Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Godspeed Robert Evans

Robert Evans, former head of Paramount Pictures as well as an actor and producer, died on October 26 2019 at the age of 89.

Robert Evans was born Robert J. Shapera on June 29 1930 in New York City. While still a teenager he carved out a niche for himself as an actor on radio. He appeared on such shows as Young Widder Brown, The Aldrich Family, and Let's Pretend. After graduating from high school, he joined Evan-Picone, a women's clothing company co-founded by his older brother Charles. It was while he was at the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel that he was spotted by Norma Shearer, who got him cast as her late husband Irving Thalberg in the Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces. Robert Evans would appear in three more movies in the late Fifties: The Sun Also Rises (1957), The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958), and The Best of Everything  (1959).

Robert Evans was unhappy as an actor and decided to become a producer instead. He bought the rights to the novel The Detective by Roderick Thorp, meaning to produce its film adaptation. Before he could, Mr. Evans came to the attention of Gulf+Western head Charles Bluhdorn, who appointed him as head of Paramount Pictures. At the time Paramount Pictures was a shadow of what it had been during the Golden Age of Hollywood, losing money every year. Robert Evans broke away from the traditional Hollywood films Paramount had been producing to release more daring films. Some, such as The President's Analyst (1967) and Catch-22 (1970), while well regraded today, did not particularly well at the box office. Others, such as Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Odd Couple (1968), The Italian Job (1969), The Godfather (1972), and Chinatown (1974) proved to be hits. In all, Robert Evans held his position at Paramount Pictures for eight years.

While he was the head of Paramount Pictures, Robert Evans struck a deal with the studio so that he could operate as an independent producer. He produced Chinatown (1974) and then stepped down as Paramount's studio head thereafter. In the Seventies he produced such films as Marathon Man (1976), Black Sunday (1977), Players (1979), Urban Cowboy (1980), and Popeye (1980). His career would be derailed in 1980 when he was convicted of cocaine trafficking. Robert Evans would continue to deny the charges for the rest of his life, maintaining he was only a user. The misdemeanour charge of drug trafficking would later be wiped from his record.

A more serious scandal would occur in 1983 when theatrical impresario Roy Radin was murdered. Having been worked with Mr. Radin on a potential movie about The Cotton Club, Mr. Evans became a material witness in his murder. Here it must be point out that there is no substantial evidence that Robert Evans had any knowledge of the murder, let alone any connection to it.

Regardless, The Cotton Club, produced by Robert Evans, was released in 1984. Along with The Two Jakes (1990), it was the only movie he produced in the Eighties. From the Nineties into the Naughts, Robert Evans produced the movies Sliver (1993), Jade (1995), The Phantom (1996), The Saint (1997), The Out-of-Towners (1999), and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003).

Robert Evans would have cameos in the films Superfights (1995), An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997), and The Girl from Nagasaki (2013). On television he guest starred on The Simpsons and Just Shoot Me. As the lead voice actor on the animated series Kid Notorious, Robert Evans played himself. He also produced Kid Notorious. For television he also produced a TV movie version of Urban Cowboy.

Robert Evans certainly lived an interesting life, one that was in many ways more outlandish than any melodrama produced by Hollywood. He admitted to being a cocaine addict and had been married multiple times. Regardless of his various problems, such was Robert Evans's personality and creative talent as a producer that many in Hollywood recognised his passing. Even director Francis Ford Coppola, with whom Mr. Evans didn't always get along, paid tribute to him following his death. Documentarian Brett Morgan, who co-directed The Kid Stays in the Picture, a documentary on Mr. Evans, wrote, "He was funnier, sweeter and more charming than the character he created."

There was certainly no denying Robert Evans's talent as a studio head and producer. He turned Paramount Pictures around, saving it with a series of financially successful, now classic films. Even when a particular movie produced on Mr. Evans's watch was not initially successful, such as The President's Analyst, it might eventually develop a following and the respect of critics. Later in his career Robert Evans would not have quite as much luck as a producer, although he would still produce such films as The Two Jakes (1990). Robert Evans was certainly larger than life and he is certainly one of the most legendary characters in the history of Hollywood.

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