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Dawn Steel

Dawn Steel

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Also Known As: Died: December 20, 1997
Born: August 19, 1946 Cause of Death: brain tumor
Birth Place: Bronx, New York, USA Profession: executive, producer, merchandiser, receptionist, sportswriter, secretary

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

This motion picture executive rose through the ranks of merchandising and production to become the first woman to head a major film studio (topping Sherry Lansing, who was the first woman to head the production division of a major studio) and was briefly the most powerful woman in Hollywood.After varied career starts--as a sportswriter for MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL DIGEST and secretary at PENTHOUSE magazine, Steel parlayed her marketing skills into positions as editor and merchandising director for the skin magazine and later headed her own merchandising company, O'Dawn!, where she created such novelty items as Gucci toilet paper.Steel entered the motion picture industry via a merchandising and licensing post in the late 1970s at Paramount, where she made her name with a spectacular pitch for marketing tie-ins for the first "Star Trek" film. A protege of Paramount head Barry Diller, versed in his aggressive "tough guy" management style, Steel fiercely championed the project "Flashdance" (1983), which turned into a surprise box-office hit and fueled her ascent through various vice presidencies to the top job as president of production. There she green-lighted the commercial hits "Footloose" (1984), "Fatal...

This motion picture executive rose through the ranks of merchandising and production to become the first woman to head a major film studio (topping Sherry Lansing, who was the first woman to head the production division of a major studio) and was briefly the most powerful woman in Hollywood.

After varied career starts--as a sportswriter for MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL DIGEST and secretary at PENTHOUSE magazine, Steel parlayed her marketing skills into positions as editor and merchandising director for the skin magazine and later headed her own merchandising company, O'Dawn!, where she created such novelty items as Gucci toilet paper.

Steel entered the motion picture industry via a merchandising and licensing post in the late 1970s at Paramount, where she made her name with a spectacular pitch for marketing tie-ins for the first "Star Trek" film. A protege of Paramount head Barry Diller, versed in his aggressive "tough guy" management style, Steel fiercely championed the project "Flashdance" (1983), which turned into a surprise box-office hit and fueled her ascent through various vice presidencies to the top job as president of production. There she green-lighted the commercial hits "Footloose" (1984), "Fatal Attraction" and "Beverly Hills Cop" (both 1987).

By 1987, Steel had earned the monikers 'Steel Dawn' and 'The Tank' because, as producer Daniel Melnick said, "She would just lower her head and charge through all the red tape and bureaucracy. She's the most determined woman in the business." She was offered the job of running the crisis-ridden Columbia Pictures in 1987, replacing David Puttnam. As president during Coca-Cola's ownership of Columbia, Steel was in charge of production, marketing and distribution of all Columbia Pictures product adding responsibilities for Tri-Star in 1989. She oversaw marketing on Rob Reiner's "When Harry Met Sally" (1989) and Amy Heckerling's runaway hit "Look Who's Talking" (1990), and green-lighted Mike Nichols' "Postcards From the Edge" (1990) and Penny Marshall's Oscar-nominated "Awakenings" (1991). Steel resigned in 1990 at the time of Sony's purchase of Columbia and entered into an exclusive, long-term production agreement with Disney. "Cool Runnings" (1993), a whimsical and surprisingly successful comedy based on the trials and tribulations of the Jamaican bobsled team, was her first Disney film as a producer.

After her second film, the sequel "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit" (1993), Steel left Disney, citing lack of artistic freedom ("I couldn't even give a lecture without their approval"). Steel detailed her exploits in Hollywood in the memoir "They Can Kill You . . . But They Can't Eat You: Lessons From the Front." With her husband Charles Roven and Bob Cavallo, she formed Atlas Entertainment in 1994, signing a first-look deal with Turner Pictures (Turner Pictures folded in 1996, though Atlas continues to produce). The first film under that new arrangement was the small but critically applauded "Angus" (1995), a coming-of-age opus about a young footballer and his eccentric family. Among her final credits for Atlas are the crime thriller "Fallen," starring Denzel Washington, and the romance "City of Angels" (both 1998), starring Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage. Steel succumbed to a brain tumor in December 1997.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

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Milestones close milestones

:
Grew up poor in the well-to-do area of Great Neck, Long Island
1968:
Worked as a sportswriter for MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL DIGEST and the NFL in New York
:
Hired as secretary at PENTHOUSE Magazine; worked her way up to editor and director of merchandising
:
Became president of Oh Dawn! Inc., a merchandising company
1978:
Moved to Los Angeles
:
Merchandising consultant for PLAYBOY Magazine
1979:
Joined Paramount Pictures as director of merchandising and licensing (1978); promoted to vice president
1980:
Named vice president of production at Paramount
1983:
Promoted to senior vice president of production at Paramount
:
Named president of production with involvement in, and responsibility for, such films as "Flashdance" (1983), "Top Gun" (1986), and "Fatal Attraction" (1987)
1987:
Became head of Columbia Pictures (first woman studio head)
1990:
Resigned as head of Columbia Pictures (January 8)
1990:
Formed Steel Pictures for the Walt Disney Co. (left Disney in 1993 after two films)
1993:
Wrote an acount of her reign at Columbia titled "They Can Kill You, But They Can't Eat You"
1994:
Formed Atlas Entertainment with husband Chuck Roven; signed a three-year first look deal with Turner Pictures (Turner Pictures folded in 1996)
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Education

School of Business Administration, Boston University: Boston , Massachusetts - 1964 - 1965
New York University: New York , New York - 1966 - 1967

Notes

"As one of the few female executives to rise to the top here, Ms. Steel insists that she has no illusions about the role of women in Hollywood. Asked about women being threatened by the rivalry and success of other women, Ms. Steel repiled:

"`I must tell you, I did feel threatened by other women in those early years. I was so busy climbing up this ladder, staying above the water. If there was only room for one woman in a room I wanted to be her. I'm not proud of it. I certainly don't feel that way now. It was an absolute evolution for me.'

"She added: 'I think women's relationships with other women are very complicated and depend on their relationships with their mothers. Mine was fraught with problems. So I didn't necessarily trust women for a long time'" --From "Dawn Steel Muses From the Top of Hollywood's Heap" by Bernard Weinraub in THE NEW YORK TIMES, August 30, 1993

". . . Ms. Steel added that she recently met a group of prominent female agents and said she was struck by a single story.

"'These women were talking about a man who was a junior agent and who was gay and who was promoted to full agent and he was immediately embraced by the gay community, by important producers and studio executives,' she said. 'There was an absolute bonding to help him. Black women--because there are so few of them here--help each other. But white women aren't getting the support from other women the way this gay man did.'" --From "Dawn Steel Muses From the Top of Hollywood's Heap" by Bernard Weinraub in THE NEW YORK TIMES, August 30, 1993.

Steel serves on the Board of Trustees to the American Film Institute, is a contributor to the Neil Bogart Cancer Fund, is a member of the California Abortion Rights Action League, the AIDS Project, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Ronnie Rothstein. Businessman. Married in 1975; divorced within a year of marriage; former business partner of a mail-order company with Steel.
husband:
Chuck Roven. Producer. Second husband; married in 1985 until her death in 1997; father of Steel's daughter; formerly worked as an arbitrageur.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Nat Steel. Businessman. Suffered a nervous breakdown when Steel was a child; changed family name from Speilberg.
mother:
Lillian Steel. Businesswoman. Deceased.
daughter:
Rebecca Roven. Born in March 1987; father Chuck Roven; survived her.

Bibliography close complete biography

"They Can Kill You ... But They Can't Eat You: Lessons from the Front" Pocket Books

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