Gale Anne Hurd is an accomplished woman in a field traditionally dominated by men. Now CEO of Valhalla Entertainment, Gale Anne has a history of mega-hits including The Terminator, which she produced and co-wrote,Aliens, Terminator 2, The Incredible Hulk and many others. Recently, she has produced the TV series, The Walking Dead. Capping this fabulous career to date, Gale Anne was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012.
Tell us about your early life and what led you to the entertainment field.
I’m a fourth generation Los Angelina on my mother’s side. I grew up on Mulholland Drive and remember looking out over a San Fernando Valley full of citrus groves! My mother and her four sisters had grown up in Culver City and all worked at MGM during its heyday, in the late 1930s and through the 1940s. My mother was secretary to Jack Dawn, who headed up the make-up department, so the film business is in my blood. My father was a real estate investor who wasn’t really a fan of the movies, much less the entertainment industry. When I was ten years old, my parents decided to move to Palm Springs, so I spent the next 6 years there, graduating from Palm Springs High School in 1973. My passions as a child included horseback riding and reading, primarily science fiction and fantasy novels, as well as comic books (this was long before the genre was considered ‘cool’). I was also an athlete on the track & field and softball teams. Upon graduation, I attended Stanford University with the intention of becoming a marine biologist. I realized early on that I wasn’t cut out to be a scientist, and I changed my major quite a few times (psychology, political science) and ultimately completed two degrees, one in Economics and the second in Communications. As luck would have it, I attended the Stanford in Britain program my junior year, and 78 of us lived on the grounds of the Cliveden Estate (formerly Lord and Lady Astor’s manor house in Buckinghamshire). The program focused on Law/Economics and Film/Broadcasting, and I immersed myself in both. The program for the latter was created by Julian Blaustein, a Stanford professor who had previously produced some of my favorite films (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, BROKEN ARROW), and I knew I had found my calling. When I returned to Stanford, I focused on film and he became my advisor.
Your first job after graduating college was as executive assistant to Roger Corman, husband of fellow Trusteeship member Julie. What did you learn from Roger, and being his right-hand person, that propelled you to a successful career in what is traditionally a difficult field for women to reach the top?
Roger and Julie are the reasons I have a career in the entertainment industry. No one could have asked for better mentors, especially at a time when women were not common in positions of authority. Roger felt differently, and I certainly credit Julie with his enlightened view of women in the workplace. Working for them at New World Pictures gave me a worldview that women could do anything: Barbara Boyle was a key member of his team, women were directing, writing, producing and editing films for him in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when that was simply unheard of at the major motion picture studios. Roger and Julie taught me to believe in myself, taught me all of the skills necessary to be a successful producer, and also gave me my first film to produce (SMOKEY BITES THE DUST).
Was there an obstacle along the way that seemed insurmountable? And if so, how did you overcome it?
After I’d produced THE TERMINATOR, which in and of itself, was an almost impossible task, I was proposed as the producer for ALIENS. My first meeting in the world of major studios did not go well. The head of the studio sized me up and decided that “a little girl like you can’t produce a big movie like this.” I wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer, so I launched a campaign to secure the job. I was able to convince Roger Corman, Barbara Boyle, Mike Medavoy (who was responsible for greenlighting the film at Orion Pictures) and a number of other people to call the 20th Century Fox executive and vouch for me. They did, thankfully, and I got the job after all. We came in on schedule and on budget, and the film was a huge hit (also receiving 7 Academy Award nominations) so I didn’t have to prove myself again. In fact, I then signed a three-year producing deal with Fox.
You’ve had some tremendous hits, including The Terminator films and Aliens, and more recently the phenomenal success of The Walking Dead TV series. Please share one or two of your most memorable experiences working on these projects, either about the personalities involved (everyone is curious about Arnold) or challenges you faced.
Initially we were asked to hire Arnold to play the role that Michael Biehn ultimately played (Kyle Reese) in THE TERMINATOR, but Jim Cameron and I knew that Arnold would make a much better Terminator. We took him to lunch and he chose a restaurant, Scandia, way out of our financial comfort zone – and neither of us had credit cards. After a terrific lunch during which Arnold proposed he play the Terminator (we didn’t even have to sell him on the idea), the check came. Jim and I couldn’t afford to pay the tab, and were waiting for Arnold to leave so we could take it up with the management, when Arnold caught on. He was incredibly gracious, and picked up the bill and told us a similar thing had happened to him. Luckily he didn’t question whether or not we had the money to make the film when we couldn’t even afford lunch.
You were recently honored with star on the Walk of Fame – congratulations! Tell us about the feelings this event stirred in you as your name joined that of so many other Hollywood greats.
Being a local girl, I grew up with the Walk of Fame as an impossible dream. Never once did I think I’d be a pink star alongside such greats as Buster Keaton and Peter Lorre, but there I am. I was so honored that Jim Cameron and the lead in my TV series, Andrew Lincoln, spoke on the day, and the entire cast of THE WALKING DEAD showed up to cheer me on. Most importantly, friends were there, including quite a few from the Trusteeship, and my family. I still have to pinch myself when I think about it!
What about the future? Do you have a particular goal (maybe part of a bucket list) that you hope to accomplish?
It’s a privilege and an honor – and so much fun – to produce films and tv that I hope to be able to continue doing so for quite a long time. I have a film that’s in Sundance this year, VERY GOOD GIRLS, directed and written by a woman, Naomi Foner. I want to continue to do my part to support women and minorities in the business, and we were recently honored for our efforts by the DGA.
Who is the one person you would love to meet but haven’t yet? and why?
I’d like to meet the Dalai Lama – from what I’ve seen and heard, he’s an amazing man who has remained calm, focused and patient in the face of such difficulties. I don’t think patience is one of my strengths, and I could certainly learn a great deal from him.
What does being part of TheTrusteeship mean to you?
The Trusteeship is my community, and every time I attend an event, I am reminded how important it is to have such fantastic and talented friends. Diane Wittenberg’s holiday party was a recent reminder of just how amazing each and every member of the organization is, and how much they have to offer the world. I value the many friendships I’ve made through the organization.