Producer Richard D. Zanuck Dies at 77
Zanuck's films ranged from "Jaws" to the Oscar-winning "Driving Miss Daisy" to "Alice in Wonderland."
Richard D. Zanuck, whose prolific producing career included best pictures Oscars for The Sting and Driving Miss Daisy, the blockbuster Jaws and such well-regarded films as The Verdict and Cocoon, died Friday of a heart attack at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 77.
More recently, Zanuck produced Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and The Book of Eli.
Regarded as one of the more progressive producers in Hollywood, Zanuck was partnered with his wife, Lili Fini Zanuck, in the Zanuck Co. Their first production was Driving Miss Daisy (1992). That Oscar-winning film also received several other top-film honors -- a Golden Globe award, the National Board of Review Award and Producer of the Year honors from the Producers Guild of America.
In 1999, Zanuck and his longtime partner, David Brown, received the Irving G. Thalberg Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It marked the first time that an honoree was a second-generation recipient – Zanuck’s father, former 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck, was a recipient of the award in 1938, 1945 and 1951. They also are the only father and son to both receive best pictures Oscars.
In a statement Friday, Steven Spielberg related a story about working with Zanuck on Jaws, the summer thriller that became the first movie to break the $100 million mark domestically.
"In 1974, Dick Zanuck and I sat in a boat off Martha's Vineyard and watched the mechanical shark sink to the bottom of the sea,” he recalled. “Dick turned to me and smiled. ‘Gee, I sure hope that's not a sign.’ That moment forged a bond between us that lasted nearly 40 years.
“He taught me everything I know about producing. He was one of the most honorable and loyal men of our profession, and he fought tooth and nail for his directors. Dick Zanuck was a cornerstone of our industry, both in name and in deed.”
At age 28, Zanuck became the youngest studio chief in history when he was appointed head of Fox in 1962. During his eight years at the helm, the studio won an impressive 159 Oscar nominations. Three of the films – The Sound of Music (1965), Patton (1970) and The French Connection (1971) – won best picture honors. Other studio successes under Zanuck’s tenure included The Planet of the Apes (1968), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and M*A*S*H (1970).
Zanuck subsequently moved from Fox to become senior executive vp at Warner Bros., where he and soon-to-be partner Brown oversaw production of such box office hits as The Exorcist (1973) and Blazing Saddles (1974).
Richard Darryl Zanuck was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 13, 1934. He graduated from Stanford and served in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of lieutenant. Upon his discharge, Zanuck went to work at Fox as a story and production assistant, working on such films as Island in the Sun (1957) and The Sun Also Rises (1957).
At age 24, he produced his first film, Compulsion (1959), which won a best actors award at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival for the ensemble of Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman. He went on to produce Sanctuary (1961) and The Chapman Report (1962) and served as vp in charge of all productions and eventually as president. However, after a heated proxy battle in 1969-70, Zanuck was removed from the presidency.
Zanuck then moved to Warners and formed the Zanuck/Brown Co. in 1971. The duo went on to become one of the film industry’s most influential producing teams and received the David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement Award from the Producers Guild in 1995.
They produced Spielberg’s first feature, The Sugarland Express (1974), as well as his second film, Jaws (1975). Zanuck/Brown also produced the Paul Newman/Robert Redford-starrer The Sting, which won seven Oscars, including best picture. They produced another Newman vehicle, The Verdict (1982), which was nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture.
In 1988, Zanuck teamed up with his wife to establish the Zanuck Co. their debut film was Driving Miss Daisy, which won four Oscars. "The hardest picture I ever had to get made was Driving Miss Daisy because it was such an unlikely project. In today's marketplace, audiences expect big summer blockbusters, and films like Planet of the Apes don't have it that tough," he once said in contrasting two of his films.
The Zanuck Co. followed up with the critically acclaimed Rush (1991) starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric and directed by Lili Fini Zanuck. Its musical score by Eric Clapton became one of the most acclaimed of the year.
The Zanuck Co. went on to produce director Ron Howard’s Cocoon (1985), and its sequel, Cocoon: The Return (1988). Subsequent productions included Mulholland Falls (1996), the 1998 box office hit Deep Impact and, with Clint Eastwood, True Crime (1999).
Zanuck and his wife also produced the 72nd annual Academy Awards telecast in 2000.
Zanuck’s other producing credits with Lili include Rich in Love (1993), which reunited them with the Miss Daisy creative team of director Bruce Beresford and writer Alfred Uhry. They also produced Wild Bill (1995). More recently, the Zanuck Co. produced Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005),Yes Man (2008) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).
In collaboration with HBO, the Zanucks were developing The Decalogue, consisting of 10 one-hour films, each based on one of The Ten Commandments of the Bible, set in contemporary Los Angeles.
In addition to his wife, Zanuck is survived by sons Harrison and Dean and nine grandchildren.
ZANUCK, Richard Daryl
Born: 12/13/1934, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Died: 7/13/2012, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Richard D. Zanuck's western - producer:
Wild Bill - 1995