Family & Companions
With his younger brother Jerry and childhood pal Jim Abrahams, writer-producer-director David Zucker was responsible for a series of sometimes corny, but often hilarious spoofs of a wide swath of popular movie genres. After forming a comedy troupe in college, the trio made their film debut with the cult classic, "The Kentucky Fried Movie" (1977), which featured a string of disconnected vignettes. But it was their next spoof, "Airplane!" (1980), that marked their first major hit and established the three as an influential comedic force. After "Airplane," the Zuckers and Abraham made a failed attempt at television with "Police Squad!" (ABC, 1982) before bouncing back on the big screen with "Top Secret!" (1984). With the trio going their separate ways, Zucker began making more mainstream movies, directing "Ruthless People" (1986) and the successful film franchise, "The Naked Gun - From the Files of Police Squad!" (1988), which revitalized the Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) character from "Police Squad" and spawned two hit sequels. From there, Zucker directed the flop "BASEketball" (1998) and flew solo to direct the uneven romantic comedy "My Boss' Daughter" (2003). On his own, Zucker breathed new life into to the "Scary Movie" franchise, direction the third and fourth installments, but fell flat when he decided to helm the overtly political "An American Carol" (2008). Regardless of his stumbles, Zucker remained, along with his two cohorts, a true pioneer of the spoof comedy.
Born on Oct. 16, 1947 in Milwaukee, WI, Zucker was raised by his father, Burton, a real estate developer, and his mother, Charlotte, a junior high school teacher. From an early age, Zucker and his younger brother, David, as well as childhood friend Jim Abraham, were big fans of comedy, especially Mad magazine. While attending Shorewood High School, Zucker and his brother put on funny plays and sketches, participated in school variety shows and even experimented with making movies on an 8mm camera. After graduating, he attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he earned his bachelor of arts in film in 1970. David soon joined him at the same university, while both reconnected with Abrahams and founded the now-legendary comedy troupe, Kentucky Fried Theatre, in 1969. Three years later, they moved the operation with aspirations to be on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" (NBC, 1962-1992). The three managed to garner enough attention in Hollywood to write their first film, "The Kentucky Fried Movie" (1977), a collection of raunchy short parodies directed by John Landis.
Though not a box office hit, "Kentucky Fried Movie" quickly developed into a whacky cult favorite, while establishing the trademark Zucker-Abraham-Zucker style of absurd lines, sudden sight gags and running jokes playing 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 foreshadowed their next project, "Airplane!" Having enjoyed the ultra-serious action thrillers from the 1940s and 1950s for their unintentional comic value, Zucker and his two partners decided to focus on one in particular, "Zero Hour" (1957), which starred Sterling Hayden. They adapted the story of an airliner which loses its pilots and some passengers from fatal food poisoning and re-crafted the story as a modern parody. They then struck upon the then-bold concept of hiring non-comic actors like 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, the result of which was a comedy classic that was a major box office hit and influenced countless comedic filmmakers, most notable the Farrelly Brothers.
Reuniting with Leslie Nielsen, the Zucker brothers and Abrahams oversaw the cult hit "Police Squad" (ABC, 1982), a short-lived sitcom that parodied the cop drama. When the series premiered, few were prepared for its zany mix of slapstick, sight gags and puns, resulting in the show lasting a mere six episodes. It did, however, mark the debut of Nielsen's bumbling Lt. Frank Drebin, whom he would make famous in the "Naked Gun" series. Meanwhile, the Zuckers and Abraham were undaunted by their failure; instead setting theirs sights back on the big screen to write and direct the uproariously zany spy spoof, "Top Secret!" (1984), which starred Val Kilmer in his feature debut as an Elvis-like surfer battling Nazis and Communists in East Germany with the aid of the French Resistance. They followed with the farcical comedy "Ruthless People" (1986), which starred Bette Midler as a kidnapped diva and Danny DeVito as her rich husband who is thrilled with her capture and refuses 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 substantial following on home video.
The trio next refocused on a character too good to ignore - the clueless Lt. Frank Drebin from their unsuccessful, but hilarious "Police Squad" series. 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 show. Released in 1988, the film was the first solo directorial effort by David, while all three retained writing and producing credits. The film reenergized 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). Atypically, the Zuckers served as producers of the Keanu Reeves romantic drama "A Walk in the Clouds" (1995) before returning to the realm of spoof comedy as writers and producers of the forgettable "High School High" (1996), starring John Lovitz. Zucker returned to the director's chair for the raunchy comedy flop, "BASEketball" (1998), which featured "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone attempting to launch a new sport.
Zucker stepped back into a producer's role for the surprise hit thriller, "Phone Booth" (2003), and returned to the small screen for the mystery comedy movie "Unconditional Love" (Starz, 2003). Back behind the camera as a director, Zucker flew solo to helm the uneven romantic comedy, "My Boss' Daughter" (2003), which sat on the shelf for two years before the sudden heat behind star Ashton Kutcher's career prompted a release. Zucker returned to more familiar territory when he assumed the directorial helm of "Scary Movie 3" (2003), following the departure of the Wayans brothers from the franchise. Veering into film genres beyond the horror conventions the first two films sent up, Zucker breathed new life into the series and even before the film was released was tapped to steer the fourth installment. Working with Abraham on the script, Zucker directed "Scary Movie 4" (2006), which again was a big hit even though it was poorly reviewed. By this time, he was largely working outside of the trio, producing the forgettable spoofs "The Onion Movie" (2008) and "Superhero Movie" (2008), before directing the poorly received "An American Carol" (2008), which spoofed documentarian Michael Moore and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The spoof comedy featured an overtly right-wing political point-of-view and became one of the worst commercial failures of his career.
By Shawn Dwyer
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With brother Jerry Zucker and friend Jim Abrahams, founded the Kentucky Fried Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin
Moved to L.A.
First film as co-writer and actor, "Kentucky Fried Movie"
First film as co-director and producer (co-executive), "Airplane!"; also co-writer)
Solo directing debut (also co-executive producer and co-writer), "The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Sqaud!"
Signed 3 to 5-year deal with Columbia Pictures Entertainment (writing/producing/directing) after contract expired at Paramount
Served a producer of the dramatic "A Walk in the Clouds"
Helmed the comedy, "BASEketball" starring the creators of "South Park", Matt Stone and Trey Parker
Produced the Colin Farrell thriller, "Phone Booth" directed by Joel Schumacher
Directed "Scary Movie 3" the third installment of the Scary Movie franchise
Directed the comedy spoof "Scary Movie 4"