Hollywood Hitman: Robert Evans
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.
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.