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Richard D. Zanuck is a working legend

The industry scion, whose most recent success as a producer is 'Alice in Wonderland,' has little time for nostalgia -- there are movies to be made.

April 11, 2010|By Geoff Boucher

Dean Zanuck sees the two other Zanucks as very different men who succeeded under very different circumstances.

"Darryl Zanuck came from nothing and was not educated past the seventh grade; however, this did not stop him from becoming one of the most powerful men in Hollywood and living an incredible life. Richard Zanuck had a very privileged upbringing, earned a degree from Stanford and was made head of the studio, by his father, at the age of 28. . . . The studio system is all that Darryl knew, and he ruled his fiefdom with absolute power. My dad grew up in that system and thrived in it and as the business changed he's had to adapt with it to remain successful."

A veteran's perspective

On the green-screen set of "Alice," Richard Zanuck sat behind Burton and watched as the director guided Depp and costar Crispin Glover through a sword fight for a climactic fight scene. As Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway, both in costume, watched, Depp worked on his new blade technique -- he had been trying hard to make sure that his Mad Hatter character didn't use the same moves as old Jack Sparrow. Glover, meanwhile, was balanced atop stilts that would make his knavish character resemble a playing-card character come to life.

Even with all of that going on, Zanuck was more interested in young visitors to the set that day: Depp's children, who had come to see their father do imaginary battle.

"Johnny is a terrific father," Zanuck whispered. "Those kids mean everything to him. He's one of the biggest stars in history, but that's not what matters most to him."

Not long before "Alice" opened, there was a seismic jolt at Disney when new leadership was put in place. The producers of "Alice" were beside themselves with worry about the impact on the marketing for the film.

The first time Zanuck met Sean Bailey, the new production chief at Disney, the executive smiled at the elder statesman and asked if he had any advice for someone just joining the top tier of Hollywood's mad race. It was Bailey's fourth day on the job and Zanuck, the long-distance runner, smiled.

"I told him, 'Don't forget to take deep breaths all the time.' And I meant it."

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