Film Producer Saul Zaentz has passed away at the age of 92. Many Tolkien fans will know him as the man who held the film rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – but he was so much more: a true Hollywood legend, with countless film projects to his name. He won many Oscars, including Best Picture wins for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The English Patient, and my very favorite film of all time (perhaps with the exception of The Lord of the Rings trilogy) – Amadeus.
Yet I think we need not be sad at Mr. Zaentz’s passing. His was a full life, and he left us with many jewels to treasure. We shall miss him.
Producer Saul Zaentz, who won best picture Oscars for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Amadeus” and “The English Patient,” died Friday in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was 92 and had been suffering from Alzheimer’s.
The same year that he walked off with his third producing Oscar, for “The English Patient,” bringing him into the rarefied company of other triple winners Darryl F. Zanuck and Sam Spiegel, he was awarded the Irving Thalberg Award for his efforts as a producer. He was the first producer since Cecil B. DeMille (1952) to win the Oscar and be awarded the Thalberg in the same year.
In 1997 he allowed Miramax to option the “Lord of the Rings” property, to which he had obtained the rights in 1976, after it became a counterculture hit. Miramax could not financially commit to making more than one film, so director Peter Jackson took the project to New Line. The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy grossed more than $2.9 billion theatrically worldwide and became one of the most successful film franchises of all time, but Zaentz twice sued New Line over profit accounting, eventually settling with the studio. He also served as producer for legit theater versions of “Lord of the Rings.”
He is survived by a four children, Dorian, Joshua, Athena, and Jonnie; seven grandchildren, and his nephew, Paul Zaentz, a producer.
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