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Overview for Richard D. Zanuck
Richard D. Zanuck

Richard D. Zanuck


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Also Known As: Richard Darryl Zanuck,Richard Zanuck Died: July 13, 2012
Born: December 13, 1934 Cause of Death: Heart Attack
Birth Place: Los Angeles, California, USA Profession: Producer ... executive producer


Though born into Hollywood royalty, producer Richard Zanuck frequently acted like a maverick, tackling offbeat, seemingly unfilmable projects and spinning them into box office gold. Zanuck began his career as the head of production for his father, legendary producer Darryl F. Zanuck, at 20th Century Fox, where he oversaw such classics as "The Sound of Music" (1965), "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969), "Patton" (1970) and "The French Connection" (1971). But following a spate of costly failures, he lost his job and was forced out on his own in the early 1970s. Teaming with fellow Fox expatriate David Brown, he set up The Zanuck/Brown Company and had a huge hit with "The Sting" (1973), which paved the way for successful collaborations with Steven Spielberg on "The Sugarland Express" (1974) and "Jaws" (1975). He went on to produce such acclaimed films as "The Verdict" (1982), "Cocoon" (1985) - in partnership with wife Lili Fini Zanuck - and "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989), which earned him an Academy Award. Following a decade plagued by misfires like "Clean Slate" (1994) and "Chain Reaction" (1996), Zanuck returned to form with "Road to Perdition" (2002), and had continued success in collaboration with Tim Burton on "Big Fish" (2003) and "Alice in Wonderland" (2010). Thanks to both his pedigree and exemplary track record, Zanuck was an enduring figure in the Hollywood community who was both greatly admired and respected.

Born in Los Angeles on Dec. 13, 1934, Richard Darryl Zanuck was the youngest of three children born to Darryl F. Zanuck, the legendary studio chief of 20th Century Fox, and his wife, Virginia Fox. His father's prominence in the entertainment business assured his son a storybook childhood, including birthday parties attended by Shirley Temple and play dates with stars like Jack Palance. However, the opulence of his family's lifestyle did not make up for an undercurrent of turmoil that flowed between his parents, thanks to the senior Zanuck being a notorious philanderer with a well-worn casting couch. After studies at Harvard Military Academy and service in the U.S. Army, Zanuck returned to California to begin studies at Stanford University. While there, he began his tenure at Fox in the story department, and by 1956 he was vice president of Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, where he assisted his father on such hits as "Islands in the Sun" (1956), "The Sun Also Rises" (1957) and the epic World War II drama "The Longest Day" (1962).

During that time, Zanuck made his solo debut as producer on "Compulsion" (1959), a stark adult courtroom drama based on the real-life Leopold and Loeb case, with Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell as the ersatz killers and Orson Welles as their defense attorney. A modest success after netting Best Actor awards at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, the film was followed by two equally minor, but press worthy features, 1961's "Sanctuary," based on the stark novel by William Faulkner, and "The Chapman Report" (1964), which drew inspiration from the Irving Wallace novel about the Kinsey Reports. By the time of the release of "The Chapman Report," which was drastically re-edited after complaints from the Legion of Decency, Zanuck had moved to the executive suites at Fox, where he served as head of production from 1965 to 1970. Under his aegis, the studio netted 150 Oscars, including Best Pictures for "The Sound of Music" (1965), "Patton" (1970) and "The French Connection" (1971), and oversaw such box office hits as "Planet of the Apes" (1968), "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) and "M*A*S*H" (1970).

Unfortunately, these windfalls were offset by numerous misfires, including such costly failures as "Doctor Doolittle" (1967) and "Hello, Dolly!" (1969). Meanwhile, still reeling from the disaster of "Cleopatra" (1963), Zanuck's father was forced to fire his son to appease stockholders. The young Zanuck shouldered the potentially humiliating situation with dignity, citing his father as his most significant role model in the film industry. A brief stint as senior executive vice president at Warner Bros. left Zanuck wondering if he was meant to work in motion pictures. His passion was rekindled, however, after an encounter with David Brown, another former Fox executive whom he had befriended at the beginning of his career. Together they formed an independent company, Zanuck/Brown Productions, in partnership with Universal Pictures in 1972. Almost immediately, they scored as executive producers with "The Sting" (1973), a period comedy about a pair of Depression Era conmen that reunited Zanuck with his "Butch Cassidy" stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The film netted seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and launched Zanuck/Brown as a serious contender in the movie industry.

Just as Zanuck differed from most movie producers by being present on his sets throughout the shoot, his company was set apart from others by virtue of its adventurous outlook. They took risks on films, hiring unknown directors like Steven Spielberg, whose first feature, "The Sugarland Express" (1974), was made with Zanuck and Brown. The pair remembered him when their director for an adaptation of Peter Benchley's thriller "Jaws" (1975) dropped out, and the resulting film was not only an Oscar nominee for Best Picture, but also a launching pad for Spielberg as a dominant force in the industry. But not every experiment worked, however, as "The Island" (1980), based on another Benchley novel, was an expensive flop. The same went for the biopic "MacArthur" (1977) starring Gregory Peck and the John Belushi-Dan Akyroyd comedy "Neighbors" (1981), both of which were box office failures. But success outweighed the down points thanks to films like "The Verdict" (1982), which netted another a Best Picture nod, and the Ron Howard fantasy "Cocoon" (1985), which also saw a pair of Academy Award nominations. The latter film was brought to Zanuck and Brown by the former's third wife, Lili Fini Zanuck, who became a partner in the company and one of its shrewdest executives in the industry.

Though Brown and Zanuck eventually dissolved the company, both him and the Zanucks remained close over the years. Zanuck went on to produce his first film under his new umbrella, "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989), a film based on the Alfred Uhry play. Passed on by just about every company in town because of its central relationship between an elderly white woman (Jessica Tandy) and her black chauffeur (Morgan Freeman), Zanuck displayed his old willingness to take risks and turned a dismissed project into an Oscar-winning Best Picture. Two years later, Zanuck shared with Brown the honor of being given the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. But the Zanuck Company's output in the 1990s started to falter with the largely ignored addiction drama "Rush" (1991), which marked Lili Zanuck's directorial debut, and the easily dismissible Dana Carvey comedy "Clean Slate" (1994). He earned modest returns and some critical acclaim from the "Chinatown"-like neo-noir "Mulholland Falls" (1996), but stumbled with the Keanu Reeves-Morgan Freeman action thriller "Chain Reaction" (1996). Following a significant box office hit with "Deep Impact" (1998) - one of two asteroid-imperiling-the-Earth flicks that year - Zanuck partnered with Clint Eastwood on the understated crime drama "True Crime" (1999) and William Friedkin on the military courtroom drama "The Rules of Engagement" (2000), starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson.

Having found some of his best success in collaboration with top directors, Zanuck entered into a fruitful partnership with Tim Burton starting with the successful, but not entirely pleasing remake of "Planet of the Apes" (2001). Before he continued his work with Burton, Zanuck produced "The Road to Perdition" (2002), which starred Tom Hanks as a morally conflicted Depressoin-era hit man who goes on the run with his young son after bearing witness to murder by his aging boss (Paul Newman). Following the rather silly fantasy flick, "Reign of Fire" (2002), where dragons are suddenly brought out of hibernation in modern-day London, Zanuck resumed his work with Burton on a string of critical and box office hits with the fantastical "Big Fish" (2003) with Ewan McGregor, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (2005), the Golden Globe-nominated "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (2007) and the international box office hit "Alice in Wonderland" (2010). All of these projects were produced under the Zanuck Company's production deal with DreamWorks, which was launched in 2000. Away from Burton, Zanuck produced the Jim Carrey comedy "Yes Man" (2008) and the much-maligned remake of "Clash of the Titans" (2010). He went on to produce what amounted to be his final film, "Dark Shadows" (2012), a horror comedy directed by Burton and based on the campy cult TV show from the 1960s. On July 13, 2012, sudden news of Zanuck's death stunned Hollywood when it was revealed he had suffered from a heart attack that morning. He was 77 years old and left behind a legacy as one of cinema's most prominent filmmakers.

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