Hollywood Hitman: Robert Evans

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It’s an uncanny, but entirely legitimate fact that legends are often discovered more often than not by simple dumb luck — being in the right place at the right time. So the story goes, when a young, unknown actor visiting California in 1956 had the uncommonly good sense to stop in the fabled Beverly Hills Hotel for a swim one day and was approached poolside by none other than actress Norma Shearer, the closest thing to Hollywood royalty in those days, suggesting the fledgling actor play the part of her husband, Irving Thalberg, in an upcoming film, the fate of Robert Evans was preordained.

Famed Hollywood producer and Paramount studio head (1966-1974), Evans was responsible for some of the most seminal films of the 60′s and 70′s, including such classics and blockbusters as “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Love Story,” “Chinatown” and “The Godfather.”

His prowess in film was evenly matched with irrepressible charm, affording him love affairs with some of Tinseltown’s most beautiful women, such as Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Ali MacGraw and Raquel Welch and this being Hollywood — seven walks down the aisle. His tell-all autobiography became the new producer’s primer and the subsequent film version of that autobiography, the documentary “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” is a cult classic.

Disclosure: After multiple viewings, I remain smitten.

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Catherine Deneuve, Robert Evans, Faye Dunaway, Golden Globes, 1975.

After watching Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein’s brilliant documentary — again — adapted from Evans’ book, I may soon have to reread my copy. The duo adds a patina to the film that the book misses: they capture the tornado of fame, women, and power that Evans lived in, and with their subject’s enthusiastic help, give it a well-worn dignity and honesty rarely seen in celebrity biographies.

The concept is a simple one. Over the span of almost 100 minutes, a mostly unseen Evans recounts his Hollywood history from being an up and coming movie star to his heyday as head of production at Paramount (where he guided Love Story and The Godfather) ending up after some dark years in the “loony bin.”

A small gem of a masterpiece, Evans’ voice and the pictures tell a story that the best ghostwriter couldn’t profile, which allows the filmmakers to present an equally powerful multi-layered version of Evans: go-for-broke producer, playboy, pathetic party drug casualty, weary Hollywood survivor. It’s unlikely that Robert Evans has another Chinatown or even Marathon Man left in him. But this documentary is a dazzling, remarkably unpretentious reminder of what he had, lost, and got back. Available on Netflix.

NOTE: In one of those remarkable coincidences that leave you bewildered, if not believing in God, The Selvedge Yard posted a beautiful Life layout yesterday on the aforementioned Mr. Evans that is not to be missed. Perhaps the fabled producer is enjoying yet another resurrection or then again, there’s always the possibility that The Selvedge Yard and I are channeling the wrong deities.

 

 

 

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~ by eaesthete on 05/01/09.

4 Responses to “Hollywood Hitman: Robert Evans”

  1. MOVIE REVIEW

    The Kid Stays in the Picture is a candy store for film buffs. It’s a kaleidoscopic riff on the life and career of Robert Evans, the fabled Hollywood producer whose story would have the star-packed, glitz-addicted, rise-and-fall-and-crash-and-rise trajectory of a tabloid epic even if it hadn’t been laid out in a movie as brash and mesmerizing as this one. Evans, who was discovered by Norma Shearer while sunbathing at a hotel swimming pool, became a tin-pot matinee idol in the mid-’50s, with the slightly geeky good looks and throwaway acting talent of a Jewish Troy Donahue. His star fizzled as quickly as it shined, and so he repackaged himself as a producer, ultimately taking over the ailing Paramount Pictures at the dawn of the age of conglomeration. Once there, he saved the studio by shepherding ”Rosemary’s Baby,” ”Love Story,” ”The Godfather,” and ”Chinatown,” doing as much as any modern mogul to usher in the Hollywood renaissance of the ’70s. He married Ali MacGraw, then lost her to Steve McQueen. He did mountains of drugs and dated harems of women. He thrived, and roared, and was trashed, and survived.

    Directed by Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein, ”The Kid Stays in the Picture” is adapted from Evans’ 1994 autobiography, which attained cult status thanks mostly to the books-on-tape version, a feverish, spaced-out babble of gossip, memoir, and confessional innuendo in which Evans, speaking in a nasal New York sputter somewhere between Robert Mitchum and Henny Youngman, mythologized himself as a kind of film-noir antihero of the New Hollywood. The movie plants us right inside the thrilling, frequently hilarious core of Evans’ insecurity and ego, as he enters the souls of friends, enemies, and the directors he lorded it over. (Evans to Polanski during the shooting of ”Rosemary’s Baby”: ”Pick up the f — -in’ pace or we’ll both end up in Warsaw!”)

    Instead of trotting out the usual talking heads, Morgen and Burstein intersperse rare film clips with a melting melange of digitally enhanced photographs in which the main figures come rising, with subliminal elegance, out of the backgrounds. (Think Ken Burns on Ecstasy.) The effect is akin to watching a scrapbook of Evans’ mind come to life; it’s almost tactile in its vibrant nostalgia. ”The Kid Stays in the Picture” is a dazzling dream of a documentary. It may be showbiz about showbiz, but it’s like the E! version of ”Citizen Kane.”

    Is every story that Evans tells trustworthy? Not necessarily. To cite just one example, Francis Ford Coppola has denied the claim that Evans ordered ”The Godfather” to be made longer. What’s indisputable is that Evans, a manipulator and a romantic, had the gambler’s daring — the crazed movie love — of a producer who cared about something bigger than the grosses. In the end, he flew too close to the sun, flaming out in the ’80s after a cocaine bust and the ”Cotton Club” homicide scandal, in which he was tainted by the glaring fish-eye of the publicity he basked in. The irony, of course, is that a downfall that dramatic could only have happened to a player who imagined his life as the biggest production of all.

  2. Here’s a story for you — I once worked for Mr. Evans. Many years ago, I was in the secretarial pool of Paramount Pictures. At that time, Evans had two full time secretaries and when one of them went on vacation, I was put in her place for two whole weeks.What an experience that was. He was glamour plus — great looking and a very nice man. I remember idolizing Ali McGraw at that time too. She was the epitome of cool. They were definitely the couple du jour of their day. I must see this film.

    • That is quite a story! And yes, you must see The Kid Stays in the Picture.
      I feel certain you will enjoy it. Many thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Although I was not born until 1968, cinematic legends such as Jack Nicholson and Robert Evans were the epitome of the new standard in Hollywood film.

    Their private stories are as intriguing as the movies they were associated with.

    Who doesn’t love a meteoric rise to fame, a twice as rapid fall from grace, and the rise again. The truth, the courage, the innovation, and the ability to rise from a fallen state is truly the stuff legends are made of.

    Gotta love it.

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