From Jaws to Dark Shadows

The other day I saw a preview for the Jaws Blu-ray, and I have to say it looked fantastic. 

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing one of the greatest movies of all time again, especially considering it probably looks better than ever now, and it should delight the film’s legions of fans. Yet it’s unfortunate that Richard Zanuck, who produced Jaws and many other great movies, won’t be here to see it.

Richard Zanuck came from famous Hollywood lineage; his father was the legendary Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox. But even with a father who was Hollywood royalty, Richard was his own man. He got plenty of hands on experience on films, starting out as a key grip, and moving all the way up the corporate ladder to where he was co-running the studio with his father, before moving on to be an independent producer.


Although he co-produced such mainstream hits as The Sting and Driving Miss Daisy, genre fans also know the original Planet of the Apes and Fantastic Voyage were made on his watch at Fox. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, M*A*S*H*, The French Connection, and Patton were also made at Fox during the time he ran the studio with his father Darryl.


He also gave Steven Spielberg a hell of a big break with Sugarland Express and Jaws, which Richard produced with his partner, the late David Brown. He also later produced Cocoon, and late in his career produced six Tim Burton films, including his remake of Planet of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland, and most recently, Dark Shadows.


Even though he was nearing eighty, it was a shock to learn that Richard recent;u died of a heart attack on July 13 at the age of 77, because he was in damn good shape for his age. He reputedly would run five miles before work in the morning, loved to surf, and was a fitness nut all his life. And in a town where producers are considered some of the sleaziest people in the biz, by all accounts Zanuck was a professional and a gentleman, someone who gave producers a good name.


In a statement, Tim Burton said, “I’m in shock and heartbroken at the news of Richard Zanuck’s passing. He was like family to me – a mentor, friend and father figure. Richard was a completely unique and amazing individual and there will never be anyone else like him. I’m too sad to speak more about it right now and need some time to mourn.”


Spielberg also said in a statement, “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. 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. He was one of the most honorable and loyal men of our profession and he fought tooth and nail for his directors.”


And indeed, when Jaws went over budget and overschedule, Zanuck had Spielberg’s back, and kept the studio away from him. As recalled in the L.A. Times, Zanuck told the young Spiel, “Think of me as your bodyguard.”