Saul Zaentz, who parlayed a successful career in the music business into a Oscar-winning second act as an independent movie producer, died Friday at his home in the San Francisco area from complications of Alzheimer’s. He was 92.
His nephew Paul Zaentz, a fellow producer, confirmed the news.
“He was an extraordinary man,” Paul Zaentz, who worked with his uncle for 37 years, said. “He had a lot of guts, a lot of integrity.”
After presenting such major acts as Creedence Clearwater Revival on his Fantasy Records label, Zaentz moved into producing and shared three Academy Awards for best picture — for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Amadeus (1984) and The English Patient (1996).
Incredibly, two of his best picture Oscars were his first two films:One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. His third film was the internationally acclaimed The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), nominated for a pair of Academy Awards.
Befitting his music-industry background, his second best picture was music-based. Amadeus was based on the life and music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the jealousy his talent inspired. That film hauled in eight Oscars, including one for F. Murray Abraham as the envious Antonio Salieri.
His third best picture winner, The English Patient, based on an unpublished novel that Zaentz acquired, won nine Oscars and received BAFTA’s best film award as well.
Not averse to litigation, including suing studios over profits sharing, Zaentz was involved in acrimonious litigation with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty over song rights. Zaentz’s contention was with two songs on Fogerty’s 1985 Centerfield album for Warner Bros. Records. Zaentz argued that the song “Zanz Kant Danz” was a slur on him. He filed suit, and Fogerty responded by changing the first word to “Vanz.”
Zaentz filed a second lawsuit, contending that Fogerty used the same chorus for “The Old Man Down the Road” as “Run Through the Jungle,” which Fogerty had recorded while on Zaentz’s Fantasy Records label. Fogerty ultimately prevailed after surreal courtroom testimony that, essentially, absolved him of plagiarizing himself.
“The way I view Saul Zaentz and his henchmen, shall I say — well, that probably gives it away,” Fogerty said in a New York Times interview in 2005. “I still view them in the same light. If I was walking down the street and those rattlesnakes were walking towards me, I would give them a wide berth.”
- This is an excerpt. For a complete obituary, go to THR.com