Hollywood Pioneer Marcia Nasatir: 'If I'd Been Born 20 Years Later, I Would Be Head of a Studio'

The first female vp production at a studio helped to develop "Rocky," "Carrie" and "Coming Home," but found herself repeatedly passed over for promotions because she was a woman: "I didn't need to watch 'Mad Men' -- I lived it."
Illustration by: Kyle Hilton

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue.

I never thought I'd get into the movie business. My first job in New York was as a secretary at an advertising firm in the 1960s, a job I got after getting divorced from the father of my two sons. I didn't need to watch Mad Men -- I lived it. That's exactly the way we were treated. One day, a writer friend who knew I was unhappy at my job asked his agent if he knew of a job in publishing. I became the secretary to the boss at a division of Dell Books. Part of my job was to read books that were being turned into movies and could potentially be sold as movie tie-ins. The ones we selected would say on the cover, "See the movie. Read the book."

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Later, I moved on to Bantam Books, where I helped start the instant-book publishing craze when I suggested that we print copies of The Warren Commission Report upon its release. Then I became a story editor looking for and acquiring properties to turn into movies at National General Corp., a moviemaking company that bought Bantam. I was fired because my taste proved to be different from the owners'.

In 1969, I took a trip to L.A. and met with Evarts Ziegler, a well-known literary agent who asked me to come and work for him as an agent, so I moved out west and spent the next five years representing the likes of William Goldman, Sydney Pollack and television writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. I loved it.

Mike Medavoy worked in the same office building, and on the day that he was offered the job of senior vp production at United Artists in 1974, I went over to congratulate him and joked, "But you haven't offered me a job!" Soon thereafter he did ask me to come to UA as a story editor, but I said I would only make the move if I could be a vp.

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. 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.") UA was like the independent movie companies of today, and while there I developed Rocky, Carrie, F.I.S.T. and Coming Home with Mike. 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."

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In 1978, Mike and four others left UA to form Orion Pictures, and I was disappointed they didn't ask me to join them. I briefly remained at UA, but when Andy Albeck, the new head of the studio, declined to offer me Mike's job and hired a man instead, I felt that was not fair and quit. I eventually joined Mike and the guys at Orion as a production vp, thinking I might still be elevated to a partner, but I never was. They didn't want to split things six ways and didn't value what my contribution was, and that pissed me off. (Nevertheless, Mike remains a good friend to this day.)

Eventually I left to work at Johnny Carson's production company, where I championed The Big Chill -- which had been turned down by every studio in town -- and then, as an independent producer, put together Hamburger Hill and Ironweed. I'm still working today, developing Hit Sign, Win Suit, a film about Brooklyn in the '60s after the Dodgers left, and a new version of Huckleberry Finn. I love being in the movie business. I think it's the best thing that ever happened to me. 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.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg