Remember Me: Richard Zanuck (1934 – 2012)
There are all kinds of producers: hucksters, hustlers, con men and schlockmeisters. Some are in it for the glory, some like to walk the red carpet with a starlet on their arm. For some, the biggest award is a box office hit and it doesn’t matter what kind of crap they throw on the screen to earn it. There are producers like Harvey Weinstein who will spend more money to promote himself to an Oscar win than he does on actually making the Oscar-winning film. And there are producers like Joel Silver who once said the only proper role for women in film was either as a dead body or naked.
And there are those – who, to be honest, may also have a touch of all of this – who are mainly driven by a desire to make good movies. Like Dick Zanuck.
I don’t think anyone will argue – and certainly the obits which abounded after his death from a heart attack earlier this month – that Richard Zanuck was a class act as a producer. It’s there in his final score: three Best Picture Oscar nominations for The Verdict (1982), Road to Perdition (2002), and a win for Driving Miss Daisy (1989), as well as the Motion Picture Academy’s Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award (received with his one-time producing partner, David Brown) for the caliber of his body of work.
The movies were in Zanuck’s blood. He was the son of the legendary Darryl Zanuck, longtime chief of 20th Century Fox, accompanied his dad to the studio to watch rough cuts when he was still a youth, and would even assume the senior Zanuck’s studio throne in the 1960s (Zanuck, had left the studio in the 1950s, returned in 1962 after the success of his independently-produced epic, The Longest Day  helped offset the studio’s money-hemorrhaging Cleopatra ).
As a studio chief, Zanuck blended his father’s Old Hollywood sensibilities with a feel for the new young audiences of the 1960s. Instead of salutary war stories like The Longest Day, for example, there was the darker, more ambivalent war epic, The Sand Pebbles (1966). He saw sci fi not as low budget drive-in fodder, but the kind of Space Age-attuned storytelling which could bring young ticket buyers out in droves, and turned out the – for the time – state-of-the-art effects fest Fantastic Voyage (1966), and rolled the studio’s dice on what was, at the time, a daring, you-gotta-be-kidding-me project, Planet of the Apes (1968).