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Zanuck, Darryl F.

ZANUCK, Darryl F.

Producer and writer. Nationality: American. Born: Darryl Francis Zanuck in Wahoo, Nebraska, 5 September 1902; credited as Gregory Rogers, Melville Crossman, and Mark Canfield as writer in 1920s. Education: Page Military Academy; Manual Training High School; also studied under private tutors. Military Service: Joined Nebraska National Guard at age 15: served in France during World War I. Family: Married Virginia Fox, 1924; children: Darrylin, Susan Marie, and the producer Richard Darryl. Career: Worked as laborer, drugstore clerk, and writer; 1923–33—worked as writer, then studio manager, 1928, executive, 1929, and in charge of production, 1931, Warner Bros.; 1933—cofounder, with Joseph Schenck, 20th Century Pictures: merged with Fox, 1934, and remained President in charge of productions until 1956; then independent producer: 1962–69—returned to 20th Century-Fox as President, and Chairman and Chief Executive, 1969–71. Awards: Irving G. Thalberg Award, 1937, 1944, 1950; Academy Awards for How Green Was My Valley, 1941; Gentleman'sAgreement, 1947; All about Eve, 1950. Decorated, Legion of Honor. Died: 22 December 1979.

Films as Writer:


Find Your Man (St. Clair); Lighthouse By the Sea (St. Clair)


On Thin Ice (St. Clair); The Limited Mail (Hill); Red Hot Tires (Kenton); Hogan's Alley (Del Ruth)


The Little Irish Girl (Del Ruth); The Social Highwayman (Beaudine); Footloose Widows (Del Ruth); Across the Pacific (Del Ruth); The Better 'ole (Reisner); Oh! What a Nurse! (Reisner)


Tracked by the Police (Enright); The Missing Link (Reisner); Irish Hearts (Haskin); Old San Francisco (Crosland); The First Auto (Del Ruth); The Black Diamond Express (Bretherton); State Street Sadie (Mayo); The Desired Woman (Curtiz)


Tenderloin (Curtiz); The Midnight Taxi (Adolfi); My Man (Mayo)


Noah's Ark (Curtiz); Say It with Songs (Bacon); Madonna of Avenue A (Curtiz)


The Life of the Party (Del Ruth)


Baby Face (Green) (co)


"G" Men (Keighley) (co)


Thunderbirds (Wellman) (co)


China Girl (Hathaway) (co)

Films as Producer:


The Jazz Singer (Crosland)


Disraeli (Green)


The Office Wife (Bacon) (+ co-sc); The Doorway to Hell (Mayo)


Little Caesar (LeRoy) (+co-sc); Illicit (Mayo); The Public Enemy (Wellman); Smart Money (Green); Five Start Final (LeRoy)


The Crowd Roars (Hawks); The Mouthpiece (Flood and Nugent) (+ co-sc); The Dark Horse (Green) (+ co-sc); I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (LeRoy) (+co-sc)


42nd Street (Bacon); The Bowery (Walsh) (+ sc); Broadway Thru' a Keyhole (L. Sherman) (+ co-sc); Blood Money (Brown) (+ co-sc); Advice to the Lovelorn (Werker)


Gallant Lady (LaCava) (+ co-sc); Moulin Rouge (Lanfield); The House of Rothschild (Werker); Looking for Trouble (Wellman); Born to Be Bad (L. Sherman) (+ co-sc); Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (Del Ruth); The Affairs of Cellini (La Cava); The Last Gentleman (Lanfield) (+ co-sc); The Mighty Barnum (W. Lang) (+ co-sc)


Clive of India (Boleslawsky); Folies Bergere (Del Ruth); Cardinal Richelieu (Lee); Les Miserables (Boleslawsky);Call of the Wild (Wellman); Metropolitan (Boleslawsky); Thanks a Million (Del Ruth); The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo (Roberts); Show Them No Mercy (Marshall)


King of Burlesque (Lanfield); The Prisoner of Shark Island (Ford); Professional Soldier (Garnett); It Had to Happen (Del Ruth); The Country Doctor (H. King); A Message to Garcia (Marshall); Captain January (Butler); Under Two Flags (Lloyd); Half Angel (Lanfield); White Fang (Butler); Sins of Man (Brower and Ratoff); The Road to Glory (Hawks); Sing Baby, Sing (Lanfield); Lloyds of London (H. King); Pigskin Parade (Butler)


In Old Chicago (H. King); Happy Landing (Del Ruth); Kidnapped (Werker) (+ co-sc); Little Miss Broadway (Cummings) (+ co-sc); I'll Give a Million (W. Lang); Alexander's Ragtime Band (H. King) (+ co-sc); Josette (Dwan); Three Blind Mice (Seiter); Hold That Co-Ed (Marshall); Suez (Dwan); Submarine Patrol (Ford); Straight, Place and Show (Butler); Just Around the Corner (Cummings); Thanks for Everything (Seiter); Kentucky (Butler


Jesse James (H. King); Tail Spin (Del Ruth); The Little Princess (W. Lang); The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (Cummings) (+ co-sc); Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford); Susannah of the Mounties (Seiter); The Gorilla (Dwan); Second Fiddle (Lanfield); Wife, Husband, and Friend (Ratoff); Stanley and Livingstone (H. King); Hotel for Women (Ratoff); Hollywood Cavalcade (Cummings) (+ co-sc); Drums along the Mohawk (Ford); Daytime Wife (Ratoff); The Return of the Cisco Kid (Leeds); Rose of Washington Square (Ratoff); The Rains Came (Brown)


Swanee River (Lanfield); The Blue Bird (W. Lang); Little Old New York (H. King); The Grapes of Wrath (Ford); Chad Hanna (H. King); Johnny Apollo (Hathaway); He Married His Wife (Del Ruth); Star Dust (W. Lang); I Was an Adventuress (Ratoff); Lillian Russell (Cummings); Four Sons (Mayo); Maryland (H. King); The Man I Married (Pichel); Public Debt No. 1 (Ratoff) (+ co-sc); The Return of Frank James (F. Lang); Brigham Young—Frontiersman (Hathaway); Down Argentine Way (Cummings) (+co-sc); The Great Profile (W. Lang)


Tobacco Road (Ford); Blood and Sand (Mamoulian); A Yank in the R.A.F. (H. King); How Green Was My Valley (Ford)


Son of Fury (Cromwell); To the Shores of Tripoli (Humberstone); This above All (Litvak); The Pied Piper (Pichel)


At the Front (doc)


Lifeboat (Hitchcock) (co); The Song of Bernadette (H. King); The Purple Heart (Milestone); Wilson (H. King); Laura (Preminger); Winged Victory (Cukor)


Dragonwyck (Mankiewicz); The Razor's Edge (Goulding); My Darling Clementine (Ford)


Gentleman's Agreement (Kazan)


Pinky (Kazan)


Twelve O'Clock High (H. King)


David and Bathsheba (H. King); People Will Talk (Mankiewicz)


Viva Zapata! (Kazan); The Snows of Kilimanjaro (H. King)


The Egyptian (Curtiz); The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (Johnson)


Island in the Sun (Rossen); The Sun Also Rises (H. King)


The Roots of Heaven (Huston)



Crack in the Mirror (Fleischer)


The Big Gamble (Fleischer)


The Longest Day (Annakin, Marton, and Wicki)


Cleopatra (Mankiewicz) (replaced Wanger)


Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (Annakin)


Hello and Goodbye (Negulesco) (+ sc, as Canfield)

Films as Executive Producer:


Coney Island (W. Lang)


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Kazan); The House on 92nd Street (Hathaway); Diamond Horseshoe (Seaton)


13 Rue Madeleine (Hathaway); Boomerang (Kazan); Miracle on 34th Street (Seaton); Kiss of Death (Hathaway); Mother Wore Tights (W. Lang)


The Snake Pit (Litvak); Unfaithfully Yours (P. Sturges); Call Northside 777 (Hathaway); Sitting Pretty (W. Lang); When My Baby Smiles at Me (W. Lang)


A Letter to Three Wives (Mankiewicz); Yellow Sky (Wellman)


The Gunfighter (H. King); No Way Out (Mankiewicz); All about Eve (Mankiewicz); Mister 880 (Goulding)


Five Fingers (Mankiewicz); The Robe (Koster)


Tora! Tora! Tora! (Fleischer)


By ZANUCK: articles—

"Hollywood v. Communism," in Films and Filming (London), June 1961.

"A Blank Cheque for the Real Thing," in Films and Filming (London), November 1962.

"The Future of the Film Industry," with David Levin in Today's Cinema, 8 October 1969.

Film Francais (Paris), October 1970.

On ZANUCK: books—

Guild, Leo, Zanuck, Hollywood's Last Tycoon, Los Angeles, 1970.

Gussow, Mel, Don't Say Yes Until I Finish Talking: A Biography of Darryl F. Zanuck, New York, 1971.

Mosley, Leonard, Zanuck: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood's Last Tycoon, Boston, Massachusetts, 1984.

Silverman, Stephen M., The Fox That Got Away, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1988.

Solomon, Aubrey, Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, London, 1988.

Harris, Marlys J., The Zanucks of Hollywood, London, 1990.

Behlmer, Rudy, editor, Memo From Darryl F. Zanuck, New York, 1993.

On ZANUCK: articles—

Films and Filming (London), January 1959.

Zierold, Norman, in The Moguls, New York, 1969.

Bielecki, Stanley, in Films and Filming (London), August 1969.

Canham, Kingsley, in Screen (London), January-February 1970.

Quarterly Review of Film Studies (Pleasantville, New York), Winter 1978.

Cinématographe (Paris), May 1984.

Films (New York), July 1984.

Télérama (Paris), 16–22 March 1985.

Positif (Paris), April 1985.

Wiseman, J.B., "Darryl F. Zanuck and the failure of One World," in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television (Abingdon, Oxfordshire), vol. 7, no. 3, 1987.

Films in Review (New York), February 1989.

Film Comment (New York), July-August 1989.

Library Journal, 1 November 1993.

Europe, May 1994.

Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1994.

Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television (Abingdon), October 1994.

"De Luxe Tour," in Reid's Film Index (Wyong), no. 17, 1995.

Dossier, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1997.

* * *

Darryl F. Zanuck ranks as one of the most famous, long-lived of Hollywood's movie moguls, earning the Thalberg Award a record three times. He is properly celebrated for helping revive and create Twentieth Century-Fox, and functioned as its chief of production from the mid-1930s until the mid-1950s, and then again, after a stint as an independent producer, through much of the 1960s. With the exception of the years during the Second World War, when he served as a lieutenant colonel in charge of a documentary filmmaking unit, no studio executive's power exceeded Zanuck's.

Zanuck took a rare and strange route to Hollywood power. He began as a writer, and during the confusion caused by the coming of sound at his then employer Warner Bros. found himself in charge of production—at age 27! But Zanuck quickly chaffed under the scrutiny of brother Jack L.Warner who had all final decision power, and in a celebrated huff left and fashioned his own company—with partner Joseph M. Schenck. Two years later Schenck and Zanuck merged their Twentieth Century Pictures into a near bankrupt Fox Film company.

Zanuck took over as production chief at the ailing Fox studio during the summer of 1935. He inherited only two important stars (Shirley Temple and Janet Gaynor) while bringing along three from Twentieth Century Pictures (Frederic March, Ronald Colman, and Loretta Young). Zanuck then developed an extraordinary set of stars who pulled the new Twentieth Century-Fox from the depths of the industry to it apex.

The first of these new talents was skater Sonja Henie whose first film, One in a Million (1936), proved to be an unexpected smash hit. Henie remained a major star until she left Fox in 1943. Alice Faye and Tyrone Power came next. For In Old Chicago (1938), they teamed the pair who would bring in millions into Fox's coffers. But it was Betty Grable, filmed in Technicolor, which made Twentieth Century-Fox a true power house studio operation, a Hollywood colossus second to none. Too long unappreciated these Zanuck-produced Grable spectacles should rank among the most popular films of the Golden Age of Hollywood, in particular Coney Island, Diamond Horseshoe, and Mother Wore Tights. After serving his country in the Second World War, Zanuck moved Twentieth Century-Fox in a far different direction that the Technicolor fluff of Betty Grable and company. Based on his war experience, he authorized a series of films dealing with important social themes, from racism in America to the cruelty of mental hospitals. And they made money, all of them, including the much celebrated and honored Gentlemen's Agreement, Pinky, and The Snake Pit. But like many of the moguls from the Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s, Zanuck had little success in dealing with television. It was new corporate boss at Fox, Spyros Skouras, not Zanuck, who moved the studio into CinemaScope as the corporate technological savior. In 1956 Zanuck left Fox after two decades, and entered independent production. The Sun Also Rises, The Roots of Heaven, and Crack in the Mirror made him little money. He did not hit the jackpot until 1962 with his The Longest Day. The early 1960s nearly proved the unmaking of the Fox studio, and so the board of directors kicked out Skouras and his management team, and brought back Zanuck. Zanuck his son, Richard (age 28), in charge of day-today production and together the Zanucks did well for a time, principally on the strength of a single mega-hit, The Sound of Music. But Hollywood was changing and based on excess spending and declining attendance, the board that hired Zanuck, kicked him out. An era had ended at one of Hollywood's major studios.

—Douglas Gomery

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Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979) produced some of the most important and controversial films in Hollywood. He co-founded 20th Century-Fox studios and helped entertain moviegoers as a producer for over 50 years. Three of his films won Academy Awards for best motion picture and many more received nominations.

Zanuck was born on September 5, 1902 in Wahoo, Nebraska, the son of an alcoholic hotel clerk, Frank Zanuck, and Louise Torpin. His parents quarreled often about Frank's drinking and gambling. Soon after a huge fight with his father over her promiscuity with a traveling salesman, Louise Zanuck left the family and moved to Arizona. Her son moved in with his grandparents, the Torpins. After his mother remarried and moved to California, his father left town without telling young Zanuck. Rejoining his mother and new stepfather, Joseph Norton, in California, Zanuck became part of an abusive, dysfunctional family. Norton was a violent alcoholic who beat his wife and flung Zanuck across the room when he tried to protect his mother. Norton insisted that Zanuck be enrolled at a military academy. The boy was eight years old. Zanuck was so bored and lonely there that he began running away. On the streets of Los Angeles he ran into his father, who convinced him to return to the academy and began taking him to movies twice a week. But one day his father failed to show up for their visit. Zanuck never saw or heard from him again.

Wandering the streets of Los Angeles looking for his father, Zanuck was picked up by the police and brought to his mother. She made it clear she did not want her 12-year-old son around and shipped him back to Nebraska to be raised by his Torpin grandparents. When he was 15, Zanuck lied about his age and joined the U.S. Army. There he began boxing as a flyweight, but never saw battle. Returning to Nebraska after the war, Zanuck told his grandmother that he was going to California to rejoin his mother. She bought him a bus ticket and gave him a hundred dollars for emergencies. At the age of 17, Zanuck arrived in Pasadena with no intention of seeing his mother. He had one goal in mind: to become a writer.

A Dream Come True

Zanuck sold his first story to a pulp fiction magazine and then decided to sell the story to a film studio. His girlfriend suggested he join the Los Angeles Athletic Club to make contacts with movie people. When Zanuck attempted to join, however, he was rejected. He had been blackballed because people thought he was Jewish (he was not), and the club did not admit Jews. Zanuck later used the experience to produce the Academy Award winning, Gentleman's Agreement, Hollywood's first film dealing with anti-Semitism.

At the age of 19, Zanuck wrote and sold his first Hollywood screenplay. At age 20 he became a gag writer for Mack Sennet and later for Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. Working for Warner Brothers, Zanuck wrote the scripts for the highly popular Rin Tin Tin movies, which starred a German shepherd. At 23, Zanuck became head of production for Warner Brothers. Two years later he produced the movie The Jazz Singer, often called the first "talkie" or movie with sound. In reality it was a silent movie with several sound musical and talking sequences, but it brought about the end of the silent film era and changed the nature of the film industry forever. Leonard Mosley, author of Zanuck: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood's Last Tycoon, called the movie, "probably the most momentous movie in the history of the motion picture industry." Zanuck added sound to all his subsequent movies. The new talking pictures made Warner Brothers the most successful studio in Hollywood.

Zanuck made another wise choice when he cast James Cagney, a song-and-dance man, in the starring role in The Public Enemy, a gangster movie released in 1931. Zanuck came up with the idea for the famous "grapefruit scene" in which Cagney pushes half a grapefruit into his girlfriend's face. Although very successful, critics attacked the film as immoral.

Zanuck married an actress named Virginia Fox in 1924. The couple's new financial security led Virginia Zanuck to decide that the time was now right for starting a family. In 1931, she gave birth to Darrylin and had a second daughter, Susan, two years later. Richard was born in 1934. Although it was very unusual at the time, Darryl Zanuck was present at the birth of all his children, whom he adored. Marriage, for Zanuck, did not include fidelity. He is said to have had numerous affairs with actresses.

A New Venture

In April 1933, after Zanuck realized he would never be more than an employee at Warner Brothers, he left to form 20th Century Films with Joseph Schenck and William Goetz. The new studio made many successful films such as The Bowery and Call of the Wild.. The studio's biggest money-maker was The House of Rothschild, about a wealthy Jewish family from Vienna, and the anti-Semitism they experienced. The movie was controversial at the time because the Nazis had just come to power in Germany. The House of Rothschild cemented Zanuck's reputation as Hollywood's boldest and most enterprising producer.

The Birth of 20th Century-Fox

Feeling frustrated with the distribution of their films, Schenck and Zanuck engineered the merger of their studio with Fox Films, which had the best distribution in the industry and a chain of movie theaters across the U.S. The new studio was called 20th Century-Fox, and Zanuck was vice president in charge of production. Through the merger Zanuck gained some big-name stars, such as Shirley Temple, Will Rogers, and Janet Gaynor. Zanuck was considered the most hands-on of the major studio moguls, exhibiting great talent in re-making movies in the cutting room. Besides making hundreds of routine pictures, Zanuck also produced several films based on liberal causes, such as The Grapes of Wrathand Wilson. He continued making films on controversial subjects, such as Gentlemen's Agreement and Pinky. Many of his movies were sentimental, content-rich dramas such as the Academy Award winning, How Green Was My Valley and Twelve O'Clock High.

After more than three decades together, Zanuck's wife threw him out of the house when she learned he was having an affair with Bella Darvi. Zanuck gave up day-to-day control of the studio and went to Paris with Darvi. There he started an independent film company. Many of his later films made in Europe were produced in part to help the careers of his mistresses-Darvi, Juliette Greco, Irina Demick and Genevieve Gilles. None of these actresses were popular with directors, critics, or audiences and most of the movies he made there failed, with the exception of The Longest Day. Darvi accumulated large gambling debts and eventually committed suicide. Zanuck had a stroke in Paris and was depressed and alone.

Leadership Tensions

In 1962, Zanuck returned as president of 20th Century-Fox. He appointed his son, Richard, head of production at the Hollywood studio. Although the headquarters of the company was in New York, Zanuck continued living in France. Tensions arose between father and son over the making of the movie Patton. In 1969, the board of 20th Century-Fox suggested that Richard become president of the company and Darryl become chairman of the board. Zanuck agreed to the change, but later felt he had been manipulated. In December 1970, Zanuck got his revenge. He coldly and cruelly humiliated his son at a board of directors meeting and replaced Richard as president of the company with himself. Virginia Zanuck, outraged at her husband's behavior, threw her support and 100,000 shares of stock behind a group of dissident shareholders, who had grown tired of Zanuck's penchant for mingling business with pleasure.

The Bitter End

In May 1971, the board of directors of 20th Century-Fox forced Zanuck out. His health deteriorated, leading to hospitalization. Richard began visiting his father and the two reconciled. Zanuck and his girlfriend, Genevieve Gilles, went to his home in Palm Springs so that he could recover. Much to their surprise, Virginia Zanuck had left her Santa Monica home and had gone to Palm Springs to await the return of her husband. Gilles was thrown out. Virginia and Darryl celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in January 1974 with a few friends and family members.

Zanuck's death on December 22, 1979 in Palm Springs, California, ignited a feud over his will. Gilles was outraged to learn that she would inherit nothing and tried to fight the will in court. In October 1982, Virginia Zanuck died of a lung infection complicated by emphysema. Richard was shocked to learn that she had virtually cut his two sons out of her will. Richard tried to fight the will, but he and his sister settled the matter out of court.

Milton Sperling, one of Zanuck's employees, wrote in a letter, "His vulgarity made me laugh, as it was intended to. His cruelty impressed me with its manliness. His insatiable appetites awed me. … He was a role model and in unconsciously emulating him, I caused myself no end of trouble.… He loved film, made instant decisions, encouraged talent. He'd deride today's committee-ridden, computer-oriented, agent-accountant management apparatus." Darryl Zanuck's death ended the era of the all-powerful Hollywood movie mogul.

Further Reading

Mosley, Leonard, Zanuck: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood's Last Tycoon, Little Brown, 1984.

Money, July 1985.

"Biography for Darryl F. Zanuck," Internet Movie Database, (February 24, 1999). □

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Zanuck, Darryl Francis

Darryl Francis Zanuck, 1902–79, American movie producer, b. Wahoo, Nebr. Beginning his Hollywood career as a scriptwriter, he was hired (1924) by Warner Brothers and made a name for himself penning scripts for Rin Tin Tin dog epics. By 1927 he was an executive producer, initiating the sound era with his production of The Jazz Singer (1927) and responsible for such other classics as Little Caesar (1930), The Public Enemy (1931), and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932). In 1933 Zanuck cofounded Twentieth Century Films and after it merged (1935) with Fox he became head of production for the new Twentieth Century–Fox. Of all the movie magnates he was probably the most involved with his studio's products, taking an active part in creative and editorial processes. Among the most notable films created during his tenure were The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), Twelve O'Clock High (1949), and All about Eve (1950). He left Fox in 1956 to become an independent producer in Europe, but returned to the studio as its president in 1962, restoring its prosperity with such hits as The Longest Day (1962) and The Sound of Music (1965). The last of the studio tycoons, Zanuck retired in 1971.

See R. Behmer, ed., Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century-Fox (1993); biographies by M. Gussow (1971, repr. 1983), L. Mosley (1985), S. M. Silverman (1988), M. J. Harris (1989), and G. F. Custin (1997).

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