Darryl F. Zanuck, the flamboyant, cigar-chomping movie mogul who was one of the major figures in Hollywood's Golden Age, died last night in Palm Springs, Calif. He was 77.
Mr. Zanuck's death was attributed to complications of pneumonia. He was hospitalized for pneumonia Oct. 28 and later lapsed into a coma.
A native of Wahoo, Neb., who left school after the eighth grade, Mr. Zanuck possessed a native energy, intelligence and dynamism that brought him to the peak of Hollywood power as a young man.
From the 1930s through the 1960s, for decades after he made his reputation in the film capital as one of the movie industry's "boy wonders," Mr. Zanuck had a reputation as one of Hollywood's most colorful and controversial producers.
After being assigned by Warner Brothers in the 1920s to make the historic "Jazz Singer," which revolutionized movies with its use of sound, Mr. Zanuck went on to supervise Warner's production of such films as "I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang," "Public Enemy," "42nd Street," "Five Star Final" and "Little Caesar."
Even greater success came after he left Warners in 1933 to form 20th Century Pictures, which merged with the Fox Company to become 20th Century Fox.
Such celebrated Fox releases as "Wilson," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "In Old Chicago," "Gentlemen's Agreement" and "12 O'Clock High" all bore the personal stamp of the hard-driving, polo-playing Mr. Zanuck.
At warners he was known for developing such stars as James Cagney, Paul Muni, Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler and Edward G. Robinson. mShowing a similar talent developing stars at Fox, he was credited with advancing the fortunes of such luminaries as Betty Grable, Gregory Peck, Tyrone Power and Marilyn Monroe.
A man who earned more than $450,000 a year in salary and dividends at the peak of his career, Mr. Zanuck lived a life as flamboyant, as that of any of the characters he brought to the screen.
His private life was filled with the romances, feuds and executive suite struggles that formed the grist for the Hollywood gossip mills.
Once, near the peak of his studio power, he stunned the crowd at a charity ball at a Hollywood night club by taking off his shirt and chinning himself on a circus trapeze.
His power was legendary. The demands he could place on subordinates were reflected in the often quoted remark he was said to have made:
"Don't say yes until I finish talking."
Mr. Zanuck relinquished his role as Fox's production chief in 1956, to make independent films for the company. He came back later after the costly "Cleopatra" had left the studio in financial straits.
With the "Longest Day" and "The Sound of Music," he appeared to be bringing the studio back to financial health.
But the studio again suffered reverses. Mr. Zanuck fired his own son, Richard, as head of production, and under pressure from restive stockholders, was himself forced out.
The action ended a film career that began through a job selling hair tonic.
After serving in the Army in France during World War I, Mr. Zanuck had begun to write, but did not do well enough to make it a full-time career.
As a salesman for a hair tonic called Yuccatone, he wrote a testimonial for the produce, and succeeded in persuading its maker to publish a book of Mr. Zanuck's stories.
Movies were made of the stories, Mr. Zanuck was hired to write for the canine star Rin Tin Tin, and his film career took off.
Over the years, he established a reputation for realism and for encouraging production of films based on current, thoughtful and controversial books and topics.
Among these films were "The Oxbow Incident," "Gentlemen's Agreement" and "The Grapes of Wrath."
It's silly to say money hasn't meant anything," he once said, "but it has neve been the primary consideration. Nothing has ever given me the geniune satisfaction of taking pictures, seeing them through and then getting wonderful reviews. I love what I'm doing."