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Reconcilable Differences

THE RITES OF HOLLYWOOD: Part 17 of a series on life in the entertainment community.

July 12, 1987|PAUL ROSENFIELD

Hollywood invented the ideal--or idealized--American marriage in films like "The Thin Man" and "The Best Years of Our Lives." But marriage in this company town has been more battlefront than beachfront. With very notable exceptions (James Stewart, Jack Lemmon), the community that thrives on illusion also thrives on separation. The Hollywood marriage too often becomes the Hollywood divorce.

So how do you cast a Hollywood couple? First by realizing that cliches ("One star to a marriage") are as rampant as old Golden Globes. And just as useful.

Surprising solutions to the severe strains of marriage are offered by the following five couples. Among them they've been married 15 times--but can any conclusion be drawn? Only one: Nick and Nora Charles were never for real.

Zanuck and Fini

THE ONLY WAY TO STAY TOGETHER IS BEING TOUGH

"There goes Federico Fellini," said producer Richard Zanuck, watching his wife make a whizbang exit from their Beverly Hills offices. Lili Fini Zanuck had just finished directing a Michael Franks music video, and she had to be in a Hollywood editing room in seven minutes.

FOR THE RECORD - IMPERFECTIONS
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 19, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Page 98 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
In Paul Rosenfield's "Reconcilable Differences" July 12, the movie "Baby Boom" was referred to as a 20th Century Fox picture. In fact, it is a United Artists release.

"Dinner at 8 at Laddie's," reminded her husband. "Do you remember which house?"

"Beverly Drive, with trees," said the third Mrs. Richard Zanuck. "I'll be a little late, but I'll be there."

"Goodby, Fellini," said Dick Zanuck. Without a beat he turned to a visitor and added, "Lili unlocked in me a sense of humor most people don't think I possess. We have 10 big laughs a day around here--10, minimum."

It wasn't always so. Dick Zanuck, 53, has been, as he puts it, "forever a husband." Two previous marriages, nine years each, to two actresses (Lili Gentle, Linda Harrison) brought two daughters, two sons and two dark divorces. "I've been accused of having a fixation for the letter 'L,' " cracked Zanuck, "Lili, Linda, Lili--I never have to switch the monograms, on luggage or linens. . . ."

Zanuck had to shift in other ways, though, to accommodate Lili Fini, who's exactly 20 years his junior. Fini was fortuitously not an actress, but neither was she going to stay at the Zanuck homestead on Ocean Front Walk. Ten years ago, employed in marketing at Carnation, Fini was fed up with singledom in Los Angeles and on the brink of returning to Washington, D.C--after only six months here. Enter, stormily, Dick Zanuck. They met on a blind date arranged by Zanuck's tennis partner, restaurateur Pierre Groleau.

"Lili was a tough girl when I met her," said the producer ("Jaws," "The Sting," "Cocoon"). "She looked like trouble. My first reaction was, 'Jesus, steer clear of this.' Why I went on, I dunno. It was starting to feel like love, and I guess I was willing to go through the mine fields."

"I was tough, I liked being tough," Lili Zanuck had said earlier that day as the couple sat side-by-side in their office. A generation apart, they are nevertheless like pieces of a broken frame that's been mended--together they fit. "When you are single a long time you need a veneer to protect you from glibness, from the lines men hand you."

Added Zanuck: "The marriage succeeds because she is tough, was tough. Actually," Zanuck said as if making a discovery, "Lili still has strength but she's refined it."

"Look," simplified his wife of nine years, "Dick doesn't pussyfoot around. If you aren't tough you crumble. Because he expects perfection. And you gotta deliver."

"Deliver" is a word of many meanings in modern Hollywood. "Deliver" means playing stepmother, business partner, socialite, soulmate, fellow athlete. (Zanuck's daily five-mile runs are widely known; he claims not to have missed one day in four years. The two of them also exercise--separately--with a private trainer in the workout room that separates their two offices.) "Dick is the kind of person who has a checklist. Nothing gives him greater glee than to take the checklist and see if you got to every item. So you feel a pressure to deliver, and yet you are rewarded."

"It's actually easier if your mate is tough," said Zanuck, "because you tune in and keep up."

Zanuck knows about people keeping up. He's the only son of the late 20th Century Fox czar Darryl Zanuck--the only mogul who won the Irving Thalberg Award three times and was generally considered to be the closest to Thalberg in terms of all-round talent and ability. If not fiber. In 1962, Zanuck pere installed Zanuck fils as the youngest-ever (28) corporate head of a studio. Seven years later, the father fired the son. Family politics mixed with Hollywood politics is not an unfamiliar conversation for Dick Zanuck. Not for nothing was his first job as a production assistant on his father's "The Sun Also Rises."

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