For a man who was born into wealth and power, the late Richard (Dick) Zanuck was the antithesis of those characteristics and what they can wreak on one's ego. His father, Darryl F. Zanuck, founded 20th Century Fox, and Dick was obviously born into the business, surrounded by the giants of the movie industry from birth. In person, however, Dick Zanuck was as genuinely unpretentious, kind, gentle and affable as any human being could be, whether wealthy or poor. He passed away this past Friday at age 77 from a heart attack.
Dick was responsible for getting such disparate films as "The Sound Of Music", "Patton", "M.A.S.H.", "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid", "Jaws" and "Blazing Saddles" to become reality under both his presidency at 20th Century Fox and independently with Warner Bros. and other studios, partnering with equally likeable David Brown, with whom I also had the honor and privilege to have some acquaintance. (David was the husband of Helen Gurley Brown, famed editor of COSMOPOLITAN magazine.)
One of my longtime friends in the industry, a lady named Marjel de Lauer, who has also now passed away, introduced me to Dick and then recently-mariied-to-him wife, Lili, at a private party in Santa Monica. Dick and Lili (the latter 20 years his junior) were delightful but not pretentious, and in later years, when doing several interviews with them professionally, maintained their soft-spoken, kind and gentle ways. One of the interviews was for the film "Coccoon", the story for which Lili brought to Dick. She became a producer-director with his tutelage, and survives him, along with sons Harrison and Dean Zanuck.
The primary point of this tribute is to state Dick was an island of kindness, intuition (producing successful films without focus groups) and warmth in a business that has mostly forgotten what it is to be nice and still be able to accomplish success. He was never full of himself, but rather always acknowledged he was blessed to have been born into privilege, and always treated his workers and associates with respect and caring, without egoistic condescention.
Learning his character, guidance and wisdom will no longer be directly available from his lips and talents to our ears, eyes and psyches is a difficult realization, but his legacy of iconic product and gentle demeanor will hopefully continue to permeate those in the movie industry (or any indsutry) who still yearn for quality, inspirational imagination and respectful treatment of others to prevail. He was a "big shot" who never behaved in that manner, and will definitely be missed.
Thank you, as always, for taking the time to read these thoughts. I hope you'll also "tune in" to my webcasts at www.startribune.com/video for some other opinions I express, which change every Monday, as does my choice of soups for lunch. :)