Saul Zaentz

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Born into a Russian-Polish family in Passaic, New Jersey, Saul Zaentz ran away at age 15, beginning the start of an adventurous life that would eventually lead him to immense wealth and even an Oscar.…
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Born into a Russian-Polish family in Passaic, New Jersey, Saul Zaentz ran away at age 15, beginning the start of an adventurous life that would eventually lead him to immense wealth and even an Oscar. Fleeing to St. Louis, Zaentz sold peanuts at Cardinals baseball games, among other things, to support himself. When WWII broke out, Zaentz enlisted and, while in the military, planned on becoming a chicken farmer upon his dismissal. After release he studied animal husbandry at Rutgers for a semester, but some actual time spent on a chicken farm proved to Zaentz that it was not his dream vocation and he moved to San Francisco in the early '50s, eventually landing a job as a record distributor for Norman Grantz.

After five years under Grantz, Zaentz moved to the predominately jazz-tinged Fantasy Records in 1955. Working under the Weiss brothers for several years, Zaentz eventually led a group of investors in 1967 to buy out the brothers who originally founded the label in 1949. Around the same time Zaentz signed Creedence Clearwater Revival, the new band of former staffer John Fogerty. Between 1968 and 1971 the group was one of the most successful bands -- if not the most successful band -- in America and Zaentz and Fantasy Records made millions off the group. In addition, Zaentz owned the publishing to many of Fogerty's hit songs, causing a much heated feud between the two men.

When CCR disbanded, Zaentz decided to further his scope and created Fantasy Films in 1972. Three years later Zaentz produced One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which won him an Oscar and embarked him on a successful and respected career as a film producer. In 1977 Fantasy Records acquired the Stax catolog as well as several other small jazz labels to further broaden Fantasy's catalog. Though respected by many, Zaentz was still hated by John Fogerty, who penned a scathing tune, "Zaentz Can't Dance" (subsequently changed to "Vanz Kant Dance"), chronicling what he felt were injustices placed upon him by his former Fantasy Records boss. Zaentz struck back in a rather odd way, by suing Fogerty for ripping off his own song (which Zaentz owned the rights to). The suit, claiming that with "The Old Man Down the Road" Fogerty copied his own CCR hit "Run Through the Jungle," was eventually dismissed, but not before raising interesting questions concerning self-plagiarism.

Though he originally became wealthy through music, during the latter decades of his career Zaentz focused primarily on his role as a movie producer. He died in San Francisco on January 3, 2014 at the age of 92.