Richard Zanuck dies at 77; Oscar-winning producer
Richard Zanuck, who was head of production at 20th Century Fox and later ran his own production company, marshaled films including 'Jaws,' 'Driving Miss Daisy' and 'The Sting.' He produced six films by director Tim Burton and helped launch the career of Steven Spielberg.'
Actress Eva Green, producer Richard D. Zanuck and actress Bella Heathcote arrive at the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' "Dark Shadows" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on May 7, 2012, in Hollywood. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
After his partnership with Brown ended in 1988, Zanuck formed the Zanuck Company and — with his wife, Lili Fini Zanuck — shared the Oscar for the 1989 film "Driving Miss Daisy."
Zanuck's later films as a producer included six movies directed by Tim Burton, including "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Dark Shadows."
When "Jaws" ran into production problems on location and went over budget, Zanuck kept studio executives at bay.
"I said to Universal, 'If I see one Learjet land at Martha's Vineyard, I'll stop production,'" he told The Times in 2006. "I'm not a bully, but I will act quickly and ruthlessly, so they know when I say, 'No Learjets,' I mean it."
Zanuck, who grew up on the 20th Century Fox lot, learned the movie business under the wing of his flamboyant, cigar-smoking father, who resigned as production head in 1956 and established his own independent production company. It was headquartered in Paris and had a contract with Fox.
When the younger Zanuck, who had been his father's production representative at the studio, took the reins of production in 1962, he faced a formidable challenge.
"He had great confidence in me," Zanuck said of his father in a 2003 New York Times article. "I knew the studio operations better than anybody."
While strolling through the studio in 2006, he recalled the dark days when he first took the helm: "We didn't have a movie shooting on the lot and we were down to the last episodes of 'Dobie Gillis,' our one hit TV show. So we shut down the studio. We closed the commissary, the executive office building, everything."
Gesturing toward a bungalow, he said: "That's where I operated the studio for two years. It was me, a legal guy, a couple of janitors and a guard at the gate. You could literally see the tumbleweeds."
The studio's fortunes soared with the success of the first major movie produced under Richard Zanuck's administration: "The Sound of Music," the blockbuster 1965 musical starring Julie Andrews.
Other hits followed, including "Valley of the Dolls," "Planet of the Apes," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "MASH" and "Patton."
But Zanuck also green-lighted the big-budget musicals "Doctor Dolittle," "Star!" and "Hello, Dolly!," which failed to duplicate the box-office success of "The Sound of Music." And there were other flops such as "Tora! Tora! Tora!," "Che!" and "Myra Breckinridge."
Zanuck also gave the go-ahead to "The French Connection," which won the Oscar for best picture, but he was gone from the studio when it was released in 1971.
As David Brown, who worked closely with Richard Zanuck as Fox's vice president in charge of the story department, told The Times in 1973: "We brought the company from nothing to a cash flow that has never been equaled, then it was 1929 all over again."
Zanuck continued as head of production after the 20th Century Fox board of directors named him president of the company in 1969, and his father became chairman of the board and chief executive.
But in late 1970, the board forced Richard Zanuck and Brown to resign. Speaking to the Associated Press a few months later, Zanuck called the resignation "a firing … an execution," engineered by his father.
Asked why, he said it was because of "continual disputes over how the company should be run. Continued suspicion on his part that I wanted to send him out to pasture."
"It was different from a normal father-son relationship," he told the New York Times in 2003. "But I was able to patch everything up before my father died" in 1979.
After an 18-month stint as executive vice president at Warner Bros., Zanuck and Brown formed their production company in 1972.