I thought producer Richard D. Zanuck would live forever. He was so energetic, so happy over the last decade producing films with Tim Burton, so keen on staying in the game. We talked once about writing a biography--he was the subject early in his career of one of the best Hollywood books ever written, John Gregory Dunne's "The Studio"--but he didn't have the time, he said. Books were for producers who were ready to take off their spurs. He wasn't.
Zanuck, who died unexpectedly Friday morning at home at age 77, learned about Hollywood from the ground up. He tussled for many years with his father, the legendary cigar-chomping movie mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, who virtually brought his son up on the lot of the 20th Century Fox studio, picked him to take over the reins at 26 and fired him nine years later.
''It was different from a normal father-son relationship,'' Zanuck told me in our 2003 NYT interview." But I was able to patch everything up before my father died.''
Zanuck dealt with fathers in sons in many of the 40 movies he backed in a 50-year career. Among them are the Oscar-winners ''Jaws,'' ''The Sting," and ''Driving Miss Daisy." His son Dean discovered ''The Road to Perdition'' as a graphic novel. ''I see here a father-son thing that might appeal to you,'' Zanuck wrote to Steven Spielberg. Two days later Spielberg called to make the deal at DreamWorks.
Fox's co-chairman, Tom Rothman, brought Zanuck and Burton together for the remake of a Fox movie Zanuck had green-lighted as studio head in 1969, ''Planet of the Apes.'' (Zanuck even married Charlton Heston's co-star, the Fox contract player Linda Harrison.) When Zanuck first met Burton for breakfast at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the two men clicked.