Robert Evans, the Hollywood executive who produced Chinatown & The Godfather films and whose own story was as dramatic as any of his films, died on Saturday night.
Evans was given starring roles in a few movies and then, with no studio experience, was handed the production reins at Paramount in the 1960s.
Amid his successes, Ali MacGraw left him for Steve McQueen (MacGraw was the third of Evans’ seven wives.)
Evans was also involved in the murder of would-be Hollywood player Roy Radin during the production of The Cotton Club and because his association with Radin, Evans became a material witness in the execution-style slaying. No proof of Evans’ knowledge of or connection to the murder was ever established.
Evans parodied himself in the film Burn, Hollywood, Burn (1998), and Dustin Hoffman, a longtime friend, borrowed liberally from Evans in creating the character of an outrageous producer in the 1997 satire Wag the Dog earning him an Oscar nomination.
Evans was spotted by the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel and actress Norma Shearer asked him to play her deceased husband, the legendary MGM exec Irving Thalberg, in the film Man of a Thousand Faces.
Studio exec, Darryl Zanuck then cast him as a bullfighter in the 1957 version of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. The other actors pleaded with Zanuck to replace Evans, but Zanuck sent a telegram, saying,
“The kid stays in the picture.”
Later he befriended and charmed Charles Bluhdorn of Gulf & Western, which owned Paramount Pictures and the born salesman recognized another born salesman when they met. In 1966 Bluhdorn controversially named Evans VP in charge of production.
Evans’ early Paramount tenure included flops but they were more than offset by Evans’ successes, like Rosemary’s Baby, Romeo and Juliet, Goodbye, Columbus, Love Story and The Godfather films. How much he personally deserved credit for any of these has always been hotly debated.
After Barry Diller was brought in 1974, Evans transitioned into a producing deal. His first was Chinatown, a roller coaster production, but ultimately successful, nominated for 11 Oscars.
In 1980, at age 50, he was convicted of cocaine possession, during a period when widespread drug use was plaguing the industry.
Evans planned to make an acting comeback in 1985 in The Two Jakes, a sequel to Chinatown but he had not grown as an actor and, soon after production began, Evans was fired. The film was shut down, only to be revived in 1990 under the direction of Jack Nicholson, who co-starred with Harvey Keitel.
His private life made the headlines again when Evans’ name was mentioned among the customers for Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss’ service. An entire chapter on his sexual habits was detailed in the salacious and You’ll Never Make Love in This Town Again.
Evans published a memoir of his life, 1994’s The Kid Stays in the Picture, which chronicled his virtues and his vices.
In 1998 Evans suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. After therapy, he eventually made a full recovery.
He made a return in some sense with the 2002 documentary adaptation of The Kid Stays in the Picture.
In 2003 captializing on the exposure, he exec produced Kid Notorious, an animated series for Comedy Central. The same year he produced a successful romantic comedy; How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.
He was married and divorced seven times. He and MacGraw had a son, Josh, an actor and director.
Robert Evans was 89.
(Photo, screen grab; via Variety)