Beyond Vassar

Making the List: Alumnae Among 100 Most Influential

By Peter Bronski

In May TIME magazine unveiled its 8th annual “TIME 100” list, a roundup of “the world’s most influential people.” It is a list that includes media mogul Oprah Winfrey, President Barack Obama, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The list also includes two Vassar alumnae: Rebecca Eaton ’69 and Hung Huang ’84.

Rebecca Eaton ’69

For more than 25 years, Eaton—an English major at Vassar—has held the title of executive producer at Masterpiece (formerly Masterpiece Theatre), the popular drama series on PBS. Her interest in British and Irish drama dates at least to her time on campus, when she wrote her senior thesis on James Joyce’s The Dubliners. She worked at the BBC in London for more than a year before returning to the U.S. and eventually joined WGBH in Boston in 1972, one year after Masterpiece Theatre aired its first episodes. (This year marks its 40th anniversary.)

During her tenure at Masterpiece, Eaton has produced shows including Inspector Morse, A Very British Coup, The Ginger Tree, and Bleak House. She green-lighted House of Cards with Ian Richardson, Prime Suspect with Helen Mirren, and guided Masterpiece’s foray into feature films with Persuasion and Academy Award–nominated Mrs. Brown with Judi Dench.

Such programming has garnered Masterpiece 51 Emmy Awards and more than 20 Peabody Awards. More than 20 Emmys and most of the Peabodys were for Eaton and her projects. In 2008 the Boston native breathed new life into Masterpiece, breaking the show into three themed programs—classic, mystery, and contemporary—and maintained Masterpiece’s core audience while drawing in a new generation of younger viewers with programming such as The Complete Jane Austen.

Hung Huang ’84

Hung has proven herself a media powerhouse of a different sort, bridging her native China with the West. She melds an American media perspective and attitude with an understanding of the nuances of Chinese culture and media, which has struck a chord, especially among the younger generation.

Her mother, Zhang Hanzhi, was Chinese political leader Mao Zedong’s English teacher and favored interpreter. Hung first traveled with her mother to the United States when Mao met with President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s. She later returned to attend high school and then attended Vassar as a political science major.

Though several women have held the moniker “China’s Oprah,” the Wall Street Journal says Hung fits the title best. She is CEO of the China Interactive Media Group, leader of Chinese fashion magazine I-Look (which predates the Chinese editions of Vogue and Cosmopolitan), a former television talk show host, former radio host, published author, entrepreneur, and popular blogger with millions of followers.

CNN has likened her to Anna Wintour, the legendary editor of Vogue. TIME tapped fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg to pen Hung’s entry in its 100 list.

The outspoken, often-satirical Hung has emerged as a powerful voice in China, carefully navigating a slowly growing freedom in the Chinese media while still respecting certain traditional and official boundaries of acceptable coverage.