Richard D. Zanuck, the film producer whose faith in a mechanical shark and a 28 year old director created a cinema blockbuster, died on Friday July 13th 2012.

He had followed in the footsteps of his father, Darryl, who co-founded 20th Century Fox,  won three competitive Best Picture Academy Awards (How Green Was My Valley / Gentleman’s Agreement / All About Eve) and received the Irving Thalberg Award (for Producers) on three occasions.

Richard received his own Thalberg Award in 1991 (it was presented by Michael Douglas), one year after he produced the Best Picture Oscar winning film Driving Miss Daisy.

His speech on Oscar night began with thanks to the non-nominated directed of the film, a rarity for Best Picture winners.
“We are up here one very simple reason, and that is the fact Bruce Beresford is a brilliant director.

It was a shark named ‘Bruce’ in a film called Jaws that cemented Richard’s values of commitment and trust in the film industry.   With an overblown budget and on-set disasters, Richard maintained his belief in the film and its crew.

Director Steven Spielberg’s statement, released a few hours after Zanuck’s passing, read in part:

“In 1974, Dick Zanuck and I sat in a boat off Martha’s Vineyard and watched the mechanical shark sink to the bottom of the sea. Dick turned to me and smiled. `Gee, I sure hope that’s not a sign.’ That moment forged a bond between us that lasted nearly 40 years. He taught me everything I know about producing. He was one of the most honorable and loyal men of our profession and he fought tooth and nail for his directors.”
The film gave Richard Zanuck his first Oscar nomination.  Spielberg was snubbed in the director category.

Richard’s success spanned seven decades, including Compulsion (1959) starring Orson Welles, The Sound of Music (1965) for which he was uncredited as executive producer, The Sting (1973) which won the Best Picture Oscar (he was not one of the 3 names listed in the nominations), Cocoon (1985),  Deep Impact (1999), Road to Perdition (2002) and Dark Shadows (2012).

Zanuck’s publicist, Jeff Sanderson, announced the producer died of a heart attack at his home in Beverley Hills. (i)

Richard D. Zanuck was 77 years of age, the same age his father was when he died.

– by Rhett Bartlett


Photo of Richard Zanuck provided by Alan Light.
(i) New York Times July 13 2012