Richard D. Zanuck, one of the two producers of “Jaws”, died yesterday in Los Angeles. He was 77.
There are plenty of eulogies floating around the net — this Reuters obit is a good start — but of course I have to make this all about me. I ran into Zanuck several times over the last few years, on various Warner junkets — he produced the 2010 “Clash of the Titans” remake and this year’s sequel, and Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows” was one of his as well.
In interviews and press conferences, the septugenarian producer was sharp as a tack, handling veiled criticisms about recycling ancient properties — like, well, “Clash of the Titans” and “Dark Shadows” — with good humor and surprising respect. His attitude on his recent remakes boiled down to something along the lines of: If you’re going to go digging up old properties, you might as well treat them nicely once you have them.
He was adamant that he’d never sign off on a remake of “Jaws”, though. “There’s no need,” he said once. “It still works.” Those words can read harshly or dismissively on the page, like the sort of snappish answer Tommy Lee Jones spits at you. But Zanuck said it with a kind of wonder, like he still couldn’t believe how well that famously difficult production turned out. I loved him for that.
When the “Clash” press conference ended, and the stars were being carted off to a photo shoot or something, Zanuck drifted off in the other direction, walking on his own towards the back of the hotel ballroom where the press was filing out. I hardly ever do this sort of thing, but fuck it, he made “Jaws” and I wanted to thank him, so I went over and introduced myself and said, with a modest amount of stammering, “I know you probably get this all the time, but ‘Jaws’ is one of my favourite movies, and thanks for making it.”
He shook my hand, and smiled, and said with what I can only describe as great good humour, “Everyone thanks me for that. It’s not like I made it myself.”
Richard D. Zanuck was a hell of a guy. Los Angeles won’t be the same without him.