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He Turned Classic Books Into Oscar Winners — And Hit-Singer Into Nemesis


Saul Zaentz died back in January at the age of 92. If you recognized that name, you probably made one of two associations - Oscar-winning film producer or arch nemesis of John Fogerty. They're both good stories. For those, we turn to the person who wrote Zaentz's obituary for Variety magazine - Pat Saperstein.

PAT SAPERSTEIN: He had extraordinary taste, and he loved great literature. And he had a talent for finding books that would resonate with audiences.

RATH: Saul Zaentz produced fewer than a dozen films, but three of them won best picture honors of the Academy Awards, an incredible batting average. His first Oscar came with this first production.


JACK NICHOLSON: (As R. P. McMurphy) Nurse Ratched, look, look. The chief put his hand up.

RATH: The film adaptation of Ken Kesey's novel "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest"...

SAPERSTEIN: He produced "Amadeus," "The English Patient," "The Unbearable Lightness Of Being," "The Mosquito Coast."

RATH: And one film that paid dividends long after Zaentz acquired the film rights - "The Lord Of The Rings."

SAPERSTEIN: And he made the early animated feature. And then when Peter Jackson went on to make the "Lord Of The Rings" movies, of course, they had to license the rights from Saul Zaentz.

RATH: So I imagine he cleaned up over that.

SAPERSTEIN: He did, although he never got all the money that he always thought he was entitled to get, so he had to sue New Line two times to get his portion of the monies. He was tenacious, and he wanted to hold onto every bit of every property that he thought he had the rights to...

RATH: ...Which brings us to John Fogerty. Before Saul Zaentz went into pictures, he was the head of the record label Fantasy. Jazz nerds know it for some classic albums. Comedy nerds know it for putting out Lenny Bruce records. But their biggest money-maker, Creedence Clearwater Revival...


CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL: (Singing) It ain't me. It ain't me. I ain't no fortunate one. No.

RATH: John Fogerty and his bandmates wanted out of their deal with Fantasy, and Fogarty wanted to take his back catalog with them. Zaentz fought back.

SAPERSTEIN: He sued them for rights to the material which he apparently had the rights to through the contract, and he won.

RATH: Saul Zaentz later sued Fogerty as a solo artist for sounding too much like himself. When Fogerty released his album "Centerfield" for Warner Brothers in 1983, Zaentz felt that one of his new songs...


JOHN FOGERTY: (Singing) The old man is down the road.

RATH: ...Was basically just a rewrite of a Creedence Clearwater Revival song that Zaentz owned.


CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL: (Singing) Better run through the jungle.

RATH: In that round, Fogerty won. The two would go on to trade barbs and lawsuits throughout their lives.

SAPERSTEIN: You know, he was a difficult man with impeccable taste. I think I might've stolen that from one of the commenters on our obituary, but I think it was a good epitaph.

RATH: Pat Saperstein is an editor with Variety magazine, and she wrote their obit for Saul Zaentz, who died back in January.


CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL: (Singing) Satan cries, take aim. Better run through the jungle. Better run through the jungle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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