Movie producer-filmmaker-mogul Richard Zanuck (1934-2012) passed away on July 13 (yes, as usual I’m behind the times), leaving behind a damn good resume. Of course, it starts with Jaws. No, that’s not where he started, but for me, it’s his most important film. But that’s not the whole story by any stretch.
Zanuck’s father was legendary figure Daryl F. Zanuck, who actually put Richard in the prestigious position of head of production at Fox Studios at the ripe old age of 28 (!). The story goes Daryl was rehired by struggling Fox in 1962, but since he was not willing to give up his Parisian mistresses, he asked Richard to give him a list of candidates to run the studio, and the answer was a piece of paper with the word “Me.” Kinda ballsy, and it payed off. Fox earned over 150 Oscar® nominations during the younger Zanuck’s reign, including three Best Picture wins (The Sound of Music, Patton, The French Connection).
However, when the studios started to struggle, son took the fall and was dismissed by father, which set off a long period of animosity (which was thankfully forgiven before Daryl’s passing). And the rest is kinda history because Richard teamed with David Brown to form The Zanuck/Brown Company based at Universal, and the hit parade began to march, including The Sugarland Express (directed by some kid named Spielberg), 1973 Best Picture winner The Sting (although they’re not mentioned in the credits from what I understand), The Eiger Sanction, a small movie named Jaws, Jaws 2 (watch out for that cable!), The Island, Neighbors, The Verdict, Cocoon, and Oscar winner Driving Miss Daisy. Heck, they even won the 1991 Irving Thalberg Award, one of the most prestigious honors in Hollywood.
Zanuck went on solo, or co-producer with third wife Lili Fini Zanuck (second wife was Linda Harrison aka smokin hot Nova from the first two Planet of the Apes movies), to produce a slew of good films, which include Rush, Wild Bill, Mulholland Falls, Deep Impact, the underrated Clint Eastwood thriller True Crime, the fun Reign of Fire, and the awesome and supremely overlooked masterpiece Road to Perdition.
In recent years, Zanuck was Tim Burton’s producer of choice, paving the way for such hits and misfires (you decide) as the Planet of the Apes remake (OK, I’ll decide on that one–it stinks!), Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (much better than it should have been but still no Willy Wonka), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (bloody good!), the over-ambitious Alice in Wonderland, and Dark Shadows.
But ultimately, for me, any Zanuck mention can’t leave out Jaws. Merely the second greatest movie of all time. The best story I read in some of Zanuck’s obits was this one, where hands-on producer Zanuck was on set on day, on a boat off of Mah-tha’s Vineyard with Spielberg, and as the two were lucky enough to see the famous mechanical shark sink, Mr. Z said to Mr. S: “Gee, I hope that’s not a sign.”
RIP, Richard Zanuck. Thank you for your contributions to the world of cinema. And mostly for contributing to a movie that means so much to me, and instantly fills me with memories of my late father, Thaddeus J. Tura (1933-1996).
Thanks also to The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly for some of the facts/stories which I will admit I had not heard before Zanuck’s unfortunate passing.