One of the kingpins of Hollywood’s studio system, Zanuck was the offspring of the ill-fated marriage of the alcoholic night clerk in Wahoo, Nebraska’s only hotel and the hotel owner’s promiscuous daughter. Both parents had abandoned him by the time he was 13. At 15, he joined the U.S. Army, and he fought in Belgium in World War I. Mustered out, he kept himself alive with a series of desultory jobs — steelworker, foreman in a garment factory, professional boxer — while pursuing a career as a writer. He turned his first published story (for "Physical Culture, " a pulp magazine) into a film scenario for William Russell; his next important sale was to Irving Thalberg.
Although often described as barely literate, Zanuck turned out to have a prodigious knack for movie plots. After a well-paid apprenticeship with Mack Sennett, Syd Chaplin and Carl Laemmle, Zanuck hit his stride by devising (with Malcolm St. Clair) the Rin Tin Tin series of police-dog movies for Warner Brothers. For… read more