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Wednesday 21 February 2018

Richard Zanuck

Hollywood mogul's son who produced blockbuster films like 'The Sound Of Music', 'The Sting' and 'Jaws'

Richard Zanuck, who has died aged 77, was the son of the Hollywood mogul Darryl F Zanuck and worked for him at 20th Century Fox before becoming a successful independent producer with such memorable films as The Sting (1973) and Jaws (1975).

His father -- a co-founder of Fox -- appointed him head of production at the studio in 1962, when the epic Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, was running disastrously over-budget. In 1970, suspecting that his son wanted him out, Zanuck Senior fired him.

In the eight years in between, Richard Zanuck helped Fox to collect three Oscars for best films, the first being The Sound Of Music (1965), one of the most popular films ever, in which he developed his habit of achieving simultaneous commercial and critical success. His other two Oscar-winning films for Fox were Patton (1970) and The French Connection (1971).

As well as The Sting, which won an Oscar for best film, and Jaws, nominated in the same category two years later, Zanuck's independent production company, founded with David Brown, also produced Steven Spielberg's first feature film, The Sugarland Express, in 1974. It flopped.

But the following year, Spielberg made his first blockbuster, Jaws, which (taking inflation into account) grossed more than Ben-Hur and Avatar.

Zanuck took some convincing over the young director's insistence that the terrifying shark attacks be filmed at sea rather than in a tank on the studio lot.

For one thing, there was a bad omen when Zanuck and Spielberg, sitting in a boat off Martha's Vineyard, watched the mechanical shark sink to the bottom of the sea.

Zanuck turned and smiled at Spielberg. "Gee, I sure hope that's not a sign."

After his partnership with Brown ended amicably in 1988, Zanuck formed his own production company and -- with his first wife, Lili -- shared the best picture Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy (1989).

Zanuck's later productions included six films directed by Tim Burton, among them Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Alice in Wonderland (2010).

Richard Darryl Zanuck was born in Los Angeles on December 13, 1934, the third child and only son of Darryl F Zanuck and his wife, the former actress Virginia Fox. His mother had appeared in several Buster Keaton shorts in the years before her marriage to his father in 1924.

Zanuck grew up on the 20th Century Fox film lot, where he remembered playing hide-and-seek as a child. The young Zanuck also watched rushes and rough cuts of films and attended story conferences.

The family had a house overlooking the beach at Santa Monica, where Hollywood stars like Tyrone Power and Orson Welles were regular visitors, and where his parents laid on lavish birthday parties with guests such as Shirley Temple.

After Harvard Military School, where he was a star athlete, he read English Literature at Stanford University, graduating in 1956. He served in the US Army before joining his father at Fox, taking over as production chief in 1962.

The two Zanucks were very different personalities. While his father was mercurial, impatient and impulsive, Richard Zanuck was urbane, reserved and soft-spoken. Although Zanuck senior, a towering Hollywood figure since the 1930s, had enjoyed several decades of success, by the time his son arrived it was plain the ageing mogul was losing his grip on the studio.

As head of production, Richard Zanuck followed his triumphant debut with The Sound Of Music with a string of other hits, including Valley of the Dolls (1967), Planet of the Apes (1968), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and M*A*S*H (1970). But Zanuck also gave the go-ahead to the big-budget musicals Doctor Dolittle, Star and Hello, Dolly, all of which lost money. And there were other flops such as Tora! Tora! Tora!, Che, and Myra Breckinridge.

Although Zanuck also approved The French Connection, which won an Oscar for best picture, by the time it was released in 1971 he had left the studio, sacked by his father in an unsuccessful effort to save his own job.

Dismissal shattered the younger Zanuck, and it was not until shortly before Darryl Zanuck's death in 1979 that the pair patched up their differences.

After his success with Driving Miss Daisy, Richard Zanuck continued as an independent producer.

He most recently produced the big-screen adaptation of the cult classic television series Dark Shadows (2012), directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Richard Zanuck's first wife was the actress Lili Gentle, with whom he had two daughters. With his second wife, Linda Harrison, he had two sons. Both marriages ended in divorce.

Sunday Independent

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