There have been thousands of colorful characters to emerge from Hollywood in the past century, but few who manage to command a mystique for more than a few years at a time. Yet, producer Robert Evans has been an icon for nearly 50 years, both as a purveyor of Oscar-winning films including “The Godfather” and box-office blockbusters such as “Love Story,” and as a legendary lothario whose high-style life has served as the inspiration for younger generations of show-business players hoping for a life filled with wine, women and song.
Even the best-lived lives have their low points, however, and Evans is no exception. He has divorced seven times and suffered three strokes, in addition to being convicted on a misdemeanor for cocaine trafficking and publicly implicated, though not charged, in a notorious murder.
Evans combined those emotional peaks and valleys inside a hugely popular bestselling memoir called “The Kid Stays in the Picture” in 1994. His deep voice and frequent use of hipster slang made his audio-book, “Kid,” a collector’s item that both amused Hollywood greatly and inspired several fictional characters, including Dustin Hoffman’s producer character in “Wag the Dog” and international superspy/ladies’ man Austin Powers.
Two decades later, Evans returns with a follow-up tome called “The Fat Lady Sang,” which deals with the strokes that occurred in 1998 and his battle to survive and return to the moviemaking world. He’ll be discussing and signing the new book at Vroman’s on Friday night in what should be one of the more colorful author visits ever to grace that hallowed store.
Evans was born Robert J. Shapera in 1930 in New York City. His mother was an independently wealthy housewife and his father was a dentist in Harlem. He first acquired his flair for promotion while working for the fashion company Evan-Picone and later developed his distinctive speaking tones by doing voice work on radio shows.
After moving to Hollywood in 1956, Evans was quickly discovered by actress Norma Shearer while lounging poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She had him cast as her late husband, legendary producer Irving Thalberg, in “Man of a Thousand Faces” before producer Darryl F. Zanuck insisted he star in the film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” over the objections of the author himself.
Despite that lucky streak, Evans realized he didn’t have the talent to sustain a career as an actor and jumped into producing movies. Within a decade, he was named head of production at Paramount Pictures, which thrived under his guidance by moving from ninth place among studios to become the industry leader within just a few years.
It’s no wonder that Paramount experienced such a boom, for Evans’ tenure unleashed an amazing array of time-tested favorites that include “The Odd Couple,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “True Grit,” “Love Story,” and “The Godfather.” In fact, he attained so much power that he managed to negotiate an unheard-of new deal with the studio that allowed him to both be the studio’s head and work as an independent producer, an arrangement that yielded “Chinatown.”
But when criticism of that deal swept through Hollywood, Evans stepped down from his powerful post while continuing to show everyone how it’s done by producing many more hits including “Marathon Man” and “Urban Cowboy.” But it was his involvement in the notoriously troubled production of 1983’s “The Cotton Club” that nearly destroyed him.
That movie had a complicated financing agreement that included a $50,000 finder’s fee to a cocaine dealer who brought Evans together with another producer named Roy Radin, who was brutally murdered before production began. While the cocaine dealer Karen Greenburger was eventually convicted for hiring a contract killer, Evans was called to testify — and pleaded the Fifth Amendment — in what was quickly dubbed “The Cotton Club Murder Trial.”
Despite his vast film-business successes, Evans has had his share of flops on the marital front, with an aforementioned seven marriages each lasting less than three years. Among those marriages was actress Ali McGraw, whose starring role in “Love Story” made her an international superstar.
Between the tales of his epic career, his glamorous ex-wives and even more glamorous friends, including Jack Nicholson and Francis Ford Coppola, Evans’ memoirs have been considered among the greatest showbiz tell-alls ever written. So if you’re a fan of great movies or great personal storytelling, Vroman’s Bookstore is the place to be Friday.
Robert Evans discusses and signs “The Fat Lady Sang” at 7 p.m. Friday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Admission is free. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit Vromans.com.
I won the title of "America's Funniest Reporter" in a national contest at the Laugh Factory club in Hollywood.
I'm a free-thinking political junkie, standup comedian/reporter and film addict. I'm a big champion of the underdog and love to help others in real life personally as well as as a reporter. I've gone undercover as an inflatable dinosaur whoring myself for Kraft Mac & Cheese, as a Guardian Angel subway vigilante, and injured myself five times while joining a circus for a story. I'm a magnet for weird events and weirder people and you can read all about it on my blog through my articles and essays. I also get to do a ton of celebrity interviews and movie reviews and you will find those there too both now and more in the future.