Two Times Golden Globe Winner, Saul Zaentz Dies at 92
Producing movies, his own way, was Saul Zaentz’s third career. And it was richly rewarded, in money and fame, including two Best Motion Picture – Drama Golden Globe awards: Amadeus (1985) was nominated in 6 categories and won Best Motion Picture – Drama for Zaentz, as well as Best Director (Milos Forman) and screenplay (Peter Shaffer) and The English Patient (1996) brought Zaentz his second Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and another one for his composer, Gabriel Yared.
Zaentz’s breakout movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) was also the very first one he ever produced. It was nominated for six Golden Globes and won all of them, including Best Motion Picture – Drama. Veteran actor Kirk Douglas had been trying to bring the Ken Kesey novel to the screen for many years with no success, until he met Zaentz, a prominent music producer with just one movie to his credit, but with a burning desire – and enough funds – to make more. Together they indeed created one of the iconic movies of the 1970s, a film that spoke to the zeitgeist and made Jack Nicholson a world star. (While the Academy awarded its Oscar to both Michael Douglas and Zaentz, the Golden Globe was given to Douglas alone). Zaentz was born in New Jersey to East European Jewish immigrants, and served in the Army during World War II. He used his G.I. bill money to study animal husbandry, aiming to become a chicken farmer. But that didn’t last long. He went west, and worked his way up in the music business, producing records and managing jazz and pop acts. Successful at this second career, Zaentz amassed enough money to become a movie producer, investing his own funds in movies he wanted to make, based on books he liked. His first movie, Payday (1972), starring Rip Torn as an alcoholic country musician on the road, was a biting satire of the music promotion business, a world Zaentz knew only too well, having made his fortune with the band Credence Clearwater Revival. Eight other films followed.
Very much in the mold of legendary movie producers of cinema’s golden age such as David O. Selznik, Irving Thalberg, Daryl Zanuck or Louis B. Mayer, Zaentz was fiercely independent and single minded. He was the first to acknowledge the similarity, and on receiving the Academy’s Irving Thalberg award he said: “I’ve always been an admirer of those studio producers from the old age. …They may have been animals, but they knew how to make movies. They were interested in making movies – that’s the important thing. [Like them] I don’t worry about what everyone wants to see. I make movies that please a writer, director and myself”.
No one could’ve written a better epitaph for this maverick producer, two times Golden Globe winner, who put his money up to please himself, and in the process also pleased millions all over the world. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association remembers.