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RIP Hollywood Scion, Dick Zanuck, One of the Great Producers

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 13, 2012 at 7:04PM

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"--
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Richard Zanuck
Richard Zanuck

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.

This article is related to: Obit


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.