Sherry Lansing is probably better known as the first female head of a major Hollywood studio, and you can read about her clawing-to-the-top adventures in Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker, published this year by Penguin Random House. But before she was lassoing the likes of Angelina Jolie and Demi Moore she was an up-and-coming thespian--"tall and striking" in the words of fellow actress Dee Gardner, with trippy blue eyes the camera loved.
Her big break was Rio Lobo, opposite John Wayne and directed by the old pro, Howard Hawks, which filmed for 25 days at Old Tucson followed by another week of shooting in Nogales. Also in the cast was actor Chris Mitchum, son of Robert, who had first gotten work as an extra while attending the University of Arizona. It was Lansing's first big role (after a stint in the movie Loving), but Hawks' last, and not necessarily one of his finest--often poorly compared to his own Rio Bravo and El Dorado. The director was controlling, demanding. Hawks' biographer Todd McCarthy quoted Lansing as saying, "He had a very fixed image of what a woman should be. Tall, long hair, long legs, big eyes. Basically, she had to be Lauren Bacall, and I fit right into that image." Nevertheless, "I liked him. I liked him a lot."
With the exception of a couple of TV shows, Rio Lobo was Lansing's swan song as an actress. Her heart wasn't in it. There's a great press photo of Lansing, in moccasins and pancho, hoisting some kind of lever action rifle under the Tucson Mountain skyline with a mean glint in those sky-blue peepers (I can't reproduce it without coughing up $49.99 for the rights). I'm not sure, but I think she's thinking to herself, "This acting gig sucks, but I'm pretty sure I could run 20th Century Fox."