March 1

This Day in History

Hollywood

Mar 1, 1971:

Richard Zanuck and David Brown join Warner Brothers

On this day in 1971, in the latest development in a Hollywood-style family feud, Warner Brothers announces that it has hired Richard Zanuck (son of Darryl F. Zanuck, chairman and chief executive officer of 20th Century Fox) and David Brown, both of whom were forced out at Fox in a tense shakeup in December 1970.

Darryl Zanuck had taken control of 20th Century Fox from its founder, his father-in-law William Fox, after it went bankrupt during the Great Depression. Richard Zanuck was just 28 years old when his father made him chief of production in 1962; he became the youngest studio chief in Hollywood history. In 1969, he was named Fox’s president. Notable films made under his stewardship were The Sound of Music (1965), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), M*A*S*H (1970) and The French Connection (1971). Things soon went downhill, however, as a series of high-budget films produced disappointing box-office returns, adding up to a reported deficit of $21.3 million for the first nine months of 1970. It was an open secret within the industry that the Zanucks had increasingly found themselves at odds, with tensions exacerbated by threats of a proxy fight from disgruntled Fox shareholders.

Press coverage of Richard Zanuck’s forced resignation (along with that of Brown, his executive vice president of creative operations) maintained that Darryl Zanuck had effectively allowed his son to be pushed out in order to preserve his own position at Fox, the company he had been guiding since 1935. By the time Darryl Zanuck died in 1979, he and his son had reconciled. As announced on March 1, 1971, Zanuck and Brown joined Warner Brothers as senior executive vice president and executive vice president of creative operations, respectively. They lasted only a short time in the positions, however, and in 1972 formed their own independent film production company. The following year, Zanuck and Brown produced the Oscar-winner The Sting, and they hit the jackpot in 1975 with the release of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (made in association with Universal Pictures), the first-ever movie to gross more than $100 million.

In 1990, two years after they dissolved their long partnership, Zanuck and Brown were jointly awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The award made Zanuck the only second-generation recipient of the award, which his father won in 1945. That same night, he and his wife, Lili Fini Zanuck, picked up the Best Picture Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy (1989), the debut offering from their new production company. Zanuck’s more recent films include Planet of the Apes (2001), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Sweeney Todd (2007).

For his part, Brown has continued to produce--including such films as A Few Good Men (1992), Kiss the Girls (1997) and Angela’s Ashes (1999)--and is also a journalist and author who has worked as the managing editor of Cosmopolitan magazine (his wife, Helen Gurley Brown, was editor-in-chief for more than 20 years) and an occasional contributor to The New Yorker.

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