PEOPLE CLOSE TO LYNDA OBST REMAIN skeptical about the Texas thing. The Manhattanites are still waiting for her inevitable return to the world of literature, politics, and journalism that she occupied before becoming a big-time movie producer. Obst’s eighteen-year-old son, Oly, is mortified by his mom’s sudden interest in the Houston Rockets after a lifetime of Los Angeles Lakers games. In Hollywood the hard-core show biz types can’t figure out why anyone would choose Texas over Aspen or Martha’s Vineyard, while Obst’s friends, accustomed to her unbridled energy and unparalleled efficiency, can’t quite reconcile those qualities with the notion of little Lynda, happy at last, in the peaceful, isolated Texas Hill Country.
Then they come to Obst’s Fredericksburg home, a four-bedroom, 124-year-old stone-and-wood retreat. They note the near absence of anything related to the movie business inside. They marvel at the birds and the wildflowers and Obst’s elaborate, lovingly maintained green-and-brown cowboy boots, the ones with the hearts over each toe. And they finally concede the point: When Obst raves about the quiet, the friendliness, and the unhurried, pressure-free pace, she means it.
Or so it seems. One leisurely afternoon not long ago, 47-year-old Obst was taking her friend and producing colleague Mary McLaglen on a shopping tour of Fred (as some Fredericksburg residents call their town). McLaglen and Obst—both compulsive, type-A personalities—routinely spar about which one of them is more capable of chilling out; as a part-time Texan, Obst figured she’d finally won. But when they arrived at the Fredericksburg Herb Farm, the sales staff snapped to attention. “Take care of that right away,” one of the clerks said to another, anticipating how fast Obst is always moving. Obst was busted: You can put the woman in Texas, but she can never entirely be of it.
She’s hardly a carpetbagger, however. Obst’s love for the state is boundless, and she has been warmly accepted by a wide circle of natives, including lifelong Fred people, Austin literati, and through her friendship with musician Joe Ely, the vast Lubbock singer-songwriter-artist-bohemian crowd. “Lynda really is a Texas girl,” says playwright Jo Carol Pierce, one of the Lubbockites. “She really is the spirit of Texas, though I’ve had to transfer ownership of one of my ex-husbands to her ’cause she didn’t feel that she had enough.”
What Obst may be lacking in divorce experience is dwarfed by the credits on her professional résumé. Part of a generation of women that includes Paramount Pictures chairman Sherry Lansing and former Columbia Pictures president Dawn Steel, Obst is one of filmdom’s best-known producers, famous for her good taste, sharp mind, and fearless temperament. She plays the standard Hollywood game, from her attention to the bottom line to her occasional cutthroat moment, but her primary allegiance is to the creative side, which means that actors, writers, and directors love her. “She’s either more passionate or smarter than anybody else, usually both,” says William Broyles, a former Texas Monthly editor in chief and the Oscar-nominated co-screenwriter of Apollo 13, who has worked with Obst on an script about the Religious Right.
“Endangered species” is how Obst lovingly refers to her type of project—the most famous example of which is 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle, a film credited with reviving the “date movie” when it grossed $130 million in a summer filled with bloated action fare. (The traditional benchmark for a decent summer hit is $100 million, though now that The Lost World made that much in five days and many movies cost that much to make, the bar is rising). Since Sleepless, studios commonly counterprogram romantic comedies against the big sequels and the action pics. Obst’s other films—there have been nine in all—include The Fisher King and last year’s One Fine Day. “I come from the simple world, where if you love the script and you can cast it and make it well and responsibly, that’s moviemaking,” Obst says. Then, mocking herself and all of Hollywood, she adds with a melodramatic flourish: “I know that sounds naive.”
If Obst has had a run of good years lately, 1997 may well be one of her best. First of all, there’s lingering positive press for Hello, He Lied: And Other Truths From the Hollywood Trenches (Little, Brown), the memoir she finished writing in Fredericksburg two years ago. Released last fall (the paperback is due out in September), it is neither an autobiography nor an ax-grinding film-and-tell. Rather, it’s a subjective but clear-eyed anthropology of the peculiar culture that is Hollywood, part nuts-and-bolts career advice and part rallying cry, especially for female readers who aspire to join Obst in the ever-growing circle of what she calls “chix in flix.” Reviewers and readers agreed that the book elevated Obst’s professional profile and also pegged her as a credibly objective show biz observer.
On the cinematic side of things, there’s Contact, a story Obst has been trying to turn into a movie for the better part of seventeen years; it opens in theaters nationwide on July 11 with a star cast (Jodie Foster and Texan Matthew McConaughey) and a megastar director (Robert Zemeckis). Contact is a prototypical Obst project: Based on the Carl Sagan novel about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, it is a work of obvious intellectual and artistic seriousness that, like Sleepless or Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump, could still be a big summer hit.
But what most excites Obst personally are her new Texas projects. She has several in the works, including The Liar’s Club, based on Mary Karr’s best-selling Texas memoir, and Above the Fold, a film bio about former Atlanta Journal and Constitution editor Bill Kovach (the screenplay is being revised by former Texas Monthly contributing editor Lawrence Wright). She is also developing a script with Jo Carol Pierce and Sharon Ely, Joe’s wife, for Tornado Jam, a film that might well be her directorial debut. Finally, though she has made movies here before (including 1994’s Bad Girls, which was shot in Bracketville), Obst is producing her first film as a