Many of Hollywood’s leading producers and directors gathered at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills on Monday night to honor the late Richard Zanuck with a screening of the new documentary, “Don’t Say No Until I Finish Talking: The Story of Richard Zanuck.”
The legendary producer died of a heart attack on July 13. He was 77.
Steven Spielberg addressed the crowd, which included Ron Howard, Michael Mann, Sherry Lansing and William Friedkin, before the screening and noted of the film:
“What you are about to see was never intended to be what it has become. It was never intended to be a memorial to Richard’s contribution to the arts and the contributions to his family.”
Zanuck watched a cut of the movie only three days before his death.
“It most likely could have been the last film he ever saw,” noted Spielberg (on left with Zanuck while filming "Jaws") in photo at left) . “Everything I have ever learned about producing, I learned from this man. I miss him. I miss the idea of him. And for countless future filmmakers, I will miss, for them, the chance that was given to learn my craft from the best of the best. He was every director’s best friend. He was the cornerstone of this industry in deed and in name.”
"Don’t Say No Until I Finish Talking" is a variation on a phrase attributed to Zanuck’s legendary father, Darryl F. Zanuck who said, “Don’t say yes until I finish talking.”
The elder Zanuck, a hard-charging, cigar-chomping legend, ran 20th Century Fox in the 1930s and 1940s, overseeing production on numerous classics like “The Grapes of Wrath” and “How Green Was My Valley.”
Also read: Producer Richard D. Zanuck Dies at 77
Raised on the backlot, Richard Zanuck grew up working under his father who, in 1962, when the studio was floundering after the excesses of Elizabeth Taylor’s troubled “Cleopatra,” turned to his 27-year-old son and asked who would make the best new production chief. Richard Zanuck responded with one word — “me.”
Under his leadership, Fox rebounded with a Best Picture Oscar and box office hit, “The Sound of Music,” followed by “Planet of the Apes” and another Best Picture Oscar for, “Patton.”
But soon the studio was back in the red with bombs like “Hello, Dolly” and “Dr. Doolittle,” and Zanuck was fired from Fox by his own father.
In the seventies, Richard Zanuck teamed with David Brown to form Zanuck/Brown, which produced another Best Picture winner, “The Sting,” and went on to make two movies with Spielberg — then a struggling young filmmaker — “Sugarland Express” and “Jaws.”
“When we first tested the shark on ‘Jaws’ and we sat in a boat together, we watched it sink to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean,” Spielberg recalled. “Dick turned to me and said, ‘Gee, I hope that’s not a sign.”
After splitting with Brown in 1988, Zanuck partnered with his wife, Lili, to form the Zanuck Company whose “Driving Miss Daisy,” directed by Bruce Beresford, won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1989.
Since 2001, Zanuck was known primarily for producing Tim Burton’s movies with his name on all but “The Corpse Bride.”
“Don’t Say No Until I Finish Talking: The Story of Richard Zanuck” was produced by Amblin TV, TCM and directed by Laurent Bouzerou.
The new movie was shot in 2011 and will debut in April at the Turner Classic Movies film festival in Hollywood, then air on the network the following month.
Zanuck’s widow, Lili Fini Zanuck, also addressed the audience noting through her tears:
“My loss is devastating,” she said, recalling a moment a few months back when she cried out to him, “Please don’t leave!’ And for some reason I’d been worried about that a lot lately, maybe like the last year. Of course Dick, in his way, said, ‘Why, do you know something?'”