Hollywood’s mommy network

PARENTING TIPS: Jennifer Waldburger, left, and Jill Spivack run Sleepy Planet, a business that counsels showbiz parents.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

It was 1987. “Baby Boom” -- a cautionary tale of a high-octane female exec who tries to juggle motherhood and a career -- was thriving in theaters. The message? Pencil skirts and pacifiers don’t mix, lady.

Here in Hollywood, Lucy Fisher, then the executive vice president of production at Warner Bros., was one of the most powerful women in town. She had nurtured such hits as “The Color Purple” with Steven Spielberg and escorted “The Witches of Eastwick” to the big screen. Her ankles were swollen. She was 37 and pregnant.

“There weren’t any other studio execs having kids at that time, except Dawn Steel, who I only knew of,” she recalls. “But then she called me one day and said, ‘We’re both executives and we’re both pregnant, so we have to become best friends.’ ”


Their bond over breast-feeding and movie budgets still resonates because it was the first girls’ club -- albeit pathetically small -- in Hollywood. And the supportive relationship they forged as working moms by meeting at a West L.A. park at 6 every morning to talk about juggling projects and Pampers is now being echoed, two decades later, by dozens of high-level female executives throughout the industry.

Got kids? Got scripts? There’s a growing mama mafia in town. Mommy & Me groups are birthing adult friendships that extend beyond quelling toddler tantrums and beget working relationships. It’s not unusual to hear about a production company chief financial officer and a producer taking a meeting at a kiddie park. And high-profile birthday parties have joined the ranks of red-carpet premieres and business dinners as a place to network.

“I recently ran into a filmmaker at a baby park, who told me about a project that we’re considering for development,” says Trina Wyatt, CFO of Intrepid Pictures and mother of a 5-year-old. “Sometimes having kids the same age is the impetus to have a conversation with someone I want to meet.”

Indeed, making contacts in this town is as important as losing baby weight. Back in the party-hearty ‘80s, people joked that Alcoholics Anonymous was the best place to meet repentant Hollywood players and bond over bygone binges. Nowadays, in certain circles, you’re more likely to fatten your Rolodex at a play date.

This cultural shift in how women connect is a byproduct of a baby boom among women in Hollywood over age 35, who, like many working women, have delayed having kids until they’ve ascended the ladder. Andrea Giannetti, an executive vice president at Sony Pictures who had her first child at 36, says the spate of power mommies has changed the way she opens a meeting.

“The first thing you do is exchange photos of your kids,” says Giannetti, who has a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. “Before, you might have asked, ‘Have you been to that new restaurant?’ to break the ice. Talking about kids is a way to bond more intimately as human beings.”

Five years ago, Giannetti got parenting tips in a Mommy & Me group that also included an Endeavor agent, a talent manager, a show runner and an entertainment lawyer. “It made me realize how many powerful women in the industry were having kids -- and how hard it would be to get into a preschool,” she says with a laugh. The women still meet socially, and Giannetti has since worked with the agent on film projects.

For Carla Hacken, executive vice president of production at Fox 2000 and parent to a toddler and an infant, the corporate mommy network helps to ease the ache of spending long hours away from her family.

“I don’t know what other people talk about before they get into work, but every conversation I have with an agent or a producer that I notice is a mother starts with “How’s your kid?’ ” Hacken says. “It’s hard to be away from your kids, and I know that women process it differently. When I get into an emotional conversation about it with a male executive, it’s a total battle of the sexes.”

Perhaps that very gender divide has, in part, spurred some Hollywood women to form their own networks to share those maternal twinges. “There are a lot of working women in the industry having kids, and they have specific issues,” says film producer Suzanne Todd, who organized a Mommy & Me-like group for high-profile showbiz moms, including movie and TV producer Stacey Sher and “Eagle Eye” screenwriter Hillary Seitz, when she had her second child. The women discussed parenting hurdles like attending late-night premieres, travel and long work hours.

Such circles are becoming more popular, as first-time moms who work in entertainment seek each other out. In New York, a gaggle of such mothers including an executive from Lionsgate and one from “60 Minutes,” meets monthly over lunch. Here in Los Angeles, a new group of a dozen women who are all connected to the biz come together weekly for parenting sessions led by psychotherapist Jill Spivack.

“There’s a commonality among new mothers, and then there’s this fraternity when you work in the entertainment business,” says Spivack, who once worked as a literary assistant at Creative Artists Agency and now co-runs Sleepy Planet, a company that counsels new parents on how to put children to bed, with Jennifer Waldburger. “It makes sense that these women would want to stay in the same club.”

Spivack has long mixed industry mothers into her groups but was surprised when a band of women with ties to the entertainment business approached her recently, already organized. “Fifty percent of our clientele are parents who work in the business, but this is the first time I had a group of all industry moms,” she says.

For all the desire to bond over babies, though, there’s also potential for the opposite. Lifestyle publicist Lara Shriftman, a new mother, has noticed that private Mommy & Me groups can be as cliquish as the schoolyard. The trend, she says, is to invite a specialist to the house and then gather six to eight kids and their mothers. “It’s a secret girls’ club, and the private play dates are like dinner parties,” she says. “You actually hear people talking about not being invited to a play date.”

No doubt, their kids will quickly learn that Hollywood can be a teddy-bear-eat-teddy-bear kind of town. “There are people who use it as a social-climbing tool,” says Elycia Rubin, an independent TV producer and author of style guides. “I’ve heard of parents who look through the contact list for a preschool to see who they’re going to buddy up to for business.”

In the end, it all comes down to business, and the shifting nuances of networking and connecting aren’t lost on some Hollywood dads either. Wyatt says that a producer recently sent her an invitation to a screening with a picture of his child attached in the e-mail. “I had never seen a guy do that,” she says. “Appeal to me as a parent.”

Corcoran is a Times staff writer.