a Magazine Cover

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When 72-Year-Old Sherry Lansing is on a Magazine Cover

I've lived for exactly seven years now in Los Angeles, a town whose many well-heeled denizens consistently, comically panic over two things: aging and rainy days. The latter we can't stop. But the former? Doctors wielding injections, acid peels, scalpels and lasers have turned tony enclaves in the City of Angels into a living, breathing canvas, a modern-day Renaissance-era Florence where the works (21st century surrealism) are displayed on faces alternately beautiful and grotesque, strange simulacra of youth.

Until recently I edited The Hollywood Reporter, where I mandated that ages of the female executives on our annual Women in Entertainment Power 100 list be included. Oh, my God! The begging, the tears, the cries of sexism! I once wrote of the topic in the magazine's pages: "As a feminist, I don't feel age is something to hide … women buy into the social prejudices we fight on one hand but unconsciously support with the other." I added, "All I can think about when I see women older than I am is how much more I can accomplish in my career and life."

Which brings me to Sherry Lansing. Ms. Lansing is the most powerful woman in Hollywood history. Yesterday. Today. Ever. And certainly when she was at Paramount Pictures from 1992 to 2005, the first female to be a studio chairman. The chief. Not long ago, Sherry and I met for one of our lunches, this one in the garden of Beverly Hills' Polo Lounge. Going out in public with Sherry in L.A. is probably like dining with Mark Zuckerberg in San Francisco. She is a rock star. Billionaires (today, Nicolas Berggruen) and current studio chiefs come to kiss the ring, socialites fawn and even Michael Ovitz still feels like he needs to make nice, beckoning her over to his booth, decades after they sparred over Forrest Gump.

What makes this remarkable is that Sherry is 72. It's an age when shame — particularly for women — can creep in as many worry that their power, relevance, health and physical appeal are declining. Not Sherry. She loves talking about her age and volunteers it casually, unself-consciously in conversation. She is on the board of Regents of the University of California, the board of the Carter Center, co-founded Stand Up to Cancer, is active in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles and, through her foundation, trains retired and midcareer tech executives to teach in California's public schools. More tellingly, she mentors just about every big female executive in Hollywood. WWSD — What Would Sherry Do? Men and women ask themselves that several times a week here. I know I do.

Over our respective salads, the conversation turns to her recent Hollywood Reporter cover story, the last cover I booked before joining the magazine's parent company. The cover was about Sherry on the occasion of the publication of a biography of her, Leading Lady (Crown Archetype), by THR's Stephen Galloway. Sure, it is a juicy tome, filled with delicious stories about celebrity feuds, bad behavior, Angelina Jolie's drug tests, and salary demands through her movies, from Kramer vs. Kramer to Fatal Attraction. But more importantly, it's the story of an insecure young woman's discovery of her inner steel: how to be comfortably single until you are 47 (she met husband William Friedkin, the director, at that age), survive amid persistent sexism, quit your job while on top and, most crucially, not slink away as you grow older.

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