Let me put it in the most vulgar way I can think of—this year, Dave Brown and I, singlehandedly, will outgross 20th Century-Fox.
Of course, Richard Darryl Zanuck, 41, could have made the same boast vis-à-vis probably any other studio in the world. Dick and his co-producer spawned Jaws, whose domestic box-office exceeds $150 million—and every other film in the history of motion pictures.
But Dick undoubtedly took particular psychic pleasure in singling out Fox, founded by the legendary mogul father from whom he got his middle name, and, at age 34, the presidency of the company. “D.Z.” (as Dick still refers to the old man) didn’t retire upstairs though. One year later, he dumped his only son, and then, in turn, was finally deposed himself in a proxy fight in which Dick voted against him. “Imagine,” says Zanuck fits, “being fired by your own father!”
The denouement of this Greco-Hollywood drama had long been foreshadowed. Nepotism or no, Dick had a feel for the family business. Back-lot brat that he was (as a kid he once tied a screaming Liz Taylor for jollies to a basement beam on an unlit location), he shared responsibility for two of Hollywood’s other top five all-time turnstile-spinners, The Sting and The Sound of Music. Zanuck does confess to being as “astonished” as everyone else by the seismic success of Jaws. “There wasn’t this kind of reaction,” he says, with uncharacteristic immodesty, “to the first airplane or the Model T Ford. We hit a primal nerve. Producing is a creative art. We didn’t know the strength of the fear of sharks. It’s a freak.”
His use of the first-person plural is not the royal “we.” Unlike his father’s generation, Dick is less threatened by co-equals such as David Brown, who is also the partner, maritally, of Cosmo’s Helen Gurley. David, the literary-property genius of the team, first glommed onto the raw manuscript of the novel Jaws, and they share a 41¼ percent piece of the profits. That may ultimately amount to at least $20 million apiece. But their company is still toiling away as if their livelihood were at stake on The Sting II, Jaws II and four other pictures, including a sci-fi flick now in the typewriter of Anthony (A Clockwork Orange) Burgess.
Dick is one of the few Polo Lounge types who grew up in a family that played more chukkers than rounds of gin rummy. A ferocious 5’6½” jock, he jogs three miles at daybreak, then still plunges unshiveringly into the Pacific year-round from the beach house where he grew up. On business trips where he can’t run, he packs a boxer’s jumping rope to keep on driving himself. He doesn’t smoke, hardly drinks and doesn’t fill his father’s slippers in other producers’ pastimes. (Presently, at Dick’s urging, his mother and dad, 73, have reconciled after 19 years of separation.)
Dick has two daughters by his first marriage to Lili Gentle—Virginia, 16, and Janet, 15, and two sons by his current wife, sometime actress Linda Harrison, 30, whose last screen outing was as Gloria Swanson’s secretary in Airport 1975. Dick tried to cast her in Jaws as the police chief’s spouse, but Lorraine Gary was already inked in. She is the wife of Sid Sheinberg, head of MCA, whose Universal Pictures distributed the movie. Dick is reconciled to such rebuffs in the new Hollywood where stars are no longer indentured to studio contracts. “My father was, as were many, a dictator. Well,” his heir concedes, “I can’t just pick up the phone and tell Robert Redford to report for a new movie on, say, the 29th—I can’t even get a reservation at his ski lodge.”