Updated Jan. 25, 2023
Contact: Marcus Wilkins, email@example.com
A stroll down memory lane with Janet Schwartze Crosby is a bit like a jaunt on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As she recounts her adventures during 25-plus years as a movie production associate, names such as “Sly” Stallone, “Bobby” De Niro and “Marty” Scorsese scroll past like the iconic terrazzo stars on the sidewalk.
Yet for as friendly as she is with these and other silver-screen luminaries, the journey from Crosby’s hometown of Jefferson City, Missouri, to Los Angeles began with a leap into the unknown. After graduating in 1964 with a political science degree, the University of Missouri cheerleader and Chi Omega pledge gazed westward.
“California was calling,” Crosby said. “I found an apartment with a sorority sister, and I hardly knew anyone. At first, I just wanted to be able to pay the rent and have a good time in LA. So, I went to the unemployment office.”
Crosby got a job as a secretary with Douglass Aircraft Company in Santa Monica, California, until she met and married Lindsay Crosby, the youngest son of famed crooner Bing Crosby. The marriage was short-lived, but her son, Sean, was born of the union, so she needed to get back to work.
Crosby parlayed a temporary gig assisting screenwriters into a permanent job as an assistant with Palomar Pictures, ABC’s movie division. Her first film, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? starring Jane Fonda, was nominated for nine Academy Awards in 1970, including best picture. Gig Young took home the best supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of a cunning emcee of depression-era dance competitions.
“We shot the film for more than a year, so it got to be a very close-knit group,” Crosby said. “That was in 1968, and there weren’t as many women in the industry as there are today.”
It was there that Crosby met Bob Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, a duo that would go on to produce scores of Oscar-nominated films including The Right Stuff, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and the entire Rocky franchise. Crosby was literally behind the scenes coordinating logistics for the filmmakers, “making things happen” — and self-advocating for practically every screen credit she received.
“I had to push for an ‘assistant to the producer’ listing” Crosby said. “I kept saying, ‘Give me more, give me more,’ so I tackled any and everything.”
Crosby lists walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards with eight-year-old Sean — in 1976, the year Rocky won Best Picture — as a career-topper (a similar experience at the Cannes Film Festival with De Niro is a close second.)
“Rocky tops it all because it was a $1.3 million film starring an unknown kid from Hell’s Kitchen,” Crosby said. “I wish I would have had a half-point in profits. But I got to know Sly — and I got a Datsun 280 Z out of the deal, so I can’t complain.”
Crosby would go on to launch her own production company in the ’90s, but she quickly realized the nature of the business was dimming her “inner light.” She embarked on a second career in nonprofit work, helping troubled youth in South Central Los Angeles.
Crosby also wrote her own Hollywood love story when she reconnected with her grade-school sweetheart, Perry Leslie. Nearly 40 years after having last seen each other, the couple reunited when Leslie sent an AOL message in the early 2000s. They wed in 2004, and in 2012 “came home” to Columbia.
“I used to say, ‘Dear God, if you have somebody for me, you’d better drop them right in front of me, because I ain’t looking,’” Crosby said. “When Perry showed up, I said, ‘Janet, get out of your own way and see what happens.’ It was the easiest thing in my life, and we’ve been married now for 17 years.”
Get to know a few more Mizzou alumni who have worked on Oscar-nominated — and Oscar-winning — films
*indicates Oscar winner in category
Daniel Lindsay, BS BA ’01
Hometown: Rockford, Illinois
Oscar-nominated film: Undefeated, 2011, *documentary feature
Recent projects: Tina (Tina Turner HBO documentary)
Filmmaking highlight: “The idea of being nominated for an Oscar — let alone winning — was preposterous while we were filming the documentary. Undefeated started with us (me, codirector T.J. Martin and producer Rich Middlemas) finding an article about a potential college football recruit who was living with one of his coaches. It was a situation we thought offered an opportunity to explore a lot of other deeper societal issues outside of football recruiting. The focus of the film eventually shifted to the entire team, but the themes remained constant. We had no expectations other than thinking if we can capture some interesting moments, maybe we would make something that could get into a film festival or something. We were selected to premiere at the 2011 South by Southwest Film Festival, and at the time I thought that would be the best thing to happen to us. It turned out to be just the beginning.”
Kris Peck, BA ’88
Title: Prop master
Hometown: Joplin, Missouri
Oscar-nominated films: The Rock, 1996, sound; Walk the Line, 2006, actor, *actress, sound mixing, costume design, film editing; The Dark Knight, 2009, *supporting actor, sound editing, visual effects, cinematography, sound mixing, production design, makeup and hairstyling, film editing; Rango, 2011, *animated feature; Ad Astra, 2020, sound mixing; Top Gun:Maverick, 2022, best picture; Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, 2022, best adapted screenplay
Recent projects: The Pale Blue Eye, Amsterdam
Filmmaking highlight: “Of all the films I’ve worked on, The Dark Knight is the one that most caught me by surprise. Jack Nicholson had already crushed the role of the Joker [in Tim Burton’s Batman, 1989], and I couldn’t understand why it was being redone. I went into the makeup trailer to meet Heath Ledger for the first time — about three days before we started filming. I introduced myself and showed him the prop knife that director Christopher Nolan had chosen. Heath handled the knife, flicking his tongue at it, looking into his makeup mirror — basically finding his character for the first time in all his makeup, costume and props. I wasn’t even down the steps of his trailer and I said to myself, ‘Oh, that’s why it’s being redone.’ Heath was brilliant, and he was so kind to everyone. A tragic loss.”
Kevin Ross, BJ ’87
Title: Film editor
Hometown: Farmington, Missouri
Oscar-nominated films: Speed, 1995, sound mixing, sound editing and film editing; The Truman Show, 1999 director, original screenplay, *supporting actor
Recent projects: Yellowjackets (Showtime series), The Thing About Pam (NBC series)
Filmmaking highlight: “I really felt Speed deserved the Oscar that year, but we lost to Forrest Gump — which was easy to edit by comparison. Speed was one of the most difficult films to edit. It was a new director [Jan de Bont], and he liked to shoot action scenes on as many as eight different cameras. Then he would come in and say, ‘here’s the footage.’ I was an assistant editor, and the editor pretty much built that entire movie.”
Michael Villani, BJ ’70
Title: Actor, voiceover actor, event emcee
Hometown: St. Louis
Oscar-nominated films: Chaplin, 1992, actor, score, production design; Up Close and Personal, 1996, original song; Wag the Dog, 1997, actor, adapted screenplay; Dream Girls, 2006, supporting actress, sound mixing, supporting actor, production design, costume design
Recent projects: Venue announcer, 2020 Tokyo Paralympics
Filmmaking highlight: “I have played a lot of newscasters over the years, and I landed the role of the newscaster in Wag the Dog. Me and Giselle Fernandez, an Entertainment Tonight reporter at the time, were cast as the news reporters that would string together the whole narrative in the film. On our first day of filming, Giselle showed up with a terrible cold — nose running, eyes watering. I just knew it wasn’t going to work. But they shot us anyway. As a result, my scenes were cut down to one moment when Woody Harrelson’s character walks into a gas station, I’m on the TV in the background and everyone looks up at the screen.”