On this day in 1979, Darryl Zanuck, the powerful Hollywood studio chief and producer behind a long list of classic movies, including The Grapes of Wrath, All About Eve and The Longest Day, dies at age 77 in Palm Springs, California. The cigar-chomping, womanizing Zanuck was a force in the movie business for four decades, during which he greenlit hundreds of projects and promoted the careers of such actors as Henry Fonda and Tyrone Power.
Zanuck, who was born on September 5, 1902, in Wahoo, Nebraska, began his career in Hollywood as a writer in the early 1920s. He penned scripts for the canine film star Rin Tin Tin at Warner Brothers and by the early 1930s was head of production for the movie studio. In 1933, Zanuck left Warner to co-found Twentieth Century Pictures, which in 1935 merged with Fox Studios to become Twentieth Century-Fox. At Twentieth Century-Fox, Zanuck signed contracts with actors including Fonda, Power, Gene Tierney and Betty Grable and produced or gave the go-ahead to now-classic films like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), starring Shirley Temple; director John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940), starring Fonda; the Academy Award-winning How Green Was My Valley (1941), with Maureen O’Hara; director Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), with Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and John Garfield; Twelve O’Clock High (1949), featuring Peck in a Best Actor Oscar-nominated performance; and All About Eve (1950), with Bette Davis, Celeste Holme and Marilyn Monroe. All About Eve, the story of an aging actress whose life is taken over by one of her fans, was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture and Best Director (Joseph Mankiewicz).
Under Zanuck’s leadership, Twentieth Century-Fox also made a string of successful movie musicals, including The King and I (1956), with Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, and The Sound of Music (1965), starring Julie Andrews. In 1962, Zanuck released his World War II epic The Longest Day, which featured a large ensemble cast including John Wayne, Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum and Sean Connery. The Longest Day earned five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture for Zanuck.
Zanuck’s final film was the 1970 box-office disappointment Tora! Tora! Tora!, about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was forced out as the head of Twentieth Century-Fox in 1971. Darryl Zanuck’s son, Richard Zanuck, born on December 13, 1934, also became a successful movie producer; his long list of hits includes Jaws (1975), The Verdict (1982), Cocoon (1985), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).