Zanuck, Richard D.

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ZANUCK, Richard D.

Producer, Production Executive. Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, 13 December 1934, the son of studio executive Darryl F. Zanuck. Family: Married 1) Lili Gentle (divorced), daughters Virginia and Janet; 2) Linda Harrison (divorced), sons Harrison and Dean; 3) producer/director Lili Fini. Education: Stanford University. Career: Worked in the story department of 20th Century Fox, his father's studio, while a college student; 1956—became vice president in charge of U.S. operations of Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, his father's newly formed independent production company; 1962—when Darryl regained control of 20th Century Fox, was appointed vice president in charge of production; briefly became company president, but was removed after a proxy fight; 1971–72—served as senior executive vice president; 1972—formed his own production company in partnership with David Brown with release though Universal; produced with Brown two of the biggest grossing films of the seventies, The Sting (1973) and Jaws (1975). Awards: Academy Awards for The Sting, 1974 and Driving Miss Daisy, 1990. Address: 202 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, California 90210, U.S.A.

Films as Producer:






The Chapman Report

With David Brown:


SSSSSSSS; Willie Dynamite


The Sugarland Express; The Black Windmill; The Girl from Petrovka


The Eiger Sanction; Jaws




Jaws 2


The Island




The Verdict


Cocoon (with L. F. Zanuck)




Cocoon: The Return (with L. F. Zanuck)


Driving Miss Daisy (with L. F. Zanuck)


Rush (with L. F. Zanuck)


Rich in Love (with L. F. Zanuck)


Clean Slate


Wild Bill


Mulholland Falls


Deep Impact (Leder)


True Crime (Eastwood)


Rules of Engagement (Friedkin)

Films as Assistant to the Producer:


The Sun Also Rises


Island in the Sun


The Longest Day

Films as Executive Producer:


The Sting


Barrington (for TV)


Chain Reaction


By ZANUCK: articles—

Films & Filming, April 1983.

Stills, October 1985.

American Film, July 1990.

On ZANUCK: articles—

American Film, October 1975.

Films in Review (New York), March 1990.

* * *

Perhaps because the producer's contribution to the film that actually screens is difficult to measure, Richard D. Zanuck's contributions to filmmaking in the last twenty years, like those of his collaborators David Brown and Lili F. Zanuck, have gone largely unrecognized by the movie going public. Zanuck may take some consolation in the fact that the film industry has seen fit to reward him for his efforts (but this may be due somewhat to the peculiarity of the Academy Award system in deciding upon a "best picture," for which the award goes to the producers, who may or may not have contributed to a quality effort).

If the producer is as invisible to the public as the director once was (but is no more), that does not mean that his influence on filmmaking is negligible, confined only to a kind of glorified accountancy and financial deal making. Zanuck was brought up in the film business, where his father Darryl was first a studio executive and then later an independent producer, a man who very forcefully put his mark on the films made under his auspices. Zanuck, in fact, worked as assistant producer on the project—The Longest Day, an epic tribute to the Normandy invasion—that most obviously belonged to his father. Darryl Zanuck fought for the film's length, its expensive production values, its cast of many notable stars, and its vignettish realism, in stark contrast to the usual Hollywood procedure for making war films. Just as his career is modeled in other ways on that of his father, so Zanuck's choice of film projects, and the way in which these were produced, had not a little to do with his own vision of what a good entertainment film should be, a vision that is discernible often in the final product despite the contributions of others, most notably the directors in each case and his coproducers, often David Brown and Lili F. Zanuck, strong personalities in their own right.

Like his father, Zanuck worked successfully for a time within the confines of the Hollywood system. It was a very volatile industry in the late 1960s and early 1970s, one faced by continual financial crisis, rapid changes in public taste, and uncertain conditions of exhibition. Zanuck was employed first by Darryl F. Zanuck Productions when a college student, but then, when his father once again took a position inside the studio system, he followed him there: initially as vice president in charge of production (in effect, his father's right hand man) and later, while Darryl Zanuck became in a bitter proxy fight for control, as president. When Darryl Zanuck lost the struggle for control, Zanuck stayed on briefly as senior executive vice president, but, like his father before him, yearned for more control of production and founded his own company in partnership with David Brown in 1972.

The early 1970s were a time of great marketing uncertainty for the industry, which had lost much of its original audience base, but had as potential customers a huge population of the young who already had an enthusiasm for movie going. Zanuck and Brown began operations by producing a number of more or less alternative youth films that attempted to cater to this taste. Some of these were very forgettable (Willie Dynamite), others more successful, most notably Sugarland Express, where Zanuck and Brown worked closely with a new director—Steven Spielberg—on a modern remake of Bonnie and Clyde. What Zanuck had in common with his director was a desire to emphasize the sympathetic character of the protagonists—a desperate young mother and a kidnapped policeman—and thus impart a very strong melodramatic quality to a narrative that was handled during this period quite differently by other directors (compare Altman's Thieves Like Us and Hopper's Easy Rider). These same elements—an adventure narrative energized by interesting character relationships—were recycled by Spielberg and Zanuck/Brown in one of the most successful films of that period, Jaws, a monster hit that helped reestablish filmgoing as an essential American pastime. The various remakes of that film have failed to match the original's riveting approach to storytelling, but Jaws 2, done by Zanuck/Brown but without Spielberg, shows the same interest in character relationships. Perhaps attempting to recycle his father's success with a World War II subject, Zanuck/Brown produced MacArthur, a biography of the noted general; the film was a Patton wannabe, but simply lacked the strengths of Coppola's script and George C. Scott's performance for that earlier film. However, once again we can glimpse Zanuck's interest in compelling character, in dramatic conflicts and interests that motivate the audience's fascination with well-orchestrated spectacle. Of more purely dramatic interest is one of Zanuck/Brown's most notable other films, The Verdict, notable for providing Paul Newman with one of his best opportunities for character portrayal.

Much the same may be said about the extremely popular productions Cocoon and Driving Miss Daisy that Zanuck worked on with director/producer wife Lili. Here melodrama of a sentimental but not saccharine kind (one particularly associated with aging Americans) predominates over spectacle, proving that, sometimes at least, an industry trend can be resisted. In general, however, the kinds of films that Zanuck has been interested in making are no longer as popular as they once were, a fact that may account for his gradual marginalization within the industry during the 1990s. Mulholland Falls is a disastrously disjointed attempt to recapture the magic of The Sting; the 1990s were no longer an era interested in the subtle dramatics of male relationships, the magic that made not only The Sting but also Jaws a success with audiences. In this case, Zanuck lacked not only the dynamic casting of Robert Redford and Paul Newman, he also did not base his film around a good, solid script, a fundamental mistake he would probably never have made earlier in his career. True Crime, in contrast, is what Zanuck's father might have termed a solid programmer; this Clint Eastwood vehicle is an expertly produced and slick entertainment vehicle. Much the same could be said for Deep Impact, which is far and away the best entry in the recently revived disaster film genre, far superior to either Independence Day or Armageddon. Working once again with David Brown, Zanuck made the most of the well-constructed screenplay by Michael Tolkin and Bruce Joel Rubin, assembling a stellar international cast (shades of The Longest Day) that includes Robert Duvall, Morgan Freeman, and Vanessa Redgrave, and ably supervising a very complicated production. Here is good solid Hollywood entertainment, with tragedy and melodramatic triumph enough for an audience of all ages, that is unencumbered by profound thoughts of any kind. Deep Impact is precisely the kind of film that many years ago Darryl Zanuck taught his son to make, and fortunately for him it still can claim a profitable niche in today's international market.

—R. Barton Palmer