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One of the kingpins of Hollywood's studio system, Zanuck was the offspring of the ill-fated marriage of the alcoholic night clerk in Wahoo, Nebraska's only hotel and the hotel owner's daughter. Both parents had abandoned him by the time he was 13. At 15, he joined the U.S. Army, and he fought in Belgium in World War I. Mustered out, he kept himself alive with a series of desultory jobs -- steelworker, foreman in a garment factory, professional boxer -- while pursuing a career as a writer. He turned his first published story (for "Physical Culture, " a pulp magazine) into a film scenario for William Russell; his next important sale was to Irving Thalberg. Although often described as barely literate, Zanuck turned out to have a knack for movie plots. After a well-paid apprenticeship with Mack Sennett, Syd Chaplin and Carl Laemmle, Zanuck hit his stride by devising (with Malcolm St. Clair) the Rin Tin Tin series of police-dog movies for Warner Brothers. For Warner, under his own name and three pseudonyms, he ground out as many as 19 scripts a year and became head of production at age 23. He helped forge that studio's style with such films as Le chanteur de jazz (1927), L'ennemi public (1931) and Je suis un évadé (1932). In 1933, after the Warners made it clear that Zanuck would never be more than an employee, he quit to form Twentieth Century Films (with backing from Louis B. Mayer and Joseph M. Schenck). In 1935, Twentieth absorbed a bankrupt giant, Fox. Zanuck ruled the combined studio for decades. He became known as the most "hands-on" of the major studio bosses, taking particular pride in his talent for remaking movies in the cutting room. His signature productions were such sentimental, content-laden dramas as Qu'elle était verte ma vallée (1941), Les raisins de la colère (1940), and Un homme de fer (1949). In the late fifties, Zanuck relinquished day-to-day control of the studio, left his wife, and moved to Europe to concentrate on producing. Many of his later films were designed in part to promote the careers of his successive girlfriends, Bella Darvi, Juliette Gréco, Irina Demick and Geneviève Gilles -- none of whom found much favor with directors or audiences. After the success of Le jour le plus long (1962), Zanuck returned to run 20th Century-Fox; he promoted his son, Richard D. Zanuck, to head of production, then engineered his firing in a messy boardroom brawl. Within a few months, in May 1971, Zanuck himself was deposed. He was the last studio boss of his era to go down.

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