Steely Dawn Calls It a Day

Dawn Steel, the first woman to run a Hollywood studio, knew she would have only a short time to prove herself in that notoriously tenuous job. But when she quit last week after two years as president of Columbia Pictures, she had made her mark. After taking over the job from prickly British producer David Puttnam, who had alienated Hollywood's power brokers, Steel put Columbia back on track by enlisting such top names as director Mike Nichols and megastar Michael Douglas.

A former merchandising director for Penthouse, Steel rose to production chief at Paramount in 1985. At Columbia she fired a...