Tyrone Power, Orson Welles and other stars and Hollywood heavyweights were often visited the Zanuck family's beach home in Santa Monica, where young Dick's parents threw him lavish birthday parties with guests like Shirley Temple.
To learn the value of hard work, he began selling copies of the Saturday Evening Post at his father's studio when he was 9.
"Of course," he told The Times with a wink in 2010, "my dad did have a chauffeur take me to pick up the papers."
By the time he was in the sixth grade, his father had him reading scripts for his feedback. The young Zanuck also watched dailies and rough cuts of films and attended story conferences at the request of his father, whom he later described as "a distant figure during my childhood."
Zanuck attended the local Harvard Military School, where he was a star athlete in football and swimming, and majored in English literature at Stanford University. After graduating from Stanford in 1956, he served in the Army before going to work for his father's production company.
The always athletic Zanuck, whose first two marriages — to actresses Lili Gentle and Linda Harrison — ended in divorce, was known to get into frequent barroom brawls in his earlier years, a tendency he later attributed to his short stature, competitive nature and need to prove himself.
In 1991, Zanuck and Brown jointly received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, which is awarded to "creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production."
That made Zanuck the first second-generation recipient of the prestigious award; his father received it three times.
Zanuck is survived by his wife, Lili; two daughters, Virginia and Janet, with his first wife, Lili Gentle; two sons, Harrison and Dean, with his second wife, Linda Harrison; and at least nine grandchildren.
Times staff writers Claudia Eller, Steven Zeitchik and John Horn contributed to this report.