Mel Gussow's 1971 biography of Darryl F. Zanuck, "Don't Say Yes Until I Finish Talking," chronicles the life of one of Hollywood's original movie moguls.
Zanuck's son, veteran producer Dick Zanuck, plans to someday write his own book: "Don't Say No Until I Finish Talking."
In a recent interview, the 64-year-old Zanuck--whose career as former studio president of 20th Century Fox and a producer has spanned four decades--said it dawned on him not long ago while jogging that replacing "yes" with "no" in the book's title would aptly illustrate the differences between Hollywood today and the Hollywood once ruled by larger-than-life personalities like his father and his contemporaries.
"It occurred to me how I'm greeted with a 'no' most of the time--and I'm a successful producer, for God's sake," mused Zanuck, who along with his former longtime associate David Brown has produced some of Hollywood's greatest hits, including "Jaws," "The Sting," "The Verdict," "Cocoon" and last year's hit "Deep Impact."
Zanuck's latest movie, "True Crime," starring and directed by Clint Eastwood, opens Friday.
During his eight-year studio run, which ended in 1970 when he was fired by his father, he oversaw such Oscar-winning classics as "The Sound of Music," "The French Connection" and "Patton," and other hits such as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Planet of the Apes" and "MASH."
Even with his track record and a coveted Irving G. Thalberg Award he shared with Brown in 1990, Zanuck readily confesses, "I'm constantly begging" when it comes to getting movies made today.
His frustration is shared by other producers working in a studio system wrestling with lousy movie economics.
"It is a miracle, in my estimation, when a picture actually gets made, and it's a double miracle if it turns out well, because there are too many cooks involved in the process," said Zanuck, who has been partnered for the last 10 years with his wife, producer Lili Fini Zanuck, in their Beverly Hills-based outfit, Zanuck Co.
The first film released under their banner, 1989's "Driving Miss Daisy," won an Academy Award for best picture.
Zanuck, a native of Santa Monica, has a unique perspective on Hollywood, having begun his career in the story department at Fox while attending Stanford University, then working for his father's production outfit in the mid-1950s before producing his first movie, "Compulsion," in 1959 at age 24. Four years later, he was named head of production at Fox, then the youngest executive to hold that job at a major movie studio.
In those days, Zanuck pointed out, decision-making at the studios was much more direct and streamlined. Today, "there are all these vice presidents sharing the non-authority. None of them can say yes but they can all say no, and you have to get through a barrage of those people."
Brown, who worked under Dick Zanuck as executive vice president, recalled: "When Dick and I ran Fox, it was a collegial place to work. There were no development executives and even the slightest option deal was seen by us."
He added that even with having to oversee 27 movies a year and run a TV department, "Dick and I together considered every project personally and were involved from the beginning."
Brown, now 82, is still actively producing movies and mounting a Broadway production of "Sweet Smell of Success" from his New York-based company, Manhattan Project. He called his former partner "a consummate producer, in that no detail is too small to occupy his attention."
In Zanuck's view, what's missing from today's Hollywood, with the exception of Miramax Films dynamo Harvey Weinstein, is the "showmanship" aspect of the business that existed in the executive suites of such colorful personalities as his father, Jack Warner, Harry Cohn, Louis B. Mayer and David O. Selznick. And, Zanuck contends, their kind of risk-taking does not exist now.
"They were gamblers, literally," said Zanuck, noting how the old movie moguls would frequent casinos, gambling tens of thousands of dollars. "And, while they were good businessmen, they were gamblers in that they took chances. They were fearless and some were considered reckless."
In the late 1980s, the Zanucks found out just how averse Hollywood is to taking risks when they tried to get approval for a low-budget movie about the friendship between an independent Jewish woman (Jessica Tandy) and her black chauffeur (Morgan Freeman).
"It was turned down by every company two or three times," Zanuck said. " 'Masterpiece Theatre.' It should be made for television, everyone kept saying." When an Australian dentists' group, needing a tax write-off, passed on the project, Zanuck said he turned to his wife and said, "I can't take it anymore. I'm resilient, but this is too much. It's too insulting. . . . If you want to play around with it, fine."