Saul Zaentz

Saul Zaentz carved a niche in film with accomplished, often critically acclaimed adaptations of novels and plays. A child of immigrant parents, the New Jersey native had originally planned to open a chicken farm after ... Read more »
Born: 02/27/1921 in Passaic, New Jersey, USA


Producer (8)

Goya's Ghosts 2007 (Movie)


The English Patient 1996 (Movie)


At Play in the Fields of the Lord 1991 (Movie)


The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1988 (Movie)


Amadeus 1984 (Movie)


The Lord of the Rings 1978 (Movie)


Three Warriors 1976 (Movie)


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 1975 (Movie)

Actor (4)

Fog City Mavericks 2007 - 2008 (TV Show)


Saul Zaentz 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)


The 69th Annual Academy Awards 1996 - 1997 (TV Show)


Milos Forman: Portrait 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)



Saul Zaentz carved a niche in film with accomplished, often critically acclaimed adaptations of novels and plays. A child of immigrant parents, the New Jersey native had originally planned to open a chicken farm after his service in WWII, until he spent six weeks actually working on one. Instead, he migrated first to St Louis, where he took business courses, and eventually landed in San Francisco, where he secured work in the music industry. After moving up from distribution through packaging concert tours, Zaentz went to work at the San Francisco-based Fantasy Records. Originally specializing in jazz and cabaret comics like Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, Fantasy grew in the 1960s thanks in large part to a series of hit singles by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Despite persistent bad blood between himself and many of the artists who recorded for Fantasy Records, most notably Creedence leader John Fogerty, about the label's business practices, Zaentz then moved into an extremely successful career as a film producer that netted three Best Picture Oscars in three decades, plus an Irving G. Thalberg Award, before his death in 2014.

With this success, and now based in Berkeley, Zaentz made an auspicious entry into feature film production with Milos Forman's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975). Starring Jack Nicholson and based on Ken Kesey's underground classic, the film became one of the biggest--and unlikeliest--critical and commercial smashes of the day, becoming the second picture to earn Oscars in the top five categories, including one for Best Picture Oscar for Zaentz and co-producer Michael Douglas.

Zaentz's subsequent efforts, often literary adaptations, have been infrequent, but usually been worth the wait. A reteaming with director Forman in 1984 on "Amadeus", based on Peter Shaffer's play about Mozart, yielded a second Best Picture Oscar. Philip Kaufman's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1988), featured strong central performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche and introduced Lena Olin to American audiences. He stumbled with the adaptation of "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" (1991), directed by Hector Babenco. While the film has much to admire, its length and subject left audiences cold and resulted in a loss of some $20 million, a costly one for the producer. Zaentz, however, rebounded with Anthony Minghella's "The English Patient" (1996), a stirring epic with stunning visuals and brilliant performances, adapted from Michael Ondaajte's novel. The film earned 12 Oscar nomination and won a total of nine, including Best Picture. For his overall efforts, Zaentz was also selected by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive the 1996 Irving G Thalberg Award.

In the early 80s, he founded the Saul Zaentz Company Film Center, a post-production sound facility, that has become a valuable resource for the northern California filmmaking community. Saul Zaentz died on January 3, 2014, nine years after the release of his final film as a producer, "Goya's Ghosts" (2005), his third collaboration with Forman.


Rutgers University

New Brunswick , New Jersey

took business courses in St Louis, Missouri in the 1940s



As co-producer, reteamed with Minghella for "The Talented Mr. Ripley"


Had a critical and box-office success with Anthony Minghella's film version of "The English Patient", adapted from Michael Ondaatje's novel


Had major financial failure with "At Play in the Fields of the Lord"


Reteamed with Forman for the film adaptation of Peter Shaffer's play "Amadeus"


First film for own production outfit, The Saul Zaentz Company, "Three Warriors"


First feature as co-producer, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", directed by Milos Forman


Purchased Fantasy Records with a group of investors


Joined Fantasy Records as manager

Raised in Passaic, New Jersey

Served in the US Army during WWII

Moved back to NYC to work with Norman Granz on his jazz label; also booked concert packages

Worked for a record distributor

Announced as one of the executive producers (along with Harvey and Bob Weinstein) of Peter Jackson's trilogy of films based on JRR Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings", filmed back-to-back in 2000; "The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001), "The Two Towers" (2002)

Moved to St Louis, Missouri after the war; eventually headed farther west to San Francisco

Bonus Trivia


"Saul is extremely unusual in that he's hung onto a generosity of spirit in a murderous business." --Ralph Fiennes in THE NEW YORK TIMES, December 3, 1995


". . . oneof my maxims is, Don't kick yourself in the ass the rest of your life saying, 'I should have done THIS.' That way, you're still heartbroken, but you can live with it." --Saul Zaentz quoted in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, November 22, 1996