David Brown 1916-2010: A Tribute
Posted on Thursday February 4, 2010, 10:41 by Ian Freer in Off The Wire
As a huge Spielberg-phile in general and Jaws-freak in particular, I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of producer David Brown aged 93 this week.
It seems to me that Brown was a dying breed of gentleman producer. As Ron Howard, who worked with Brown on Cocoon, put it Brown was "less the wheeler-dealer than the great judge of content. He knows that story drives everything. He loves writing, and he know what ideas will translate and what won't." Which didn’t mean that Brown wasn’t above the odd gimmick or two. Spielberg had made up some Jaws T-shirts at the start of production. When the director turned up for a meeting with Brown and producing partner Richard Zanuck with every intention to quit, the pair were sporting the Spielberg-sponsored Jaws T-shirts, guilt-tripping the director into returning to work.
Having the nous and foresight to give Spielberg his feature film directing break The Sugarland Express, Brown supported Spielberg in the arduous shoot of Jaws, backing the director when the film’s schedule ballooned from 55 days to 159 days. Jaws gave Brown one of his four Best Picture nominations, the other three coming from diverse fare like The Verdict, A Few Good Men and Chocolat. He won a Best Picture as an Executive Producer for The Sting and Driving Miss Daisy.
A master of all trades, Brown worked as a journalist, spicing up women’s bible Cosmopolitan with frisky headlines — How To Turn Him On While You Take It Off! The Startling Truth About Sex Addicts! — before being hired by Darryl Zanuck as VP in charge of story operations at 20th Century Fox. Under his aegis, Brown in cahoots with Darryl’s son Richard, started strongly with The Sound Of Music, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, Patton and Mash yet faltered with a string of costly musicals — Doctor Doolittle, Star!, Hello Dolly!
Brown and Zanuck were forced to resign, reputedly at the behest of Darryl. Forming their own company. Still the pair had the last laugh. By having profit participation points in Jaws, they earned from one film more than Darryl Zanuck earned in a lifetime.