Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Gale Anne Hurd: How a (Walk of Fame) Star was Born

When I was interviewed by Roger Corman for a job at New World Pictures, he asked me if I was married. (Back then a personal question of that sort was not considered off-limits.) I informed Roger that I was a newlywed, and he seemed mightily disappointed. “All my previous assistants,” he said, “have married directors.”

If marrying a director is the ultimate mark of success, Gale Anne Hurd is a champion. Over the years she has been married to James Cameron (1985-1989) and Brian De Palma (1991-1993). Current spouse Jonathan Hensleigh is a successful screenwriter who’s recently moved into the director’s chair.

But Gale herself takes a back seat to no one. The Terminator was her project as well as Cameron’s (he directed, she produced, and they wrote the script together). She also produced Cameron’s Aliens and The Abyss. As head of her own production company since 1985, she’s launched such major action flicks as Terminator 2, The Ghost and the Darkness, Dante’s Peak, Armageddon, and The Incredible Hulk, while also shepherding a sensitive indie called The Waterdance. Zombie enthusiasts love her AMC series, The Walking Dead. And somehow she finds time to be the queen of social media: her Twitter followers number 22,500 (and counting). No wonder she’s just been awarded her very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Like me, Gale was an academic type who was surprised to find herself making genre films as a Corman assistant. After completing a degree in economics and communications at Stanford (Roger’s alma mater), she came to Roger’s attention through one of her professors. As generations of Cormanites can attest, Roger has always preferred hiring females, based on his conviction that women work harder, work cheaper, and are more loyal. And he seems to lean toward candidates with strong basic intelligence, rather than job-specific skills. In the case of Gale, he hit the jackpot.

In her three years at New World, Gale was never treated as a secretary. In short order Roger named her head of advertising. After she proved her mettle as a production assistant (responsible for making coffee and emptying -- ugh! -- the chemical toilets in motor homes), she was promoted to assistant production manager. At the famously decrepit Corman studio, she worked ‘round the clock, supervising the making of sci-fi extravaganzas. As she told me, “I remember that there was an army cot that we had when we were making Battle Beyond the Stars, and you’d just catch whatever sleep you could. And half the time it would be raining and the roof leaked and there’d be four inches of water on the ground and people were using power tools, while standing in the water. Thank God OSHA never came by, and thank God no one died.”

It was amid this chaos that Gale found her future husband and creative partner. Jim Cameron was also working on Battle Beyond the Stars, first as a model builder and then as the film’s art director. (More on this later, I promise.) It wasn’t long before the two of them dreamed up The Terminator, and a franchise was born.

Despite the daunting working conditions at New World, Gale has never felt anything but gratitude to her former boss. He’s famously tight with a buck, but she praises his personal generosity: “He’s the only person I’ve known in the industry who wanted his protégés to succeed and perhaps have even more impressive credentials than his own. I don’t know of anyone else like that. He was genuinely thrilled for everyone who broke out and made a career for themselves.”


  1. She's an amazing lady - I worked for her on Virus in Virginia and North Carolina in 1997. I didn't see a great deal of her - but I did briefly meet her - it was really cool to meet one of the co-creators of The Terminator. She also didn't give off an air of "what am I paying you for? Why aren't you doing more for me every second?" - like some producers do. But I have a feeling that she trusts that the people she hires will hire good people - and doesn't feel the need to micromanage to that level. Very refreshing. Thanks for the great stories about her time at New World - you know I eat this stuff up with a spoon! (And I have the spoon already washed and waiting for the continuation of the Cameron story...)

  2. I'm certainly glad you wash your spoons, Mr. Craig. One more thing about Gale: when I came to her office during the work day, I was surprised to see she wasn't dressed in entirely businesslike fashion. She was wearing a surprisingly frilly pink suit, complete with ruffles. She also wore very high heels (not exactly the trendy look of that particular moment), but curled up in her desk chair like a little girl. I certainly had her pictured in my mind as more of the tailored sort.

  3. If I remember right, Gale Anne Hurd was interviewed in Fangoria about her career and her then new movie, NO ESCAPE starring Ray Liotta. I think that was the first time I was made aware of her impressive career.