The only son of Darryl F. Zanuck, the longtime head of the 20th Century-Fox studio and an original Hollywood tycoon, Mr. Zanuck grew up with the movie business as a birthright.
He accompanied his father to the studio as a child, was reading scripts by the time he was in the sixth grade, attended story conferences and watched the rough cuts of films in production.
“We never had a typical father-son relationship,” Mr. Zanuck told London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper about his father in 2008. “We never tossed a ball to one another or anything like that; it was always more of a business thing. But to begin with, at least, he was very supportive.”
The elder Zanuck left 20th Century-Fox in the 1950s and later regained control of the company in 1962. He asked his son to make a list of executives to lead the Hollywood studio. Richard Zanuck handed him a sheet of paper on which he had written one word: “Me.”
At 27, he was put in charge of the studio, which was reeling from overspending on “Cleopatra” and other box-office bombs. Mr. Zanuck shut it down for more than two years before restoring its fortunes with “The Sound of Music” in 1965.
Under his leadership, the studio pumped out a series of hits in the late 1960s and 1970s. “The Sound of Music,” “Patton” and “The French Connection,” won Academy Awards for best picture, and other hits included “The Planet of the Apes,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “M*A*S*H.”
Amid the successes, there were also failures, and 20th Century-Fox was deeply in debt by 1970. At a meeting of the company’s board of directors just before Christmas that year, Richard Zanuck was fired by his father.
“Afterwards I said goodbye to him and he was so cold,” Mr. Zanuck said in the Daily Telegraph interview.“I was absolutely on the point of tears, but I remember I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Watch out — you’re next.’ ”
Darryl Zanuck lost his job six months later. He died in 1979 at age 77.
Richard Zanuck, meanwhile, went on to form a production company with David Brown, the husband of Cosmopolitan magazine editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown. The two produced a series of commercial and critical successes, including “The Sting” (1973), starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford as a pair of likable con men. It won the Oscar for best picture.
In 1974, Mr. Zanuck and Brown hired Steven Spielberg to direct his first full-length movie, “The Sugarland Express.” The next year, the Zanuck-Brown-Spielberg team virtually invented the genre of the summer blockbuster movie with “Jaws,” a thriller about a giant shark lurking off the New England coast.
“It became a milestone movie, but we had no idea when we were on location,” Mr. Zanuck said in 2005.