Charlie Goes Hollywood: Darryl F. Zanuck Meets The Fundamental Algorithm

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Repeat What Works!

Mainspring of Darwinian evolution and compound interest.

The two most powerful forces in the world.

Honor them and success is yours.

Defy them at your peril.

The lesson of Darryl F. Zanuck, legendary production chief of Twentieth-Century Fox.

Producer of numerous great motion pictures.

And the greatest missed chance in Hollywood history:

“The Egyptian” (1954).

The second CinemaScope epic after “The Robe” (1953).

Rarely broadcast.

Barely known to the general public.

A rara avis on DVD or Blu-Ray.

The heartwrenching story of a great Egyptian physician, Sinuhe.

Over a thousand years before Christ.

His life destroyed by obsessive love for a cruel Babylonian courtesan, Nefer.

Amidst the dawning of monotheism in Ancient Egypt.

Written by Hollywood stalwarts Casey Robinson and Philip Dunne.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, unsung hero of “Casablanca” (1942).

Music by Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann.

Cinematography by Leon Shamroy

Color by Deluxe

Starring Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe

Yes, You Read That Right!

Yes, you read that right.

The two greatest movie idols of the twentieth century might have starred in the greatest pre-Biblical Hollywood epic ever made.

Except they didn’t.

And it wasn’t.

Credit the self-confessed egomania of the producer,

Darryl F. Zanuck

Love Is Blind

Zanuck was obsessed with a young beauty he and his wife, Virginia, encountered gambling compulsively on the French Riviera.

Paid her debts.

Brought her to Los Angeles to live with them.

And make her a star.

Zanuck renamed her for her beauty, for himself and for his wife:


Bella Darvi”

Needless to say, Darvi became Zanuck’s mistress.

Sent for acting lessons and cast as Nefer, the Babylonian courtesan of “The Egyptian.”

Enter Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe sought the role of Nefer.

To play opposite her friend and rumored lover, Marlon Brando.

She was made for it:

A professional beauty who lives by, through and for the erotic.

Marilyn lobbied hard for the part.

It should have been a no-brainer.

She was under contract to Fox.

She just triumphed in two Fox blockbusters in a single year:

“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953) in August.

Then “How To Marry A Millionaire” (1953) in November,

Where she was even more wondrous in CinemaScope and Stereophonic Sound.

The world was mad for Marilyn.

But Zanuck was mad for Darvi.

Defying The Fundamental Algorithm

Over the fierce objections of veteran co-stars, Gene Tierney, Peter Ustinov, Victor Mature and Jean Simmons, Zanuck insisted Darvi play the critical role of Nefer.

Her co-stars joked Darvi could “nefer” act.

Zanuck overruled them all: “The Kid Stays In The Picture.”

Marlon Brando, contracted for the lead role of Sinuhe, read his part, with Darvi as Nefer.

His reading is said to have been brilliant.

But Brando hated Darvi and her acting.

He walked out.

Fox sued.

But Brando never returned to “The Egyptian.”

Accept No Substitutes

Numerous stars turned down the role of Sinuhe.

It fell to Edmund Purdom, known as “The Replacement Star.”

A plum role.

Sadly, he was not equal to it.

A competent actor, he could not carry the picture.

Purdom self-destructing over Darvi is pitiful.

Brando self-destructing over Monroe is purest tragedy.

“It Would Have Worked!”

Charlie Munger is wisely wary of predictions and prognosticators.

As Charlie says, soothsayers of every age have one thing in common:

“None of them know.”

Rarely Charlie says, in perfect hindsight:

“It would have worked.”

Brando and Monroe in “The Egyptian” would have worked.


The Fundamental Algorithm

Stars rise.

They prove themselves stars.

Picture after picture.

Like evolution and compound interest.

Over time the public and publicity forge a star.

In 1954 Brando and Monroe were proven stars.

Box office dynamite.

On the town in news photos they are paparazzi gold.

“I Was Guilty of Egotism.”

In subsequent years the great Zanuck confessed to egotism.

His marriage broke up.

He left Fox.

Monroe met her cruel end.

Darvi took her life after a marginal career.

Destroying herself gambling.

Brando went on to ever greater stardom.

As Don Vito Corleone in “The Godfather” (1972).

Notoriously severe with egotistical movie producers.