A hero's journey: Jenny Fulle has led a charmed life of her own making--with strength and smarts, she went from preteen legal hero to janitor to power lesbian film executive.
But Fulle's rubber gloves were merely creating the backstory for an amazing second act a modern Horatio Alger story in which a gay protagonist goes from janitor to executive vice president of a movie studio with not so much as a black eye in the process.
As executive VP of production at Sony Pictures Imageworks the company responsible for all three Spider-Man pictures, both Charlie's Angels films, The Chronicles of Narnia, and other marvels of special effects and animation--Fulle is one of the most powerful lesbians in Hollywood. And she's pulled herself to the top without the help of nepotism or a formal education.
"I had just dropped out of college and wasn't quite sure of what I wanted to do. I was floundering a bit," she remembers. "So someone said to me, 'Would you like to clean toilets for George Lucas?' and I said, 'Hey, that sounds cool.'"
She started working at Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas's special effects compound in the San Francisco Bay area, and became captivated by the energy of the studio. At 23 she became a production assistant, a coveted stepping-stone that can lead to bigger things if you're smart and tenacious enough.
"After a couple of years in production, it was, 'Oh, little Jenny--she used to be a janitor and now she's a coordinator. Isn't that cute?'" Fulle says. "People were putting me in a box, and it wasn't because of my sexuality or my gender but the fact that a few years earlier I was emptying their trash."
Tired of being known as the cleaning lady, Fulle packed her bags and moved to Los Angeles. It was as much a personal choice as a professional necessity: "Up in Marin County, I was the only gay."
Fulle landed production gigs on many hypermasculine films, including Arnold Schwarzenegger movies Total Recall, Eraser, and True Lies, and surprisingly, didn't experience much sexism. "Certainly, I've felt like I've come up against the boys' club, but it hasn't been impenetrable," she says. In fact, occasionally she's gleaned confidence from the most unlikely experiences.
Once, in her early days in Los Angeles, she found herself on a movie set feeling out of place and trying desperately to look like she belonged.
"Whoopi Goldberg was there," Fulle recalls, "and she came up to me in front of all these people and said, 'Didn't I fuck you at Woodstock?' I felt all the blood drain from my face. It was definitely an icebreaker."
To Fulle, Hollywood's homophobia is directed largely at actors; players behind the camera aren't subjected to the same degree of hostility. "I've been out publicly since I came out of the womb, and I've never been closeted at work," she says. "In the film industry you want something that people will remember you by, and I think my outness has only helped me."
It certainly hasn't hurt. The promotions continued with Fulle advancing at Hollywood's premier digital studios, such as DreamWorks SKG, before being tapped by Imageworks president Tim Sarnoff for her current position.
"Jenny is everything this industry should stand for," Sarnoff says via e-mail. "She's gotten to where she is today with hard work, determination, and a sense of humor. Her strength is important as well--she can lift more than I can."
The executives' working relationship produced hits like Superman Returns, The Aviator, and the Spider-Man movies. What's next? The brand-new Ghost Rider, starring Nicolas Cage.
Fulle likes to have a lot on her plate, and she freely admits that she's "always been a type A personality from the time I was a child."
After all, it's not just anyone who could accomplish what Fulle did, beginning as a 9-year-old tomboy from Mill Valley, Calif. A natural leader, Fulle was known as one of the best young baseball players in Northern California. And she wanted in on Little League, open only to boys.
"[The Little League] told me I couldn't play because I was a girl," Fulle remembers. "It just didn't make sense to me." So she went straight to the top.
"I can still remember writing a letter to President Nixon at my kitchen table. I sent it off and forgot about it. But a few months later, I got a letter back from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and they gave me the guidelines to handle that sort of discrimination."
Fulle's mom, Donna Lyons, whom her daughter calls a NorCal hippie type, took matters to the Mill Valley Parks and Recreation Commission. But when Little League Baseball threatened to take away Mill Valleys affiliation if the city allowed a girl to play, the commission caved. The family turned to the National Organization for Women, whose Marin County chapter president was an idealistic young woman named M. Lee Hunt. Their complaint advanced to the Mill Valley city council, and things turned ugly as the town began to air its prejudices.
"There were Boy Scouts who turned out [at the city council meetings], definitely not in favor of Jenny playing baseball," Hunt recalls. "There were guys who spoke whose faces were red and had veins standing out on their neck. I was speaking to the media, and tomatoes and eggs were being thrown."
Today, Marin County is a liberal enclave that starts at the end of the Golden Gate Bridge. But back in the early '70s the area--like the rest of country--was going through severe growing pains, particularly when it came to female equality. When the Mill Valley city council ruled against Jenny, she and her allies dug their heels in deeper. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, they sued Little League Baseball and were vindicated by the Marin County superior court. Thus, in 1974, Little League Baseball integrated itself. Girls could now prove their worth alongside the boys. And
Fulle did just that--she led her league in home runs her first season.
"The Bad News Bears came out a few years later, and I always thought, OK, that's not fair, I played for the [Mill Valley] Bears," Fulle says. "I thought the Tatum O'Neal character should have been me. A few years later, I worked with Michael Ritchie--the director of the movie--and I told him the story and he said, 'Oh, my God, I remember that. We were reading about it in the newspaper and we were changing the script as the story was coming out.'"
Fulle's fight also inspired Hunt, now a family lawyer in nearby San Rafael, Calif. "The impetus for me to go to law school was this case because I saw how much a person could do as a lawyer."
In 2000, Fulle was honored in Mill Valley for her forward-looking achievements. She led the Little League opening-day parade and threw out the first ball as part of the city's centennial celebration.
Fulle's 6-year-old son, Wyatt (she and her ex-partner share custody), may not comprehend the magnitude of his mother's many accomplishments, but he reaps the benefits. The little tee ball player will soon graduate to the Little Leagues, where he'll play alongside both girls and boys.
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|Title Annotation:||HOLLYWOOD ISSUE|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Feb 27, 2007|
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