Richard D. Zanuck’s life is the tale of one man, but it’s also a story of fathers and sons, of personal and professional ups and downs, and most certainly of Hollywood then and now.
Ten months after his death, the one-time 20th Century Fox president (who worked there for his father, legendary movie mogul Darryl F. Zanuck) and Oscar-winning producer of such classics as “Jaws” and “Driving Miss Daisy” is recalled in the new Turner Classic Movies special “Don’t Say No Until I Finish Talking: The Story of Richard D. Zanuck” Wednesday, May 8.
Many of its remarks come from Zanuck himself, via an interview conducted for the program by producer-director Laurent Bouzereau, maker of many “making-of” documentaries featured on home video releases … including, very recently, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” Spielberg, whose career effectively was launched by Zanuck and longtime producing partner David Brown when they hired him to direct “The Sugarland Express” and then “Jaws,” is among the many notables seen commenting on Zanuck.
So are Johnny Depp, Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Morgan Freeman, Michelle Pfeiffer, directors Tim Burton (with whom Zanuck made six of his final films, from the “Planet of the Apes” reboot to last year’s “Dark Shadows”) and William Friedkin, and studio-running veterans Sherry Lansing and Stacey Snider.
“That was one of the thrills of working on this,” Bouzereau tells Zap2it, “to be able to have such great marquee value but also really to show the people who were touched by [Zanuck] and the variety of generations. And the variety of people, from actors and directors to producers and studio executives. The respect for him went across the board, which is rarely the case when it comes to Hollywood figures.”
Also remembering Zanuck in the TCM program is his third and last wife, Lili Fini Zanuck. She worked with him closely in the Zanuck Company, as his fellow producer on “Cocoon” and “Driving Miss Daisy” – both of which TCM also will show Wednesday — and as a first-time director on the 1991 undercover police drama “Rush.” She says, “I was all prepared to fight my cause for why I should be the director, but as soon as I said it should be me, he said, ‘Good idea.’ There was so much interest elsewhere, I didn’t really think I was going to have a chance.”
To Bouzereau, Richard Zanuck represents something quite specific.
“The hardest thing to accomplish in the [movie] business,” Bouzereau says, “is not so much success but longevity. It’s very rare that people who have accomplished so much are still relevant, still doing it and still as big 20 years later.
“When I was talking to people about that, only one name surfaced, and that was Dick’s. He not only represented the movie moguls of the old Hollywood, but he positioned himself with the new technology in the Tim Burton era. There’s no one else like him, really.”
When Darryl F. Zanuck — whose first name was his son’s middle name — returned to run 20th Century Fox for a second time in the 1960s, he hired Richard to oversee production … and ultimately played a major role in firing him, after the studio had several flops at the box office. The related emotions were among the topics the younger Zanuck addressed with Bouzereau, in addition to anger issues and other situations that he readily admitted he was “not proud of.”
“Through the years, I had met with him,” Bouzereau reflects, “and I had done documentaries on ‘Jaws’ and ‘Jaws 2’ with him. He said he had started writing a book on his life and career, and he gave me the chapters to read; they were fantastic, and I said, ‘Dick, I think this is a movie. You come from the business, and this could really be a film.’
“I think he felt it was less pressure for someone else to do a film than for him to write a book, which he wasn’t fully into at the time,” adds Bouzereau. “And he could feel that I was genuinely saying that his story needed to be told.”
While she is pleased with the TCM special’s portrayal of her life with her husband, Lili Fini Zanuck also appreciates how it represents their shared professional achievements.
“I came to work for the company totally by accident,” she notes. “I actually wanted to work in the music business, but the reason I got the opportunity to develop ‘Cocoon’ was because I had been working really hard doing what I always say is the most important thing you can do … the things [the bosses] don’t want to do.”
Richard Zanuck watched “Don’t Say No Until I Finish Talking” three days before his passing last July, then sent a letter to Bouzereau and his team in reaction to the project. The note is incorporated into the revised ending the film now has, as a eulogy of sorts — the purpose for which Lili Fini Zanuck also used the documentary at a London memorial service.
“He had become a friend,” Bouzereau says of Zanuck. “I went to him for advice on everything. He was one of the nicest people I’ve met in the industry, or outside the industry. It’s rare to have that kind of relationship with the subject you’re doing a film about.”