Movie mogul Dawn Steel, the first woman to head a major film studio, died of a brain tumor Saturday night. Her death at age 51 followed a two-year illness.

"She made it ultimately a matter of fact that a woman could run a studio by being one of the first and taking all of the slings and arrows for the rest of us," producer Lynda Obst said of the pioneering Hollywood player.

In 1987, Steel, as tough and fearless as her name implied, started to call the shots as president of Columbia Pictures. She left Columbia two years later, when it was purchased by Sony Corp.

"My reputation was such that when I had dinner with [President] Clinton he looked at me and said, 'You're not as bad as I thought you'd be. You're just straightforward,'" Steel told the Los Angeles Times in l993.

Born in New York City, Steel worked for Penthouse magazine as a merchandising director and created her own company selling "designer" toilet paper and "Penis Plants," before joining Paramount Pictures in l978. There, she proved her worth creating marketing tie-ins for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. She was promoted to vice president of production in l980 and then, in l985, was upped to title of production chief, overseeing slick, high-concept hits like Flashdance, Top Gun and Fatal Attraction.

In 1987, she replaced British producer David Puttman in the top job at Columbia. During her tenure, the company's successes included When Harry Met Sally.

After leaving Columbia, she formed the production company Atlas Entertainment in partnership with her husband, Charles Roven. The final two films she helped produce--the supernatural thriller Fallen, starring Denzel Washington, and the romantic drama City of Angels, with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan--will be released next year.

(UPDATED at 12:10 pm on 12/22/97)

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