|Born||Dawn Leslie Steel
August 19, 1946
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
|Died||December 20, 1997
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Film studio executive, film producer|
Dawn Leslie Steel (August 19, 1946 – December 20, 1997) was one of the first women to run a major Hollywood film studio.
Steel, whose father had changed the family surname from "Spielberg" before her birth, was born in the Bronx, New York to Nat and Lillian (née Tarlo) Steel, both of Russian Jewish descent. She grew up in Manhattan and "in a crummy neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks" in Great Neck, New York, according to her autobiography. She had one sibling, a brother, Larry.
She attended New York University but did not graduate. She became merchandising director for Penthouse magazine. In 1975, she founded her own company that produced novelty items such as designer logo toilet paper.
In 1978, she went to work for Paramount Pictures, where she planned marketing tie-ins for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and was responsible for the making of Fatal Attraction, Top Gun and Flashdance, amongst others. She became vice president of production in 1980 and production chief in 1985. Steel was the second woman to head a major film production department (the first being Sherry Lansing at Twentieth-Century Fox and the third being Nina Jacobson at Buena Vista). In 1985, she married film producer Charles Roven with whom she had a daughter, Rebecca Steel Roven.
She became president of Columbia Pictures in 1987. Under her tenure the studio released When Harry Met Sally which had been developed and produced independently by Castle Rock productions. Steel's brief two-year tenure was marked by continued turmoil and losses, continuing a string of bad news begun under David Puttnam before her appointment. She was asked to leave the studio in 1989 and shortly thereafter Coca-Cola spun off the studio and exited the movie business; Columbia was thereafter sold to Sony Corporation of Japan.
In 1989, Steel was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award for outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.
She left Columbia to found Atlas Entertainment and become an independent producer. Her final two films were Fallen and City of Angels. In 1993, she wrote a memoir, They Can Kill You But They Can't Eat You published by Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster; ISBN 0-671-73832-1.
In April 1996, Steel was diagnosed with brain cancer. She died, aged 51, after a 20-month battle against the disease. Her immediate survivors included her husband and daughter, and her brother, Larry Steel.
Her film City of Angels was dedicated to her memory. Her career at Paramount as Chief of Production was referenced in the HBO series, Entourage, in the Season Three (2006) episode "What About Bob?", when fictional producer Bob Ryan asks Ari Gold if Dawn Steel will still be working there, to which Ari replies "Bob, Dawn Steel died nine years ago."
- Profile, people.com; accessed August 5, 2014.
- Obituary, nytimes.com, December 22, 1997; accessed August 5, 2014.
- Past Recipients: Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards, wif.org; accessed August 4, 2014.
- Profile, Eonline; accessed August 4, 2014.
- Dawn Steel's photo/gravesite, findagrave.com; accessed August 4, 2014.