Women in Entertainment lauds survival, hard work

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In a celebration of success and survival against all odds, The Hollywood Reporter's annual Women in Entertainment breakfast Tuesday highlighted universal themes of family, community, collaboration and, of course, hard work.

From Sherry Lansing's articulate description of Meryl Streep's prolific career to keynote speaker Stacey Sher highlighting the courage and strength of the women both behind and in front of the camera on Paramount Pictures' "World Trade Center," the common thread of the morning gathering was women relying on one another to achieve their goals.

Sher touched an emotional chord with many in the room in citing the role that her mentor, the late producer Debra Hill, played in getting "WTC" off the ground, at a time when it was hard to think about putting the horror of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on film.

"It was Debra's wish that 'World Trade Center' would inspire everyone who saw it to hold their loved ones more dearly and tell them they love them more often," said Sher of Hill, who died last year at age 54. "If our film made a contribution to accomplish only this, to remind people of the tremendous kindness human beings are capable of, then I know that my friend is looking down on us and smiling."

About 680 guests gathered at the Beverly Hills Hotel for the event, sponsored by Lifetime Television, Ford Motor Co., Black, Starr & Frost and Source Veritas, to hear from Sher as well as "WTC" stars Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Streep was honored with the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award.

Streep remarked with characteristic charm that she is not a leader of anything or anyone. "I can't even get people to put dishes in the dishwasher," she quipped.

The true nature of the multitasking woman was in full demonstration at the breakfast, which was attended by most of the women on The Reporter's Power 100 list, including top-ranked Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal, Disney-ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney and Lifetime CEO Betty Cohen along with that company's president, Susanne Daniels.

Daniels announced that Lifetime and the Lifetime Movie Network are joining forces with The Hollywood Reporter, NY Women in Film & Television and Women in Film to launch the LMN Student Filmmaker Competition, which will solicit short films from female students. In addition to cash prizes and on-air and online distribution, the winners will be invited to next year's breakfast.

Bello wondered aloud how she made it to the event between the laundry, the personal grooming and the frequent tantrums of her child. As she put it, "I love multitasking women."

Gyllenhaal lauded Sher's robust producing career and the dynamic characters that she has had a hand in creating -- from Uma Thurman's Mia Wallace in "Pulp Fiction" to Jennifer Lopez's Karen Sisco in "Out of Sight." "In Stacey's world, a woman can be smart, political, a little nuts, loving and sexy all at the same time," Gyllenhaal said. "She's created real women with heart and potbellies and cool jobs and hot lingerie. Women who won't settle. They are us, and we wouldn't know them without Stacey Sher."

The morning's theme of survival was personified by the presence of singer-songwriter and breast cancer survivor Melissa Etheridge, who introduced Elena Ford, the great-granddaughter of Henry Ford and one of the highest-ranking women at Ford Motor Co. The carmaker, which through Race for the Cure has raised $87 million for the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, donated an additional $10,000 to the foundation in honor of the breakfast. John Kilcullen, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, underlined the theme of survival by celebrating his two cancer-surviving sisters and his mom, who has been a survivor for 37 years.

Streep closed the gathering with a rollicking commentary on the differences between actresses and female executives, saying the execs have better clothes and more of them. In painting a humorous portrait of the typical female exec, she described "shoes and bags and jewelry that actually belong to her -- because she has to wear them every day, where the actress can go around looking like hell most of the time, as long as she stays at home, which she does."

The Oscar-winning actress -- who added an iconic new character to her gallery of memorable screen portraits by playing the fearsome fashion editor Miranda Priestly in the summer hit "The Devil Wears Prada" -- thanked Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler and exec vp Carla Hacken, along with producers Karen Rosenfelt and Wendy Finerman, for their support of the project. The highest-grossing film of her career, "Prada" has earned more than $300 million worldwide.

The appreciative house included Robert J. Dowling, former editor-in-chief and publisher of The Reporter, and Lynne Segall, The Reporter's former vp and associate publisher, both of whom were applauded for nurturing the event over the years.

Other guests included Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairmen Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman; SPE vice chairman Jeff Blake; producers Lauren Shuler Donner, Paula Wagner and Gale Anne Hurd; CAA's Kevin Huvane and ICM's Meredith Wechter; attorneys Linda Lichter and Melanie Cook; and Film Independent's Dawn Hudson.

ABC's "Desperate Housewives" was represented by actresses Brenda Strong and Andrea Bowen, and the crowd also included "Heroes" star Hayden Panettiere and "For Your Consideration" leading lady Catherine O'Hara as well as actresses Michelle Trachtenberg, Natasha Henstridge and Thandie Newton.
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