This month, we continue my Bodacious and Rebellious Broads series with a focus on Gale Anne Hurd, an American film producer. Like other women breaking with tradition in various aspects of life and work, Hurd has done so by writing and producing movies and TV shows whose audiences aren’t necessarily female. Or, are they? Hurd produced The Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss, all Academy Award-winning movies. Today, she’s a part of the highly successful AMC show, The Walking Dead.
Because I’d never been a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I did not run to see the movie, The Terminator, which came out in 1984. However, two years later, I did go see Aliens, already a big fan of the original movie, Alien. As someone who enjoys watching film credits, I remember seeing the name Gale Anne Hurd listed as a producer at the end of Aliens. For some reason, the name stuck with me and one day at work a few years later, I ran across an article in a business magazine that discussed how Hurd was breaking stereotypes in Hollywood producing movies that do not cater to women.
I already knew that Hurd had produced Aliens, but wanted to know more, so read I the article and found out that she was also responsible for The Terminator and The Abyss. I loved The Abyss and by the time I’d read the article, I’d even watched The Terminator on cable and had to give it props. It was good.
Hurd, who is also called The First Lady of Sci-Fi, got her job by working for Roger Corman at his company, New World Pictures. Corman is well-known for creating, directing, and producing low-budget B movies, like Monster from the Ocean Floor and Apache Woman. Corman helped launch the directing careers of Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, and James Cameron, while also giving Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson their acting breaks. Hurd went to work for Corman as an executive assistant and worked her way up the company in various administrative roles, until she got to earn her chops helping to produce some of Corman’s films.
In 1982, Hurd went out on her own and formed Pacific Western Productions, which launched the hits I just mentioned, The Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss. In 1998, Hurd was given the Women in Film Crystal Award, which honors women who, through their hard work and attention to excellence, help expand the role of women within the entertainment industry. Between that time and 2012, Hurd won many more awards and continued making all kinds of movies and television shows, as evidenced by her list of credits on IMdb. Hurd would also change the name of her production company to Valhalla Entertainment.
In 2012, Gale Anne Hurd got her well-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and she launched The Walking Dead, which has become an insanely successful show.
The following year, Hurd was awarded the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award from the Athena Film Festival at Barnard College in New York City. This award is given to women in the film industry whose leadership demonstrates vision and courage, while setting a standard for other women. This year, Hurd received the Fangoria Lifetime Achievement award for her body of work in the horror and science fiction genres.
When she was starting out as a producer, Hurd was briefly married to James Cameron in the late ‘80s; they worked together on The Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss. In the early ‘90s, she had another short-lived marriage to Brian De Palma. Although, this second marriage did produce Hurd’s one child, a daughter. I’ve often wondered whether these marriages only lasted a couple of years because it was too hard for Cameron and De Palma to share the spotlight with a woman who was just as successful as they were, without having had the benefit of being a white, straight man in Hollywood. I have no clue why these marriages didn’t last, but it can’t be because Hurd is bad at marriage, because she’s been married to Jonathan Hensleigh, a screenwriter and director, since 1995.
Hurd went on to produce Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Ghost and the Darkness, and is also responsible for these Academy Award-nominated movies: Armageddon, The Incredible Hulk, Tremors, Æon Flux, The Punisher, Dick, and The Waterdance. This last film won the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature at the Sundance Film Festival, along with getting both the Audience and Screenplay Awards.
As you know, Hurd produces The Walking Dead and its spin-off, The Talking Dead. What you might not know is that The Walking Dead is AMC’s number-one-rated show and Talking Dead, also produced by Hurd, carries the honor of being the channel’s second-most popular show.
As she continues making well-crafted, popular films and TV shows, Hurd also continues winning awards and serves on several industry-related boards. How does she do it? I suspect talent and intelligence are two of the traits that have enabled her success. Also, being willing to play in sandboxes usually reserved for the strongest of boys has helped. As Gale Anne Hurd once said, “I embrace being a bitch.”
Bitch or no, it seems as if Hurd might be reserving her toughest demeanor for the men with whom she works. Over the years, Hurd has talked about how there were few women in the entertainment business that she could emulate, no matter what kinds of films they were producing. However, while working with Roger Corman, Hurd got a huge break when Corman’s COO, a woman named Barba Boyle, introduced Hurd to James Cameron and then helped them get The Terminator greenlit.
Hurd acknowledges that another woman helped her and so she wants to help other women in the industry become successful, as well. She often gives talks to women who want to be the new Gale Anne Hurd, and she’s honest. She lets other women know that they will have to work hard – probably, harder than their male counterparts, and they will have to keep strong to their ethics and convictions and refuse to be pushed around. And, if they do get pushed around, push back. Fight back. Don’t give up.
Therefore, I couldn’t help but howl when reading about how Hurd’s first ex-husband, James Cameron, who often gives talks about his career, once responded to a question about advice he could give newbies in the industry. He said, “Quit, because the movie business sucks.”
Imagine me making a face, rolling my eyes, and muttering, “Poooor, sad, wittle, wealthy white man, having to put in a wee bit of hard work. Does diddums need his nappy changed, too?”
Hurd acknowledges that she still has to deal with pay inequities, despite her proven track record, but she encourages younger women to follow their dreams. She tells the story of Debra Hill, another women producer, known for her collaboration with John Carpenter and the producer of films, such as Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York and more. Cancer took Hill at the young age of 54, so Hurd tells the women she encourages to do what they want and do it with passion, because you never know when your time will be up.
“If something speaks to you, it’s worth doing,” she has said. “You could die tomorrow. I saw that with my friend Debra Hill.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t the only actor I find nauseating. The same holds true for Jon Voight. Although, I have to give Voight a lot more praise than Schwarzenegger, as Voight is a truly talented actor. However, my disgust for Voight as a regressive man, just like Mr. I’ll Be Back, almost prevented me from watching Showtime’s, Ray Donavan. But, I persisted and I’m glad I did. This show, while often hard to watch because of its violence, offers a look at the darker side of Hollywood and how fixers are always at hand to clean up the stars’ dirty messes, even if the fixers, in this case – Ray Donavan – can’t fix their own broken lives.
One evening, after watching an episode, I wondered whether Gale Anne Hurd was involved in the show. So, I watched the credits and when I saw the word “Ann,” I felt myself getting a little excited, even though I knew Hurd spelled her middle name with an “e”. But, it was still a pleasant surprise to find out that Ann Biderman is the producer of Ray Donavan. Another bodacious and rebellious broad. I’ll introduce you to Ms. Biderman in a future blog.
For now, though, what do you think of Gale Ann Hurd? Are you a fan of her work?