125 Influential People and Ideas
Wendy Finerman

1896

Through a Wharton fellowship, W.E.B. DuBois undertook his classic study of the social and economic conditions of urban blacks.

Oscar-Winning Producer

Wendy Finerman, W’82

Wendy Finerman’s dogged nine-year campaign to make Forrest Gump has become the stuff of Hollywood lore: While still in her 20s, Finerman found the story of the slow-witted Gump and knew she needed to bring it to the screen.

But no one — not actors, directors, agents, or studios — shared her interest. Finerman persevered, eventually finding a screenwriter who wove the book’s episodic and unconventional narrative into a cohesive story — a screenplay that caught the attention of actor Tom Hanks, who agreed to star. And in 1994, nine years after she started the project, Forrest Gump hit the big screen. It went on to win six Oscars, including Finerman’s for producing a film that moved so many.

Finerman persevered, eventually finding a screenwriter who wove the book’s episodic and unconventional nature into a cohesive story.

“Did I get discouraged?” she told the New York Times. “Absolutely. Was it frustrating? Absolutely. But as soon as I got that script I knew, with certainty, that the time had come for Forrest Gump’s story to be told.”

Unlike most of her Wharton classmates who headed to Wall Street after graduation, Finerman started her career in entertainment at The Movie Channel in New York. She later went west to become a business affairs executive for Universal Television. Finerman joined Steve Tisch Productions as vice president of production and development in 1985, where she came across the galleys for Winston Groom’s novel Forrest Gump.

Today Finerman runs Wendy Finerman Productions and has produced such popular films as The Fan, Stepmom, Drumline, and the British-Academy-award-winning Fairy Tale: A True Story. Most recently, she put her determination into the 2006 hit, The Devil Wears Prada. She optioned the treatment by Lauren Weisberger inexpensively before it became a surprise bestseller, shepherded the script through numerous writers, championed the hiring of first-time film director David Frankel, and lured star Meryl Streep into a project with a modest $35 million production budget. The resulting film earned more than $330 million in worldwide box office and nabbed a Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination for Streep’s devilish comic turn. Her latest project is P.S., I Love You, starring Hilary Swank, to be released in 2008.

Finerman served on Wharton’s Undergraduate Executive Board for over a decade and is helping to generate excitement among her classmates for their 25th reunion.