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Friday, July 13, 2012   (0 Comments)
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We are heartbroken to report the news of the passing of Richard D. Zanuck today, at age 77.

There are only a handful of producers who could boast the universal trust and respect of the Hollywood community.  Dick Zanuck was one of them.  Studios trusted him to protect their most valuable investments.  His producing colleagues trusted him for peerless counsel, born of immense experience and innate fairness and common sense.  Above all, his creative teams trusted him to serve the best interests of their motion pictures, a duty which he fulfilled again and again with boundless energy, clear-eyed intelligence and a true passion for his craft and his industry.

His career is a virtual parade of milestones.  His first film, Compulsion, made at age 24, won Best Actor honors at the Cannes Film Festival for all three of its lead performers: Dean Stockwell, Brad Dillman and Orson Welles.  In 1962, he became the then-youngest studio head in Hollywood history, taking the reins at 20th Century Fox when he was only 28.  His stewardship of Fox resulted in perhaps the greatest runs in the studio’s history, turning out Best Picture winners and generation-defining films with regularity, including titles such as The Sound of Music, Patton, The French Connection, M*A*S*H, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Planet  of the Apes. 

Shortly thereafter, with his close friend and producing partner David Brown, he formed The Zanuck/Brown Company, one of the most celebrated independent production companies of the past 50 years.  Only two years after its founding, it produced a Best Picture winner in The Sting, with Zanuck and Brown serving as executive producers.  A year later, the duo produced The Sugarland Express, the big-screen debut of a promising young director, Steven Spielberg.  The following year, the team produced Jaws, the first film ever to gross $100 million; it revolutionized Hollywood’s relationship with its audience and ushered in the era of the modern blockbuster.

With Brown, Zanuck continued to demonstrate an instinct for stories that married critical acclaim to popular response, such as multiple Oscar nominee The Verdict, and multiple Oscar winner Cocoon.  In 1989, shortly after the dissolution of The Zanuck/Brown Company, he produced Driving Miss Daisy, a film he "literally shamed Warners into making.”  It won numerous Oscars, including honors for actress Jessica Tandy, writer Alfred Uhry, and Zanuck himself, a distinction he shared with his wife and producing partner, Lili Fini Zanuck.  The Zanucks and Driving Miss Daisy hold a special place in PGA history as the first ever winners of the Producers Guild Awards, at that time called the Golden Laurel Awards.

Over the past dozen years, Zanuck’s career entered a remarkable third act, as he teamed with visionary director Tim Burton to create a half-dozen of the most inventive and imaginative films in recent memory, including Sweeney Todd, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and this year’s Dark Shadows.  Outside of his collaboration with Burton, his credits included such recent hits as Yes Man, Clash of the Titans and Road to Perdition, which he produced alongside his son, Dean Zanuck.

Zanuck, along with David Brown (who passed away in 2010), received the Guild’s David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures—its highest honor for feature film producers—in 1993.  Two years earlier, he and Brown received the prestigious Irving Thalberg Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, making Zanuck—in conjunction with his father, Darryl F. Zanuck—part of the only father/son pair so recognized.

While his credits are the stuff of legend, the man behind them took immense pride in the hard work and day-to-day tenacity required to bring them to the screen.  Above all, he was recognized as honest, direct, and the epitome of professionalism.  "There’s not anything that happens today that I haven’t been through in one form or another,” he told Produced By magazine in 2010.  "Because of that, I cannot be bluffed by either side, by the studio hyperbole or the people making the film.”

The loss of that breadth of experience alone would be tragedy in itself.  But the loss of the man who embodied that wisdom with such dignity and authenticity is incalculable.  We can only say that we were lucky to have Richard Zanuck here to show us precisely what a producer was meant to be.  But it’s up to us to live up to the example he provided for so long, and so well.

Please share your memories of Dick Zanuck with the PGA community here on the website; for a link to the online Produced By magazine featuring Zanuck’s extensive cover story, click here.