October 21, 2004
You’ll Do Lunch in This Town Again
Powerful women in Hollywood, back in 1978, were as prevalent as communists during the blacklist. Probably even less so.
That's when Loreen Arbus came to town. A Jewish girl fresh out of college with some summer internships at Cosmopolitan magazine under her belt, Arbus wanted to make a career in television.
And make it she did, becoming the first woman to head up programming for a national network (Showtime and Lifetime), and earning an Emmy nomination for her work as a producer. Now, almost three decades later, the writer, producer and philanthropist has much to be proud of, but one of her crowning glories is The Women's Luncheon, a monthly gathering of the communications industry's most powerful women.
"In the beginning I was amazed at how many remarkable people in the industry I was meeting, even though I was brand new," Arbus told The Journal.
One of those amazing people was Nancy Hutson Perlman. Like Arbus, Perlman, who eventually founded the management company Hutson Management, back then was just starting out. What the two fast friends discovered was that they had a talent for networking. So they decided to hold a small lunch to introduce everyone around.
"We each invited a few people -- six or eight people total -- and we had a lunch at the Plaza Hotel. We all had a wonderful time -- we learned a lot from each other," Arbus told The Journal airily. "We found ways, things that we talked about that could be helpful to each other."
Arbus and Perlman decided that if each person could recommend someone else, they'd do it again the following month, and "we could create a network," Arbus said.
Even though Arbus' motivation in doing the monthly luncheon was to "build my Rolodex," she discovered that "it would be a wonderful thing to introduce some of those terrific people I was meeting to others. In numbers we have strength."
Some early attendees included producers Lynn Roth and Caryn Mandabach.
"I met people along the way and I found that sometimes in a short period of time, the person who was nobody had now landed," Arbus said.
Those people brought other people, and month after month Arbus and Perlman invited a dozen or so women to connect each month since.
"We began to reach out to a lot of women who had clearly broken through what we didn't know was called the 'glass ceiling.' These women weren't joiners, they wouldn't have come to things that we would have met them at," Arbus said.
The luncheon began to take a shape, with some 30 percent of people they knew; 70 percent they didn't.
Over the years the luncheon has evolved -- to focus on top-level women, rather than entry-level, and to include communications professionals as well as entertainment -- but it's never been canceled. In these 27-plus years of luncheons, once a month in Los Angeles (and once in a while in New York) more than 11,000 women have attended the luncheons, including Sherry Lansing, Wallis Annenberg and Gloria Allred, to name a few.
For some, it was a great place to be in the company of other women.
"There were such good vibes in that room -- such a giving feeling among us all at what you had created," NBC writer and producer Josephine Lyons wrote in a letter of thanks to Arbus. "We all left so much richer -- for we had done what you wanted, we 'networked.'"
For others, the luncheon has brought about great career benefits and moves. For example, author Rona Jaffe, who attended the luncheons both in New York and Los Angeles, met producer Marcy Gross, who made a TV movie from one of her books.
For Arbus herself, it has reaffirmed her belief in the power of women and of strength in numbers.
Back in the days when Arbus worked for Cosmo with Helen Gurley Brown as her mentor, it was believed that if only women were in positions of power, they would help each other. But over the years, as women have indeed broken through that ceiling of glass, anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. Women do everything but help another woman.
But that's never been Arbus' experience.
"I've been challenged on it. But I swear on the Bible and the life of my little dog, I have never ever in my entire life personally and professionally interacted with women who weren't supportive, and if they hadn't been, I wasn't aware of it," Arbus insists. "I can't say that it isn't true for others. I'm no judge, but I only know my own self."
Raised Reform in New York, Arbus had the strongest feminist example laid by her mother, the first woman in New York to be accepted to the Union Theological Seminary.
"She wanted to study all the great religions of the world. And so I had exposure in rather extraordinary ways to religion," Arbus said. "I'm proud to be Jewish. Jews are extremely philanthropic and generous."
"There was always an emphasis of giving and giving back," she explained. "I was always brought up to follow my own path."