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Darryl Francis Zanuck Edit Profile

executive , Producer

Darryl Francis Zanuck was an American film producer and studio executive; he earlier contributed stories for films starting in the silent era. He played a major part in the Hollywood studio system as one of its longest survivors (the length of his career was rivaled only by that of Adolph Zukor). He earned three Academy Awards as producer for Best Picture during his tenure, but was responsible for many more.

Background

Zanuck was born in Wahoo, Nebraska, the son of Louise (née Torpin) and Frank Zanuck, who owned and operated a hotel in Wahoo.

Education

Zanuck was of part Swiss descent and was raised a Protestant. At age six, Zanuck and his mother moved to Los Angeles, where the better climate could improve her poor health. At age eight, he found his first movie job as an extra, but his disapproving father recalled him to Nebraska. In 1917, despite being fifteen, he deceived a recruiter, joined the United States Army, and served in France with the Nebraska National Guard during World War I.

Upon returning to the US, he worked in many part-time jobs while seeking work as a writer. He found work producing movie plots, and sold his first story in 1922 to William Russell and his second to Irving Thalberg. Screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas, story editor at Universal Pictures' New York office, stated that one of the stories Zanuck sent out to movie studios around this time was completely plagiarized from another author's work.

Zanuck then worked for Mack Sennett and FBO (where he wrote the serials The Telephone Girl and The Leather Pushers) and took that experience to Warner Bros, where he wrote stories for Rin Tin Tin and under a number of pseudonyms wrote over forty scripts from 1924 to 1929, including Red Hot Tires (1925) and Old San Francisco (1927). He moved into management in 1929, and became head of production in 1931.

Career

Abandoned by his parents at age 13, Zanuck joined the U.S. Army and fought in Belgium during World War I. He worked as a steelworker, garment factory foreman, and a professional boxer while pursuing his career as a writer—though he was barely literate. He did, however, display a talent for creating unique and interesting plots, and in 1923 he sold a film scenario to producer Irving Thalberg. After apprenticeships with Mack Sennett, Charlie Chaplin, and Carl Laemmle, Zanuck joined Warner Brothers studio in 1924 and contributed scripts for the popular Rin Tin Tin series. Within three years he had advanced to executive producer. As such he produced The Jazz Singer (1927), the film that started the sound revolution. He also initiated Warner Brothers’s popular series of gangster films with Little Caesar (1930) and The Public Enemy (1931).

In 1933 Zanuck cofounded Twentieth Century Pictures, the company that merged two years later with the Fox Film Corporation. As the controlling executive of Twentieth Century Fox, Zanuck produced such memorable films as The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), Winged Victory (1944), The Razor’s Edge (1946), Gentlemen’s Agreement (1947), and Viva Zapata! (1952). The most directly involved of the major studio kingpins, Zanuck took pride in his talent for remaking films during the editing process. Although the studio prospered and made many famous films, Twentieth Century Fox productions were somewhat pious and dull and lacked the individual quality and particular style of MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount, and RKO. Zanuck’s pictures often suffered from pretentious seriousness, mawkish sentiment, and an overly-polite approach to subject matter that demanded earthy realism. Such an approach was no match for the sex, violence, intelligence, and high melodrama of films by such producers as David O. Selznick and Hal B. Wallis. A notable exception was Twentieth Century Fox’s sophisticated comedy All About Eve (1950), starring Bette Davis, which won six Academy Awards, including best picture for Zanuck.

Zanuck resigned the presidency of Twentieth Century Fox in 1956. He returned six years later and engineered the financial recovery of the studio with two box-office hits: The Longest Day (1962) and The Sound of Music (1965). The last studio kingpin of his era, Zanuck retired in 1971. He produced more than 165 films during his career. On three occasions he was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for outstanding contributions to the industry.

Works

Membership

Served with 37th Division, United States Army, with American Expeditionary Forces.

Connections

Married Virginia Fox. Children: Darrylin, Susan Marie, Richard Darryl.

father:
Frank Zanuck

mother:
Liouse (Torpin) Zanuck

spouse:
Virginia Fox.

children:
Darrylin Zanuck

Susan Marie Zanuck

Richard Darryl Zanuck