Richard Zanuck, ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ Producer, Dies at 77

Richard Zanuck, Producer of ‘Driving Miss Daisy,’
Film producer Richard Zanuck arrives for the European premiere of "Sweeney Todd," in London on Jan. 10, 2008. Photographer: Max Nash/AFP/Getty Images

Richard Zanuck, the Oscar-winning film producer behind “Driving Miss Daisy” and the son of the founder of Twentieth Century Fox, has died. He was 77.

Zanuck, whose production credits included “Jaws” and “The Sting,” died today of a heart attack at his home in Beverly Hills, California, according to a statement from his publicist, Jeff Sanderson.

Fired from Fox by his father, Darryl F. Zanuck, the young producer went on to a career that spawned some of Hollywood’s most memorable films. They included the 1990 best picture winner “Driving Miss Daisy,” featuring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, and “The Verdict,” with Paul Newman. He was an uncredited executive producer on 1965’s “The Sound of Music,” according to the Internet Movie Database.

“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,” Jaws director Steven Spielberg said in a statement. “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.”

Zanuck partnered with director Tim Burton on films for more than a decade, including 2001’s “Planet of the Apes” and this year’s “Dark Shadows,” released by Warner Bros.

“Richard always gives it to me straight, even if it’s something I don’t want to hear,” Burton told the Los Angeles Times in May. “He has always based everything on the story and the best thing for the film. That’s something you can see if you look at his whole career as a producer. For me, there’s a lot of trust.”

Fox Firing

Zanuck started in the business working for his father, who co-founded Twentieth Century Pictures in 1933 and merged it with the larger Fox Film Corp. in 1935.

Richard Darryl Zanuck was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 13, 1934. His mother was actress Virginia Fox. He graduated from Stanford University, and served in the military before joining his father as a story and production assistant at Twentieth Century Fox.

He produced his first film, “Compulsion,” at 24, and at 28 became the head of production at the studio. Over the next eight years, Fox won three best-picture Oscars, for “The Sound of Music,” “Patton” and “The French Connection.”

In 1970, according to the AP, Darryl Zanuck fired his son in an effort to save his own job. The maneuver failed and the father was soon out too.

“It was hard to see my father go through that,” Richard Zanuck said of the episode, according to “I recovered from being fired, I don’t think he ever did.”

It wasn’t until shortly before Darryl Zanuck’s death in 1979 that the reconciled, the AP said.

Shark Incident

Richard Zanuck moved to Warner Bros., where he worked with his future partner, David Brown. They left to form Zanuck/Brown Co., which lasted for a decade and a half. As an independent producer, Zanuck helped Steven Spielberg make his first film, “The Sugarland Express,” then the box-office hit “Jaws.”

In the statement, Spielberg said Zanuck “taught me everything I know about producing.”

Zanuck produced numerous other movies, including “Cocoon” and “The Road to Perdition,” as well as the 2000 Oscars presentation with his third wife, Lili Fini Zanuck. His collaborations with Burton include “Sweeney Todd,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and ‘‘Big Fish.’’

Zanuck was twice divorced. He married actress Lili Gentle in 1958 and had two daughters, Virginia and Janet, according to the AP. With Linda Harrison, whom he married in 1969, he had two sons, Harrison and Dean.

He is survived by Lili F. Zanuck, whom he married in 1978, his two sons and nine grandchildren, according to his publicist.

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