Jerry Zucker

Jerry Zucker

Zucker was born in Milwaukee, WI, younger brother by three years to future creative partner, David Zucker. Even in childhood, the Zucker boys and friend Jim Abraham were fans of comedy - Mad Magazine in particular. While at Shorewood High School, the brothers put on funny plays and sketches and participated in student variety shows. At the University of Wisconsin, Zucker majored in education, even teaching high school for a year following his graduation, but he was always focused on entertainment. Soon enough, Zucker and his brother reconnected with Abraham, who had founded the now-legendary comedy troupe, Kentucky Fried Theater. In 1972, they moved the operation to Los Angeles, with aspirations to be on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" (NBC, 1962-1992). By 1977, the group had gathered enough steam and the attention of Hollywood that they were able to drum up financing for "The Kentucky Fried Movie" (1977), directed by future "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978) director John Landis.A wacky cult classic, "Kentucky Fried Movie" established not only Landis, but the trademark Zucker-Abraham-Zucker style: dry delivery of absurd lines, sudden sight gags, and running jokes which often played out in the background. One particular segment of the film, "Fistful of Yen," was a parody of the Bruce Lee film, "Enter the Dragon," and was a forerunner to their next project, "Airplane!" Having enjoyed the ultra-serious action thrillers from the 1940s and '50 for their unintentional comic value, Zucker and his partners decided to focus on one in particular: "Zero Hour" (1957), starring Sterling Hayden. They optioned and essentially adapted its story of an airliner which loses its pilots and some passengers to fatal food poisoning, recrafting the story as a modern parody. They then struck upon the then-bold concept of hiring non-comic actors - such as Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges - and instructing them to recite their lines with deadpan seriousness. Despite initial misgivings by the studio, the trio was able to make the movie they wanted to make, but with one snag: a technicality with the director's guild that prohibited three directors from taking official credit for a movie. To skirt the issue, Zucker legally changed his name, enabling the final credits to read, "Directed by Zuckers and Abrahams." He would later change his name back to the singular.Coming off that enormous success, the trio's next foray moved to the small screen with "Police Squad!" (ABC, 1982), reuniting with Nielsen, now in the role which would truly make him famous - that of bumbling Lt. Frank Drebin. Debuting in the spring as a midseason replacement, the TV show was too far ahead of its time and it lasted only six episodes. Zucker later said that the network was unsure how to handle the lightning-fast gags, which required audiences to pay close attention, as well as the lack of laugh track, which was supposed to let viewers know what was funny. After the minor setback, the Zuckers and Abraham ventured back into the familiar world of movies, writing and directing "Top Secret!" (1984). A curious combination of Elvis movies and spy flicks, the film, which starred Val Kilmer, was not much of a box-office draw at the time, but later earned a cult following among die hard Zucker-Abraham-Zucker fans.After their latest big screen offering, the three decided to branch apart and direct separately. The brother team ventured from parody to farce with "Ruthless People" (1986), starring Bette Midler as a kidnapped diva and Danny DeVito as her rich husband who is thrilled with her capture and refusing to pay the ransom. One of the first releases for the Walt Disney Company's new Touchstone Pictures, the film was a modest hit at the box office and developed a following on home video. Back reunited on their initial career path, the trio set their sites again on adventures starring the clueless Lt. Frank Drebin. With the release of "The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!" the film proved an enormously successful theatrical follow-up to the all-but forgotten TV series. Released in 1988, the film was the first solo directorial effort by David, while all three retained writing and producing credits. The film re-energized their careers and gave birth to the entire genre of topical movie spoofs - to say nothing of the longevity of beloved actor Nielsen - both of which continued well into the new millennium. The trio later wrote and executive produced the successful sequels, including "The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear" (1991) and "Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult" (1994). In 1990, Zucker broke from his comedic partners for his own first solo outing, "Ghost," starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. The departure tapped into a fantastical romantic comedy zeitgeist and generated generous world-wide box office receipts. The film - which made Moore a star, also saw the return of the Righteous Brothers ("Unchained Melody") back to the Billboard charts, and played a large part in increased pottery class attendance - was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. While Abraham went on to create the action spoof series "Hot Shots!" starring Charlie Sheen, and David Zucker went on to breath new life into later installments of the "Scary Movie" franchise, Zucker continued with more mainstream projects. Further steering away from traditional comedies, Zucker directed the period summer action adventure, "First Knight" (1995), starring a hugely miscast Richard Gere, Julia Ormond and Sean Connery. He produced "My Life" (1993), starring Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman; the misbegotten "A Walk in the Clouds" (1995), starring Keanu Reeves; and the mega-hit, "My Best Friend's Wedding" (1997), starring Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz.In 2001, Zucker returned to the director's chair with "Rat Race," a kind of homage to mad cap scavenger hunt movies of the 1960s such as "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963). The film starred Cuba Gooding, Jr. and was a modest hit but critical miss. Zucker continued to have additional projects on deck as a producer, including a possible sequel to "My Best Friend's Wedding." After failing to shepherd his script for the superhero comedy "Esmerelda!" series (2007) past the pilot stage, Zucker returned to feature film producing following a long absence with "Fair Game" (2010), a little-seen political drama that depicted the real-life outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) by the Bush Administration when her husband, Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn), wrote a damning op-ed debunking their case for war in Iraq.