Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979)

Darryl F. Zanuck
Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck was a movie producer and film studio owner who led an extraordinary life and left an indelible mark on the history of the American movie industry. He became, purely through his own talent and energy, one of the most important and influential producers in Hollywood.

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He was born Darryl Simon Michael Barnes on September 5, 1902 in Wahoo, Nebraska, the son of an alcoholic hotel keeper. As a young teenager, he was effectively abandoned by both his parents and in 1918 when he was sixteen, he made a false declaration about his age, changed his name to Darryl F. Zanuck, and joined the United States Army, serving with the Nebraska National Guard in France and Belgium at the end of the First World War.

On his return, still only eighteen, he took a series of menial jobs whilst trying to find permanent employment as a writer. After 2 years he was successful in selling his first story, written as a movie plot, to a Hollywood producer. He followed up with some piecework scripts for Mack Sennet and Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures and he was finally able to get regular work with Warner Bros, writing scripts and plots for 'Rin Tin Tin', the police-dog movie series. Although with minimum basic education he had a natural gift for conceiving movie plots and as well as the 'Rin Tin Tin' scripts he became, between 1924 and 1929, a full time script writer, creating over 40 film scripts for Warners.

His natural understanding of the movie creation process and his administrative acumen brought him to the attention of Jack Warner who in 1928 made him studio manager and then head of production. It was a critical time in Hollywood with the introduction of sound and Zanuck was instrumental in expertly guiding Warner Bros. into the sound era. After 'The Jazz Singer' was released in 1927, Zanuck received a special Academy Award "for producing The Jazz Singer, the pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry". He subsequently was responsible for a number of hit movies for Warner Bros., such as 'Little Caesar' in 1930, 'The Public Enemy' the following year and 'I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang' in 1932.

He had uncanny instinct for spotting trends in popular culture and he saw the need during the Great Depression for light, but socially aware, musicals. So in 1933 he re-invented the musical with two more hit movies-'Footlight Parade' and '42nd Street'.

After these successes Zanuck was valued highly by Warners but he had many heated arguments with Harry M. Warner, who largely controlled the studio's finances, and when his request for a partnership status in the company was refused he took the decision to leave. He had already made a formidable reputation in Hollywood and there was no shortage of studios anxious for his services but Zanuck wanted absolute control over his output and chose to form his own studio, forming Twentieth Century Pictures later in 1933, in partnership with Joseph Schenck, the former president of United Artists, and William Goetz from Fox Films. The new company was successful almost immediately and produced 'The House of Rothschild' in 1934, starring Loretta Young and Boris Karloff, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Zanuck merged the new company with the ailing Fox Studios in 1935, shrewdly incorporating their theatrical network in the deal. The new company was called Twentieth Century Fox and Zanuck was made vice-president and head of production.

Zanuck took a 'hands-on' approach to his new job, and became closely involved in the detail of movie making, editing and producing. The only aspect which he shied away from was movie directing. He realised the importance of building a base of popular performers and he nurtured profitable stars such as Tyrone Power, Don Ameche and Alice Faye. The most important performer for the new studio was undoubtedly Shirley Temple and Zanuck produced several highly profitable movies starring the child star, such as 'The Littlest Rebel' in 1935, 'Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm' in 1938 and 'Susannah of the Mounties' in 1939.

In 1940 Zanuck produced his first major blockbusters and put Twentieth Century Fox firmly amongst the ranks of leading studios, with 'The Mark of Zorro', and 'The Grapes of Wrath' followed in 1941 by 'How Green Was My Valley'.He served in the U.S. Army during World War II as as supervisor for Signal Corps training films and production of the photographic record of the North Africa invasion, and was awarded the Legion of Merit. He made, amongst others, 'To the Shores of Tripoli' in 1942, a patriotic film which the Marines called the "biggest single recruitment aide" of the war.

He returned to the studio and in 1943 produced 'The Oxbow Incident', with Henry Fonda, a dark and powerful movie about a lynching in America. He continued producing high quality, successful movies such as 'Twelve O'Clock High' in 1949, 'All about Eve' in 1950 and 'Viva Zapata!' in 1952 until in the mid 1950's he made the decision to leave his wife and move to Europe to concentrate on making movies as an independent producer.

His motives for this dramatic move are difficult to fathom and have been put down to a mid-life crisis. He spent 6 lost years making films which helped to promote the careers of a succession of girlfriends, such as Bella Darvi, Irina Demick and Geneviève Gilles, but which did little to further his own reputation other than as a lecher.

He returned to Fox in 1962 after its disastrously expensive production of 'Cleopatra' and re-established control. Under his new guidance the studio once again began to make memorable movies such as 'The Longest Day' in 1962, 'The Sound of Music' in 1965, and 'Planet of the Apes' in 1968 but after the disappointing 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' in 1970, Zanuck resigned from the studio after a bitter power struggle involving his son, Richard D. Zanuck, whom he had made head of production in 1962.


Zanuck married once, in 1924, to a silent movie actress, Virginia Fox, and the couple had three children, daughters Darrilyn Zanuck DePineda, born in 1931 and Susan born in 1933, and son Richard D. Zanuck who was born in 1935. Zanuck was known as a womaniser and as an enthusiastic exponent of the casting couch interview. He and his wife never divorced but separated in 1954 when Virginia discovered through her daughter Susan that Zanuck and the young actress Bella Darvi were romantically involved. Darvi fled to Paris and Zanuck followed soon afterwards and began his 6 years in Europe chasing girls too young for him and creating hardly any movies of significance. Zanuck and Virginia reconciled as his health failed and she nursed him through his final illness.

Zanuck suffered from Alzheimer's Disease from the early 1970's and he died, from jaw cancer in Palm Springs, California on December 22, 1979. He was aged 77.

Darryl F. Zanuck Filmography
(As producer unless otherwise specified)

Lady Windermere's Fan (uncredited)
So This Is Paris
Old San Francisco (uncredited)
The First Auto
Noah's Ark (associate producer - uncredited)
On with the Show! (producer - uncredited)
The Show of Shows
Three Faces East
A Handful of Clouds (executive producer - uncredited)
Little Caesar (uncredited)
Illicit (uncredited)
The Public Enemy,(uncredited)
The Silent Voice (uncredited)
Rich Are Always with Us (uncredited)
The The Dark Horse (uncredited)
Doctor X (executive producer - uncredited)
The Dawn of Life (executive producer - uncredited)
The Cabin in the Cotton (uncredited)
Three on a Match (producer - uncredited)
20,000 Years in Sing Sing (uncredited)
Parachute Jumper (uncredited)
42nd Street (uncredited)
The Working Man (uncredited)
Ex-Lady (uncredited)
The Bowery
Blood Money
Advice to the Lovelorn
Gallant Lady
Moulin Rouge
The House of Rothschild
Looking for Trouble
The Last Gentleman
Born to Be Bad
Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back
The Affairs of Cellini
The Mighty Barnum
Clive of India
The Man from the Folies Bergère
Les Misérables
Cardinal Richelieu
The Call of the Wild
Thanks a Million
The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo
Tainted Money
Professional Soldier
The Prisoner of Shark Island
It Had to Happen
A Message to Garcia
The Country Beyond
Under Two Flags
Half Angel
The Road to Glory (producer in charge of production)
White Fang
Poor Little Rich Girl
To Mary - with Love
Sing, Baby, Sing
Ramona (executive producer)
Pigskin Parade
Reunion (executive producer)
White Hunter
Banjo on My Knee (executive producer)
In Old Chicago
On the Avenue
Nancy Steele Is Missing! (executive producer)
Seventh Heaven
Angel's Holiday
Slave Ship
Wee Willie Winkie
Wake Up and Live
Lovely to Look at (uncredited)
Lancer Spy (executive producer)
Wife, Doctor and Nurse
Love and Hisses
Happy Landing
International Settlement
Sally, Irene and Mary (executive producer)
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Three Men and a Girl
Josette (executive producer)
Three Blind Mice
Always Goodbye
Little Miss Broadway
I'll Give a Million
My Lucky Star
Just Around the Corner
Submarine Patrol
Kentucky (executive producer)
Jesse James
Tail Spin
Wife, Husband and Friend
The Hound of the Baskervilles (executive producer - uncredited)
The Modern Miracle
Rose of Washington Square
Young Mr. Lincoln
Susannah of the Mounties
Second Fiddle
Stanley and Livingstone
Hotel for Women
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (uncredited)
The Rains Came
Here I Am a Stranger
Hollywood Cavalcade
Drums Along the Mohawk (uncredited)
Too Busy to Work
Swanee River
The Blue Bird
The Grapes Of Wrath
Little Old New York
Star Dust
Lillian Russell
Four Sons
The Man I Married
The Return of Frank James
Brigham Young: Frontiersman
The Great Profile
Public Deb No. 1
Down Argentine Way
The Mark of Zorro (executive producer - uncredited)
Chad Hanna
How Green Was My Valley
Week-End in Havana (executive producer - uncredited)
A Yank in the R.A.F.
Sun Valley Serenade (executive producer - uncredited)
Wild Geese Calling (executive producer)
Moon Over Miami (executive producer - uncredited)
For Beauty's Sake
Blood and Sand
The Great American Broadcast
That Night in Rio (executive producer - uncredited)
Tobacco Road
Western Union (executive producer - uncredited)
Hudson's Bay
Know for Sure (short) (uncredited)
Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake
Song of the Islands (executive producer - uncredited)
Sex Hygiene (short)
To the Shores of Tripoli
This Above All
The Black Swan (executive producer - uncredited)
China Girl ( uncredited)
At the Front (documentary short)
Lifeboat (executive producer - uncredited)
The Purple Heart
Buffalo Bill (executive producer - uncredited)
Winged Victory