Marcia Nasatir, who smashed glass ceiling in Hollywood, dies at 95


Marcia Nasatir, who was the first woman to become vice president of a major Hollywood studio – although unlike some female executives who followed her, she was never able to lead one – died on August 3 in Woodland Hills, California. She was 95 years old. .

His sons, Mark and Seth, have confirmed the death at Country Home and Hospital of the Motion Picture & Television Fund.

Ms Nasatir – “the first mogulette,” as she called herself in her email address – was a forerunner of female Hollywood executives like Sherry Lansing, who became the first woman to run a 20th Century studio production. Fox in 1980, and Dawn Steel, who had another first when she was named president of Columbia Studios seven years later.

“She was a great lady, our first elder wife,” Lucy Fisher, former vice president of Columbia TriStar Pictures, said over the phone. “She gave me my first job, as a reader, at United Artists. And she helped me find my next job, with Samuel Goldwyn Jr.

“She asked me, ‘Do you really want the job? Then go back and put on a pair of pipes. I said, ‘Marcia, I don’t have a pair of stockings’ and she said, ‘Good luck.’ “

Ms. Nasatir began her path to Hollywood as a single mother in New York City in the 1950s, when she was hired as a secretary at Gray Advertising. After successful stints as editor at Dell Publishing and Bantam Books, she left for Hollywood to become a literary agent; his clients included screenwriters Robert Towne and William Goldman.

In 1974, she approached Mike Medavoy, a former high-level agent who had just been appointed vice president of production at United Artists. “I heard you’re moving to United Artists,” she said, recalling the conversation years later in “A Classy Broad: Marcia’s Adventures in Hollywood” (2016), a documentary directed by Anne Goursaud. “I think he said, ‘I’m going to need a good story writer’ and I said ‘What about me?'”

They met soon after for breakfast and he offered her a job as an editor, in which she would look for books, scripts and plays to turn into films. It was a traditional job for women in Hollywood. But, at 48, she wanted more and demanded that she be hired as vice president. (His title was Vice President of Cinema Development.)

“It seemed to me,” she told The Arizona Republic in 1985, “that I would be a more efficient employee and my opinions would be more respected by writers and actors if I had the title of vice-president. president instead of editor. “

Mr Medavoy, in a telephone interview, said Ms Nasatir brought “taste and scope” to United Artists.

“She was willful and tough but really fair,” he said, “and she made everyone commit to being that way, to being collegial.”

Ms. Nasatir worked closely with Mr. Medavoy from 1974 to 1978, a fruitful period for United Artists which spawned films like “Flight Over a Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Carrie”, the 1978 remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Bound for Glory” and “Coming Home” – whose female lead role Jane Fonda thanked Ms. Nasatir when she accepted her Oscar for Best Actress.

It was Ms. Nasatir who gave the screenplay for Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” to producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff. The film won the Oscar for Best Picture and grossed over $ 117 million worldwide (nearly $ 555 million today).

“’Rocky’ is, of course, the perfect fairy tale,” Ms. Nasatir said on “A Classy Broad”.

His tenure at United Artists did not have a fairytale ending. When Mr. Medavoy and four other executives, including President Arthur Krim, left United Artists to create Orion Pictures in early 1978, they did not ask him to join them as a partner. And she didn’t get Mr. Medavoy’s job at United Artists, where he had been in charge of global production; it went to a man, Danton Risser.

She resigned and joined Orion as vice president, hoping her former colleagues would make her a partner. But that did not happen.

“They didn’t want to divide it six ways and didn’t appreciate my contribution,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.

Mr Medavoy said in the interview that it was “interesting” that Ms Nasatir felt disappointed that she was not invited to be a partner at Orion. “Was it because she was a woman?” No, “he said.” It was the fact that there were already five of us. “

Marcia Birenberg was born on May 8, 1926 in Brooklyn and raised in San Antonio. Her father, Jack, sold fine woolen men’s clothing; her mother, Sophie (Weprinsky) Birenberg, worked in clothing in New York City before her marriage and spoke of going on strike “as one of the greatest moments of her life,” Ms. Nasatir once said.

Wanting to become a journalist, Ms. Nasatir studied journalism at Northwestern University and the University of Texas at Austin, but did not graduate.

In 1947, she married Mort Nasatir, who later served as president of MGM Records and publisher of Billboard magazine; the marriage ended in divorce after six years. She joined Gray Advertising around 1955 and left after a few years for other secretarial work at Dell, where she worked for the publisher. While there, she became an editor and recommended that Dell purchase the paperback rights to “Catch-22”, Joseph Heller’s dark satirical novel about World War II. Less than a year after its publication in 1962, it had sold two million copies.

Ms Nasatir moved on to Bantam Books, where her biggest blow was to suggest that the company release the Warren Commission report into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in the days following its release in 1964, launching the kind of “instant” books. She also worked on acquiring the paperback rights to cinema-friendly books, a role that put her in touch with Evarts Ziegler, a Hollywood agent, who hired her for his agency in 1969.

She quit after five years because Mr. Ziegler would not increase her salary by $ 25,000 (approximately $ 146,000 today).

“He said, ‘You don’t have anyone to support; a man has family support, ”she recalls in“ A Classy Broad ”. “And I said, ‘Zig, I’m supporting myself. Why shouldn’t I earn as much as a man?”

United Artists offered her $ 50,000, and after four years there and one year at Orion, she briefly worked as a freelance producer before being hired to head the film division of Johnny Carson’s company, Carson Productions. There, she agreed to cover, when other studios wouldn’t, Lawrence Kasdan’s “The Big Chill” (1983), about former classmates who meet for a member’s funeral. of their circle. She became its executive producer, and it turned out to be a moderate box office success and an enduring favorite among many baby boomers.

From then on, his career shifted between managerial positions, with Fox and Phoenix Pictures (which Mr. Medavoy co-founded), and producing films, including “Hamburger Hill” and “Ironweed” (both in 1987), ” Vertical Limit “(2000) and” Death Defying Acts “(2008).

Beginning in 2008, Ms. Nasatir and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr., who had been a client of her when she was an agent, reviewed films online under the name “Reel Geezers”. Close friends, they were passionate and deeply informed about cinema. He could be dyspeptic. She was more relaxed. They kibizized. They had an argument.

In addition to her sons, she is survived by two granddaughters and a sister, Rose Spector, the first woman elected to the Texas Supreme Court.

Being hired at United Artists had historical significance for Ms Nasatir, as the founders of the studio had included actress Mary Pickford. But despite that precedent, she wasn’t meant to run United Artists – or any other studio.

“If I had been born 20 years later, I would have run a studio, which I would have loved,” she told Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter in 2013. “But I do. am happy with this turn of events for me and happy to see other women carry the torch even further.

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