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Mery Streep pitches in during Oxygen's Mentors Walk

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Networking with a twist

The dimmed-light drama and cocktail-topped trays of after-work soirees are a proven way for professionals to network, exchange ideas and meet the superstars in their industry. But while a working girl might leave a party with a stack of business cards clutched in a well-manicured hand, early-morning wake-up calls and breakfast meetings are never far away.

Inspired by her own networking habits, Oxygen Media chairman, CEO and founder Geraldine Laybourne has found a healthy alternative for women looking to meet and greet with the pioneers in their industry. In the past, when a young, ambitious woman requested a small block of time in Laybourne's calendar to pick her brain, she agreed, but only if the two met for a walk in the park. That routine evolved into Oxygen's Mentors Walk.

"It allows women from all walks of life to gather together and help each other succeed. There is a popular myth out there that women don't like to help each other, and the Mentors Walk debunks that myth," Oxygen senior vp public affairs Andrea Bernstein says. "Our goal is to make Mentors Walk into the next Take Our Daughters to Work (Day)."

Since the program's launch in 2005, more than 1,000 women have participated in the walks, which pair high-profile mentors including bold-faced names such as Marcia Gay Harden and Meryl Streep with aspiring mentees in similar fields for city walks in New York, Denver and Colorado Springs, Colo.

The walks also are friendly to mentors' appointment-filled day planners. "A walk is the perfect answer to a busy woman's schedule," Bernstein says. "We have all received requests for breakfast, lunch or cocktails. A walk is a healthy and unique way to mentor." In addition to the Mentors Walks, Oxygen has launched an online mentoring and social-networking tool on its Web site. Plans are in the works for Mentors Walks in other cities in 2007, with Los Angeles on the shortlist.

Murder, they wrote

Hollywood loves a good roman a clef and a good mystery. It does not, however, have much affinity for employing seventy- and eighty-something female writers.

So, Irma Kalish and Naomi Gurian decided to take matters into their own hands. The industry veterans are collaborating on what they hope will be a series of mystery novels -- the kind that get turned into TV movies -- penned under the solo pseudonym Cady Kalian.

"The industry seems to think that older writers -- particularly women writers -- just can't think like a younger person, so they can't write for shows about younger people," Gurian says. "We decided that we didn't like being invisible. People look at you so differently when you can talk about your new project."

"As Dead as It Gets," published in August by Forge Books, revolves around Maggie Mars, a plucky journalist-turned-screenwriter-turned-gumshoe who discovers the male executive director of the powerful Creative Artists Union ("irreverently known as Cow") dead in a bathroom wearing a red bra and garter.

Kalish, a pioneering TV writer whose credits range from "My Three Sons" to "The Famous Jett Jackson," and Gurian, who in the 1980s became the first female executive director of the Writers Guild of America West, admit to a certain glee in retelling thinly veiled versions of some of their stranger-than-fiction experiences in the business. A second Maggie Mars adventure is due to be published this summer.

Survival skills

After four name changes and more than 40 years in show business, Ellen Burstyn finally is revealing her secrets. Pulling from personal diaries penned since childhood and from her experiences in the entertainment industry, this fall Burstyn released her personal memoir, "Lessons in Becoming Myself" from Riverhead Books. The six-time Academy Award nominee first strutted her stuff with a modeling gig at a Detroit department store and later as a showgirl on "The Jackie Gleason Show," but her acting career took roots under the guidance of the Actors Studio artistic director Lee Strasberg.

From soothing a possessed child in 1973's "The Exorcist" to paving the way for single working mothers in her Oscar-winning role in 1974's "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," Burstyn has blazed trails onscreen and off. She was the first female president of the Actors' Equity Assn., holding the position from 1982-1985, and along with Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel, is a co-president of the Actors Studio -- the institution that aided her evolution as an actress almost a half a century ago -- where she continues to give back to her craft by teaching. She is one of only a few women to win both an Oscar (for "Alice") and a Tony (for "Same Time, Next Year") in the same year, and she has continued to take on groundbreaking roles in the 21st century. She didn't bat a kohl-smudged eye when tackling the wince-inducing role of a pill-popping widow in her Oscar-nominated performance in 2000's "Requiem for a Dream"; this year, she rejoined the film's director, Darren Aronofsky, for Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Fountain."

Leading questions

Former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, highly regarded for her tart public addresses, once told constituents that "Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels." The quip was as much a comment on the recently deceased Richards' own difficult rise to power in the Lone Star State's male-dominated political arena as it was a statement about the basic obstacle faced by women in power: being a woman.

Women vying for leadership roles often are seen as faces of change simply because there have been so few female leaders. World elections over the past few years have begun to reflect this notion of change, broadening gender equality in the political landscape. In Europe, Angela Merkel recently became Germany's first female chancellor and now leads the world's third-largest economy. Merkel also was recently named Forbes magazine's most powerful woman in the world, and in January, she will become the second female to date to chair the G-8 Summit.

In South America, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who suffered imprisonment and torture under the country's former military junta, rose to her rank swiftly, winning a strong majority of support from Chile's ultraconservative voters.

Perhaps the most significant landmark of change, however, came about last year in Africa, where Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected the first and only female head of state of any African nation. Johnson-Sirleaf, a former World Bank economist who suffered extended periods of imprisonment under Liberia's various military regimes, defeated 22 male candidates, conquering what many considered to be her strongest opponent: a male-dominated culture.

According to Laura Liswood, secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders, the world is seeing a new trend in which women are coming to power in their own right, though Liswood is quick to note that women still are held to a higher standard of scrutiny than their male counterparts. Still, the international list of women in power continues to grow, from China's Vice Premier Wu Yi, Finland's President Tarja Halonen and Ireland's President Mary McAleese to Latvia's President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Depending on one's view of feminism in America, it might or might not be an overstatement to say that a presidential win for New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008 would further rock global politics. According to a recent CNN poll, 50% of participants said they found Clinton to be a favorable candidate. With 17 females freely elected as heads of state worldwide, the U.S. might be poised to follow suit. The only question that remains is when.
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