Posted by Danielle Berrin
In the summer of 2008, at a national gathering of Hadassah in downtown Los Angeles, nearly 2,000 women shrieked with delight as Sherry Lansing, the pioneering first female to run a movie studio, coolly extolled the upside of aging.
“I used to think 60 is the new 40,” Lansing said brazenly, dismissing the pithy phrase as platitude. “Now I say 60 is the new 60!”
Lansing was the keynote speaker that morning, there to discuss her transition from workforce leader — specifically, her 14-year tenure as chairwoman of Paramount Pictures — to philanthropist. Although some say she was poised to become the first bona fide female mogul, Lansing turned 60 and decided instead to pull the curtain on her Hollywood ambitions. “In my late 50s, I started to get bored,” she confessed during a recent interview. “I’d had a wonderful career, I loved movies, I loved my time in the film business — but I felt as if I was repeating myself. The highs weren’t as high; the lows weren’t as low. I had this pull to have a different kind of life.”
Widely regarded by her industry colleagues as both kind and intellectually curious, she sought to develop a more expansive legacy, one that could parlay her career into a late-middle-life calling. By no means did she plan to retire — that would not be her nature — but she sought an encore, a “third act,” as she put it, that would give her life purpose and meaning and enable her to share some of her very considerable fortune with others.
“She was incredibly measured and clear-headed about leaving,” producer and former Disney executive Donald De Line said about her exit. “But I thought, ‘It’s too seductive, the power, the job itself is so thrilling.’ I think everybody kind of thought, ‘OK, that’s what she’s saying — she’s not really gonna go. People can’t give up those jobs. Usually, they go kicking and screaming and have to be pushed out the door. That was not the case with Sherry. She turned 60, and she was gone. And she never looked back.”
But privately, Lansing feared the unscripted day. A notorious workaholic, she agonized over the potential emptiness. “She was concerned that after being so immersed in the world of entertainment that she would maybe feel she didn’t have enough to do,” her friend, the author and philanthropist Cheryl Saban recalled. “She reached out to everybody and asked, ‘What am I gonna do with myself when I retire?’ ”