Sherry Lansing was born in Chicago, Illinois. Her mother, who had fled Nazi Germany at age 17, and spoke no English when she came to the United States. When Lansing was nine years old, her father died of a heart attack. Her mother took over her husband's business, but later encouraged Lansing to focus on a future as a housewife and mother. Lansing had other plans. After college at Northwestern University, Lansing secured modeling jobs, which lead to acting opportunities. Dissatisfied with her acting skills, she wanted to learn more about the film industry from the ground up. She took a job with MGM as head script reader and worked on two successful movies, The China Syndrome and Kramer vs. Kramer. This lead to an appointment, at age 35, as the first female president of 20th Century Fox. In 1992, she was offered the chairmanship of Paramount Pictures' Motion Picture Group. During her tenure as Chairman of Paramount, the studio has produced such blockbuster hits as Forrest Gump, Braveheart, and Titanic.