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In the TCM original documentary about Oscar®-winning producer/film executive Richard D. Zanuck, Don't Say No Until I Finish Talking (2013), Clint Eastwood describes the film's subject as "A dream producer to work with as an actor or director, because he just sort of makes things comfortable." Director Steven Spielberg says that "Dick was a fantastic support system for me. All he did was show up all the time, every day - on the set, in meetings, all the time - he was there." Actor Johnny Depp adds that, "If you want to be in this business and you want to be a producer and you want to do it right, I would suggest that you study Richard Zanuck."
The documentary, executive-produced by Spielberg, was written, directed and produced by Laurent Bouzereau through Spielberg's Amblin Television, and had its world premiere last month at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival. It features comments by Zanuck, who recalls his childhood on the 20th Century Fox lot as well as his later career, which would include a stint as production chief at that studio during the time of such hits as The Sound of Music (1965) and Patton (1970), as well as a distinguished career as an independent producer. Also interviewed are Zanuck's wife (now widow), Lili Fini Zanuck; other directors including Ron Howard, William Friedkin and Tim Burton; actors Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman and Michelle Pfeiffer; producer Sherry Lansing; and other colleagues.
Zanuck (1934-2012) was the son of one of the most colorful studio moguls in Hollywood history - 20th Century Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck - and his wife, former actress Virginia Fox. In the documentary he recalls his colorful childhood, when "Orson Welles used to come to the house a great deal, and do magic tricks for me... I had snowball fights with Ernest Hemingway in Sun Valley." His father also was friendly with President Dwight D. Eisenhower and presidential nominee Wendell Willkie. Young Richard routinely mixed with Hollywood celebrities; a young Elizabeth Taylor came to one of his birthday parties. "So I wasn't intimidated ever in my life by the magic or power of stardom."
A natural athlete and medal-winning swimmer, Zanuck worked summers at the studio, often in the editing room and the story department, where his father would involve him in conferences. "Looking back on it," he says in the documentary, "the other people in the room must have hated my guts." In 1959, the younger Zanuck had his first opportunity to produce a film, Compulsion, starring Orson Welles. He says his father told him, "You know I had it a lot easier than you will have it. You have to overcome the circumstances of your birth. You carry baggage with you - I am the baggage you carry."
In the 1960s, after a series of ups and downs at 20th Century Fox, Darryl Zanuck recovered power and was installed as chairman of the studio. Richard Zanuck recalls that his father asked him for a list of possible names to be appointed president of the company, and Richard submitted a piece of paper that read only, "Me." After being appointed studio head, the younger Zanuck saw 20th rise again to prominence with the Best Picture Oscar winners The Sound of Music, Patton and The French Connection (1971); and such other hits as Planet of the Apes (1968) , Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and M*A*S*H (1970). But box-office failures, including such would-be blockbusters as Dr. Dolittle (1967), Star! (1968) and Hello, Dolly! (1969) meant that the studio was deeply in debt. Just before Christmas in 1970, Richard Zanuck was fired by his father. Richard says that, because of this, he and Darryl had "a feud that lasted about a year." In the meantime, Darryl himself also was relieved of his job.
In 1972, after a brief tenure at Warner Bros., Zanuck partnered with David Brown to form The Zanuck/Brown Company at Universal Pictures. This independent production company produced such hits as the early Spielberg films The Sugarland Express (1974) and Jaws (1975, the biggest moneymaker of all films to that time); the Best Picture Oscar winner The Sting (1973); and Ron Howard's Cocoon (1985). In 1990 the two men were jointly awarded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, which had previously been won by Zanuck's father, making it a special source of pride to Richard. Darryl Zanuck died in 1979 at age 77.
In 1988, Richard Zanuck and his wife formed The Zanuck Company. Their first production, Driving Miss Daisy (1989), became another Best Picture winner. Lili Fini Zanuck directed Rush (1991) for the company, which also produced a series of six films directed by Tim Burton beginning with a remake of Planet of the Apes (2001) and concluding with Dark Shadows (2012).
Zanuck had two sons, Harrison and Dean. Explaining the title of the documentary, Harrison says that his grandfather was famous for exclaiming, "Don't say yes until I finish talking!" because he was surrounded by "yes" men. The opposite phrasing occurred to Richard Zanuck during Driving Miss Daisy because, he said, "You could see 'No' on their faces as soon as you sat down." Zanuck saw the documentary about himself on July 10, 2012, and said, "I am exceedingly pleased and a little stunned... It is of course something my family and I will treasure forever." Three days later he died of a heart attack at his home in Beverly Hills.
By: Roger Fristoe