Dawn Steel, Hollywood's first female mogul, dies at 51

Dawn Steel, Hollywood’s first female mogul, dies at 51

Dawn Steel, who became the movie industry’s first female mogul in 1987, when she was named president of Columbia Pictures, always knew Hollywood was a boys’ club. But proving herself just as tough, driven, and even profane as any of the men she encountered, she crashed the gates. Steel—who died on Dec. 20 of a brain tumor at age 51—first won notoriety for marketing Gucci-imprinted toilet paper in the ’70s and became Paramount’s production chief in 1984. If she had any doubts that the boys ruled, they were erased when a studio shake-up undercut her authority while she was in the hospital giving birth. Proof of their respect came when she was drafted to rebuild Columbia. In the process, she rewrote club rules, mentoring a generation of women execs.

If you had asked Steel whether her movies had an agenda, she would have scoffed—her job was to turn out moneymakers. But among the hits for which she was responsible—Flashdance, Footloose, The Accused, and Cool Runnings—there did run a theme: outsiders challenging the rules, and winning.