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Picks and Pans Review: Zanuck: the Rise and Fall of Hollywood's Last Tycoon

updated 07/02/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/02/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Leonard Mosley

Why are there so few success stories about admirable people? In this too-candid biography of one of Hollywood's most successful producers—Gentleman's Agreement, All About Eve, The Grapes of Wrath—everything seems depressingly familiar. Darryl F. Zanuck has the standard miserable childhood: drunken, ineffectual father, man-crazy mother, cruel stepfather. At 14, he joins the Army and gets to Europe in World War I. Later he tries to make a living as a writer of pulp fiction and then starts writing silents for the Warner brothers. It would be difficult to imagine more devious teachers of the arts of producing, and Zanuck learns his ruthlessness well. When it dawns on him that Jack Warner is never going to put him in charge, Zanuck starts his own studio. His wife learns to put up with her husband's habit of entertaining the latest starlet every afternoon at 4 in his office. Although some associates speak of his genius and loyalty, Zanuck comes through as a repellent man, a monster to women and inexplicably mean to his son, Richard (a successful producer himself). Zanuck dwells constantly on anecdotes of astonishing vulgarity. At the end the old man, reclaimed by his long-suffering wife and enfeebled by strokes, is a pitiful figure, but his biographer, who has written books about such people as Gen. George C. Marshall, Lindbergh and Hermann Goering, describes Zanuck's decline as tastelessly as he treats the rest of the producer's life. (Little, Brown, $19.95)

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