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Nonfiction in Brief

July 09, 1989|SONJA BOLLE

THE ZANUCKS OF HOLLYWOOD The Dark Legacy of an American Dynasty by Marlys J. Harris (Crown Publishers: $24.95; 352 pp.)

Marlys J. Harris has written a salacious, scandal-mongering book, quite in keeping with the subject of the film mogul and tyrant whose entire family fortunes crumbled in decadence, misery and addiction shortly after his death.

Darryl Zanuck's "most significant recollection," Harris reports, was falling in a cesspool when he was a child, having disobeyed his mother's instructions not to go near it. The image serves to organize the book, a portrait of hatred, jealousy, greed and skulduggery--to say nothing of ugly deaths--that decimated the family and its fortunes in the space of a few years.

Beginning his career with "You've Never Seen a Bald Indian" (essentially a publicity film for a hair lotion), Zanuck continued to attract notice with his flair for titles. He was a gag writer for Mack Sennett and then for Charlie Chaplin. By 1926, Zanuck was by far the most prolific writer at Warner Brothers, and was forced to write under pseudonyms to avoid criticism from competitors. His box- office hits continued for decades.

A short, rough-cut figure, Zanuck married Virginia Fox, who had been educated in private schools but was determined to be an actress. Over her parents' objections, she took her first part as a bathing beauty in a Mack Sennett production. Zanuck never seemed to be very attached either to Virginia or to their children, Richard, Darrylin and Susan. He instructed the children to brush their teeth, study and behave via typewritten memo. As they grew up, his children and grandchildren spent money recklessly and led addictive, miserably unhappy lives. When his son was in trouble as head of 20th Century-Fox, Zanuck coolly voted to have him fired.

Zanuck had countless mistresses. His liaison with Juliette Greco became public when in her autobiography, "Je Suis Comme Je Suis," she recounted that Zanuck wore short, "Babydoll" pajamas and a sleep mask to bed; that he struck her during an argument on location in Africa and put out a cigar on her neck. But Zanuck's most long-lived affair was with the French fashion model Genevieve Gillaizeau, 44 years younger and 3 inches taller than he.

Zanuck's death in 1978 was followed by a rash of court battles and untimely deaths. Wrote grandson Andre Jr.: "It seemed as though one year we were all sitting at the table together for Thanksgiving dinner. Then, like in a year, nobody was left." His grandfather, mother, father and brother were all dead; his mother died of alcoholism, his brother (Dino) of an overdose. Virginia died in the fall of 1982, adding to the toll, and her death set off more battles over inheritance.

THE CIVIL WAR NOTEBOOK OF DANIEL CHISHOLM A Chronicle of Daily Life in the Union Army 1864-1865 edited by W. Springer Menge and J. August Shimrak (Orion Books: $18.95; 224 pp.)

Daniel Chisholm fought in Company K of the Union Army in the final months of the Civil War. When he returned home to Illinois, he collected and preserved his own letters home as well as those of his brother, Alexander, and the field diary of Sgt. Samuel Clear. While these records give little sense of the overall course of the war, the accounts of daily experience give valuable insight into the deadly new methods of warfare that foresaw the enormous destruction of World War I. In the first battle of the Civil War, Union casualties numbered between 2,600 and 3,300. Three years later, 17,660 died in the Wilderness, the late recruits' first engagement.

From their induction on Feb. 29, 1864, the recruits have a slow start, taking several weeks to reach their first camp. On March 18, they receive their muskets. Their first battle comes barely six weeks later on May 5. The greenhorns are quickly seasoned. By May 29, Samuel Clear writes: "I had been with the colors so long that I hardly knew how Co 'K' was standing the hardships she had been called upon to go through . . . three months in The service of Uncle Sam."

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