is being lived.

It is one of those biographies, similar to Cari Beauchamp’s style wherein you feel you’ve lived a lifetime in someone elses shoes and head – taking away the knowledge of what lives behind the camera but also, an authentic appreciation for the hard work which goes into making the movies themselves as any of us who watches them could appreciate finally having a better understanding of their production. The sacrifices are not seen nor known during the time of filming but here, in Leading Lady we gain more knowledge than we can regret never knowing.

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This book review is courtesy of: Blogging for Books

Blogging for Books - book for review programme for book bloggers

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I look forward to reading your thoughts and comments on behalf of this review. Especially if you read the novel or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst bloggers who picked up the same novel to read on a blog tour or for review.

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{SOURCES: Cover art of “Leading Lady” and the Blogging for Books badge were provided by Blogging for Books and used with permission. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets were able to be embedded by the codes provided by Twitter. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: Book Review Banner using Unsplash.com (Creative Commons Zero) Photography by Frank McKenna and the Comment Box Banner.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2018.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Sunday, 15 April, 2018 by jorielov in Biographical Fiction & Non-Fiction, Blog Tour Host & Reviewer, Blogging for Books, Book Review (non-blog tour), Non-Fiction




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