DARRYL F. ZANUCK Biography - Bussiness people and enterpreneurs


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Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979) produced some of the most           
important and controversial films in Hollywood. He co-founded   
20th Century-Fox studios and helped entertain moviegoers as a   
producer for over 50 years. Three of his films won Academy       
Awards for best motion picture and many more received           
Zanuck was born on September 5, 1902 in Wahoo, Nebraska, the     
son of an alcoholic hotel clerk, Frank Zanuck, and Louise       
Torpin. His parents quarreled often about Frank's drinking and   
gambling. Soon after a huge fight with his father over her       
promiscuity with traveling salesman, Louise Zanuck left the     
family and moved to Arizona. Her son moved in with his           
grandparents, the Torpins. After his mother remarried and       
moved to California, his father left town without telling       
young Zanuck. Rejoining his mother and new stepfather, Joseph   
Norton, in California, Zanuck became part of an abusive,         
dysfunctional family. Norton was a violent alcoholic who beat   
his wife and flung Zanuck across the room when he tried to       
protect his mother. Norton insisted that Zanuck be enrolled at   
a military academy. The boy was eight years old. Zanuck was so   
bored and lonely there that he began running away. On the       
streets of Los Angeles he ran into his father, who convinced     
him to return to the academy and began taking him to movies     
twice a week. But one day his father failed to show up for       
their visit. Zanuck never saw or heard from him again.           
Wandering the streets of Los Angeles looking for his father,   
Zanuck was picked up by the police and brought to his mother.   
She made it clear she did not want her 12-year-old son around   
and shipped him back to Nebraska to be raised by his Torpin     
grandparents. When he was 15, Zanuck lied about his age and     
joined the U.S. Army. There he began boxing as a flyweight,     
but never saw battle. Returning to Nebraska after the war,       
Zanuck told his grandmother that he was going to California to   
rejoin his mother. She bought him a bus ticket and gave him a   
hundred dollars for emergencies. At the age of 17, Zanuck       
arrived in Pasadena with no intention of seeing his mother. He   
had one goal in mind: to become a writer.                       
A Dream Come True                                               
Zanuck sold his first story to a pulp fiction magazine and       
then decided to sell the story to a film studio. His             
girlfriend suggested he join the Los Angeles Athletic Club to   
make contacts with movie people. When Zanuck attempted to       
join, however, he was rejected. He had been blackballed         
because people thought he was Jewish (he was not), and the       
club did not admit Jews. Zanuck later used the experience to     
produce the Academy Award winning, Gentleman's Agreement,       
Hollywood's first film dealing with anti-Semitism.               
At the age of 19, Zanuck wrote and sold his first Hollywood     
screenplay. At age 20 he became a gag writer for Mack Sennet     
and later for Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. Working for     
Warner Brothers, Zanuck wrote the scripts for the highly         
popular Rin Tin Tin movies, which starred a German shepherd.     
At 23, Zanuck became head of production for Warner Brothers.     
Two years later he produced the movie The Jazz Singer, often     
called the first "talkie" or movie with sound. In reality it     
was a silent movie with several sound musical and talking       
sequences, but it brought about the end of the silent film era   
and changed the nature of the film industry forever. Leonard     
Mosley, author of Zanuck: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood's       
Last Tycoon, called the movie, "probably the most momentous     
movie in the history of the motion picture industry." Zanuck     
added sound to all his subsequent movies. The new talking       
pictures made Warner Brothers the most successful studio in     
Zanuck made another wise choice when he cast James Cagney, a     
song-and-dance man, in the starring role in The Public Enemy,   
a gangster movie released in 1931. Zanuck came up with the       
idea for the famous "grapefruit scene" in which Cagney pushes   
half a grapefruit into his girlfriend's face. Although very     
successful, critics attacked the film as immoral.               
Zanuck married an actress named Virginia Fox in 1924. The       
couple's new financial security led Virginia Zanuck to decide   
that the time was now right for starting a family. In 1931,     
she gave birth to Darrylin and had a second daughter, Susan,     
two years later. Richard was born in 1934. Although it was       
very unusual at the time, Darryl Zanuck was present at the       
birth of all his children, whom he adored. Marriage, for         
Zanuck, did not include fidelity. He is said to have had         
numerous affairs with actresses.                                 
A New Venture                                                   
In April 1933, after Zanuck realized he would never be more     
than an employee at Warner Brothers, he left to form 20th       
Century Films with Joseph Schenck and William Goetz. The new     
studio made many successful films such as The Bowery and Call   
of the Wild.. The studio's biggest money-maker was The House     
of Rothschild, about a wealthy Jewish family from Vienna and     
the anti-Semitism they experienced. The movie was               
controversial at the time because the Nazis had just come to     
power in Germany. The House of Rothschild cemented Zanuck's     
reputation as Hollywood's boldest and most enterprising         
The Birth of 20th Century-Fox                                   
Feeling frustrated with the distribution of their films,         
Schenck and Zanuck engineered the merger of their studio with   
Fox Films, which had the best distribution in the industry and   
a chain of movie theaters across the U.S. The new studio was     
called 20th Century-Fox, and Zanuck was vice president in       
charge of production. Through the merger Zanuck gained some     
big-name stars, such as Shirley Temple, Will Rogers, and Janet   
Gaynor. Zanuck was considered the most hands-on of the major     
studio moguls, exhibiting great talent in re-making movies in   
the cutting room. Besides making hundreds of routine pictures,   
Zanuck also produced several films based on liberal causes,     
such as The Grapes of Wrath and Wilson. He continued making     
films on controversial subjects, such as Gentlemen's             
Agreementand Pinky. Many of his movies were sentimental,         
content-rich dramas such as the Academy Award winning, How       
Green Was My Valley and Twelve O'Clock High.                     
After more than three decades together, Zanuck's wife threw     
him out of the house when she learned he was having an affair   
with Bella Darvi. Zanuck gave up day-to-day control of the       
studio and went to Paris with Darvi. There he started an         
independent film company. Many of his later films made in       
Europe were produced in part to help the careers of his         
mistresses--Darvi, Juliette Greco, Irina Demick and Genevieve   
Gilles. None of these actresses were popular with directors,     
critics, or audiences and most of the movies he made there       
failed, with the exception of The Longest Day. Darvi             
accumulated large gambling debts and eventually committed       
suicide. Zanuck had a stroke in Paris and was depressed and     
Leadership Tensions                                             
In 1962, Zanuck returned as president of 20th Century-Fox. He   
appointed his son, Richard, head of production at the           
Hollywood studio. Although the headquarters of the company was   
in New York, Zanuck continued living in France. Tensions arose   
between father and son over the making of the movie Patton. In   
1969, the board of 20th Century-Fox suggested that Richard       
become president of the company and Darryl become chairman of   
the board. Zanuck agreed to the change, but later felt he had   
been manipulated. In December 1970, Zanuck got his revenge. He   
coldly and cruelly humiliated his son at a board of directors   
meeting and replaced Richard as president of the company with   
himself. Virginia Zanuck, outraged at her husband's behavior,   
threw her support and 100,000 shares of stock behind a group     
of dissident shareholders, who had grown tired of Zanuck's       
penchant for mingling business with pleasure.                   
The Bitter End                                                   
In May 1971, the board of directors of 20th Century-Fox forced   
Zanuck out. His health deteriorated, leading to                 
hospitalization. Richard began visiting his father and the two   
reconciled. Zanuck and his girlfriend, Genevieve Gilles, went   
to his home in Palm Springs so that he could recover. Much to   
their surprise, Virginia Zanuck had left her Santa Monica home   
and had gone to Palm Springs to await the return of her         
husband. Gilles was thrown out. Virginia and Darryl celebrated   
their 50th wedding anniversary in January 1974 with a few       
friends and family members.                                     
Zanuck's death on December 22, 1979 in Palm Springs,             
California, ignited a feud over his will. Gilles was outraged   
to learn that she would inherit nothing and tried to fight the   
will in court. In October 1982, Virginia Zanuck died of a lung   
infection complicated by emphysema. Richard was shocked to       
learn that she had virtually cut his two sons out of her will.   
Richard tried to fight the will, but he and his sister settled   
the matter out of court.