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Marcia Nasatir, the groundbreaking studio executive who shattered Hollywood’s glass ceiling in the 1970s and helped develop such notable films as Rocky, Coming Home and The Big Chill, died Tuesday. She was 95.
Nasatir, who worked for United Artists, Orion Pictures and Johnny Carson’s production company and as an independent producer, died at the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Country House and Hospital, a source told The Hollywood Reporter.
In 1974, Nasatir was a literary agent representing the likes of screenwriters William Goldman, Robert Towne and Lorenzo Semple Jr. and director Sydney Pollack when she was asked by United Artists senior vp production Mike Medavoy to join the studio as a story editor. She said she would, but only if she could be a vice president.
“At the time, Americans’ views toward women were beginning to change, and I believe that the wife of the head of UA [Arthur Krim], Dr. Mathilde Krim, said to him, ‘It’s a good idea, Arthur,’ so he said yes,” Nasatir recalled in a 2013 essay she penned for THR‘s Women in Entertainment issue. “A woman had never been a production vp before, and it became known at other studios as ‘Marcia Nasatir’s job.’ [Arthur would introduce me to people as ‘our woman vice president.’]
“It was an interesting place to work: I was always the only woman in meetings, except for a secretary, and when the men cursed they would apologize to me. I said, ‘Listen, guys, I’ve heard those words before.'”
At UA, Nasatir helped Medavoy develop a slate of films that included Oscar best picture winners One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Rocky (1976); Coming Home (1978), another best picture nominee; Robert Redford’s Three Days of the Condor (1975); the Brian De Palma horror classic Carrie (1976); and Norman Jewison’s F.I.S.T. (1978), starring Rocky’s Sylvester Stallone.
In 1978, Krim, Medavoy and three others exited UA to form Orion Pictures. Andreas Albeck, the new head of the studio, declined to offer her Medavoy’s job and then let her go. Nasatir wound up at Orion as a production vp but was never made a partner, as she had hoped.
Nasatir then headed to Carson Productions, where she served as an executive producer on The Big Chill (1983), yet another Oscar best picture nominee. She noted that the project had been rejected by every studio in town.
Later, as an independent producer, Nasatir spearheaded such films as the Vietnam War drama Hamburger Hill (1987); Ironweed (1987), starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep; the action adventure Vertical Limit (2000); and the artist documentary Elle (2013).
“I always was a champion of difficult movies that should be made,” Nasatir said in a 2016 documentary about her life, A Classy Broad.
Born and raised in San Antonio, Nasatir attended Thomas Jefferson High School, where she was co-editor of the school’s paper, The Declaration, and a member of the pep squad. She graduated in 1943 and then studied journalism at Northwestern University.
Nasatir moved to New York and in the 1960s worked as a secretary at a New York advertising firm. She was divorced and raising two children, and she didn’t like her job. “I didn’t need to watch Mad Men — I lived it,” she said. “That’s exactly the way [women] were treated.”
Things improved when she became a secretary at Dell Books, where she read material that was being turned into movies. At Bantam Books, she helped start the instant-book publishing craze when she suggested the company print copies of The Warren Commission Report upon its 1964 release.
After National General Cinema bought Bantam in 1968, she became a story editor looking to acquire properties that could be films. She came west a year later to work for literary agent Evarts Ziegler; together, they pushed to bring the 1971 William Peter Blatty novel The Exorcist to the screen.
“Marcia was a very bright lady … well-educated and could read,” Chinatown screenwriter Towne said in A Classy Broad. “It was always nice to have her read whatever you wrote.”
More recently, she reviewed movies with Three Days of the Condor screenwriter Semple on the YouTube show Reel Geezers.
In a statement to THR, producer and former Academy president Sid Ganis called Nasatir “indomitable in every way” and noted that “into her 90s, she would often hop a bus in Brentwood to take her to the Academy on screening nights.”
She served as a board member of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation from 2013-17.
Her sister is Rose Spector, who in 1993 became the first woman justice elected to the Texas Supreme Court.
Being in the movie business was “the best thing that ever happened to me,” she wrote in her THR essay. “If I had been born 20 years later, I would have been the head of a studio, which I would have liked. But I’m content with how things turned out for me and happy to see other women carry the torch even further.”
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