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Richard Zanuck, Producer of Blockbusters, Dies at 77

July 13, 2012 By DOUGLAS MARTIN

Richard D. Zanuck, the once-spurned son of the legendary Hollywood producer Darryl F. Zanuck who carved out his own career as a frequently honored producer, running up more than $2 billion in grosses and, by producing “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989, becoming the only son to duplicate a father’s best-picture Oscar, died on Friday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 77.

The cause was a heart attack, Jeff Sanderson, his publicist, said.

Richard Zanuck’s successes rivaled those of his father, who co-founded 20th Century Fox, won three best picture Academy Awards and later fired his son in a studio shake-up. The younger Mr. Zanuck produced or helped produce movies like Steven Spielberg’s first feature film, “The Sugarland Express,” in 1974 and the director’s first blockbuster, “Jaws,” the next year.

In a statement, Mr. Spielberg said Mr. Zanuck “taught me everything I know about producing.”

David Brown, an urbane New Yorker with whom Mr. Zanuck produced the two Spielberg films, also worked with him in producing “The Sting” in 1973. Reuniting Paul Newman, Robert Redford and the director George Roy Hill after their 1969 box office hit “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Sting” won the best movie Oscar, though Mr. Zanuck and Mr. Brown (the husband of the Cosmopolitan magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown) were not listed as its producers.

Mr. Zanuck produced six movies directed by Tim Burton, including this year’s “Dark Shadows,” starring Johnny Depp as a heartsick vampire. They also collaborated on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005), Mr. Burton’s reimagining of “Planet of the Apes” (2001), and “Alice in Wonderland” (2010). “Alice” has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.

As a boy Mr. Zanuck had the run of 20th Century Fox, where his father reigned as one of the most powerful Hollywood moguls. Richard attended his first Academy Awards ceremony at age 7.

In high school and college, he worked in a different department at Fox every summer. In 1962, when Mr. Zanuck was still in his 20s, his father defied charges of nepotism and made him Fox’s production chief. Under Richard, the studio won 159 Oscar nominations, and three movies — “The Sound of Music,” “Patton” and “The French Connection” — were named best picture.

Darryl Zanuck, a cigar-chomping Midwesterner who never made it to high school and waved a polo mallet to reinforce a conversational point, fired his son in 1970 after a studio shake-up. The father was trying to save his own job, unsuccessfully. Richard Zanuck’s resentment lasted almost until his father’s death, in 1979.

“It was different from the usual father-son relationship,” Mr. Zanuck told The New York Times in 2003. “But I was able to patch everything up before my father died.”

Richard — soft-spoken, Stanford-educated and comfortable on a California beach — went on to his productive collaboration with Mr. Brown after a brief stop at Warner Brothers.

Richard Darryl Zanuck was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 13, 1934. His mother was the silent film star Virginia Fox. As a youngster, Richard was made to sell copies of The Saturday Evening Post to teach him the value of hard work. “Of course,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 2010, “my dad did have a chauffeur take me to pick up the papers.”

To show he cared about his son, Darryl Zanuck bused studio executives to Richard’s ballgames so that they could cheer on his son, as if they were extras in a sports movie. Personalities like Orson Welles were regular visitors to the Zanuck home.

Richard, who excelled in sports in high school and continued running five miles a day into his 70s, served in the Army as a lieutenant after his graduation from Stanford. His father, meanwhile, had been fired by Fox in 1956 and moved to Paris to become an independent producer. The elder Zanuck, who had a wide reputation for womanizing, had affairs with three French actresses in succession but failed to advance their careers, as he had suggested he might.

Darryl Zanuck arranged for his son to produce his first film, the murder mystery “Compulsion” (1959), at age 24. It won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for the ensemble work of Welles, Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman.

In 1962, Fox, still struggling, rehired Darryl Zanuck as president. But because he did not want to abandon his romantic interests in Paris, he asked his son to give him a list of possible candidates to run the West Coast studio. Richard Zanuck presented him with a piece of paper with one word on it, “Me.”

His father went for it. “I have always considered that one of the gutsiest moves,” Mr. Zanuck said of his father’s decision. The son kept his father up-to-date by trans-Atlantic telegram.

Mr. Zanuck moved to Warner Brothers to be executive vice president and there collaborated with Mr. Brown on such box office hits as “The Exorcist” and “Blazing Saddles.” In 1971, the two men formed the Zanuck/Brown Company.

After they split up in 1988, Mr. Zanuck started the Zanuck Company. That year it made “Driving Miss Daisy,” which was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won four, including best picture. It cost $5 million to make and grossed more than $100 million.

Mr. Zanuck’s first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Lili Fini Zanuck, with whom he produced the 2000 Oscar ceremony; his sons Harrison and Dean, who have produced movies; and nine grandchildren.

Mr. Zanuck was a hands-on producer, going to the set every day and watching the day’s work every night. Mr. Spielberg recalled that while filming “Jaws” in 1974, he and Mr. Zanuck were in a boat off Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts as they watched the movie’s mechanical shark sink to the bottom of the sea. As Mr. Spielberg recalled, “Dick turned to me and smiled” and said, ‘Gee, I hope that’s not a sign.’ ”

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