Independent film producer Saul Zaentz died on Friday at the age of 92. His movies were often adapted from literary works and included Best Picture Academy Award winners One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Amadeus and The English Patient.
Another one of his movies was the 1988 adaptation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. While promoting it, Zaentz politely answered questions from a clueless student journalist from Columbia University: me. I remember asking him, “What exactly does a producer do?” Oy! You can read my interview with Zaentz in the arts section of the Columbia Daily Spectator here.
Something about Zaentz that intrigues me a lot more now than it would have in 1988 is the fact that the movie business wasn’t his first entertainment career. As the New York Times reports:
“Mr. Zaentz (pronounced zants) was comfortably in his 50s when he began making movies and had already made a fortune in the music business from the success of the rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival and the acquisition of a formidable jazz catalog.”
Nowadays, I’m alert to interesting examples of successful second careers, being on my second or third career myself. I’m not quite sure how to count it. I worked for 11 years as a journalist, then spent five years as the editor of websites for an investment bank before starting my jewelry business. The investment bank job probably falls into “marketing.” It was “editorial” but it definitely wasn’t journalism. Meh. That was such a crappy experience that I think I won’t count it at all, though I do appreciate the way it financed my jewelry line.
My role at the Columbia Spectator has also evolved over time. Twenty-one years after I was arts and entertainment editor, I became chairman of the alumni board of trustees. One of my big projects was helping the students raise money to digitize all the newspaper’s archives (dating back to 1877) in conjunction with the Columbia Libraries. That effort has been completed; we honored the major donors last February. In other words, I wound up being personally involved in the project that enables you to read my stilted, decades-old writing about Saul Zaentz. I definitely didn’t do justice to a fascinating life, but the Times does. If you are blocked from accessing the story directly from this link, try searching for “Saul Zaentz” and “New York Times” to get in the side door.