A hero's journey

A hero's journey

When Jenny Fulle
was 18 she scrubbed George Lucas’s toilet. It was
1980 and Fulle was already a minor celebrity,
half-remembered as the baseball prodigy whose
determination forced Little League Baseball to allow girls
to play.

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 Valley’s 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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