Film, and there is no better example of this than Robert Evans, film spoils character. Norma Shearer is said to have brought the radiant youth, at that time still a representative for women’s underwear, to Hollywood in 1956 to play her deceased husband, the legendary producer Irving Thalberg. He couldn’t play, but his looks were the stronger argument. “The kid stays in the picture”, Darryl Zanuck is said to have growled at doubters, he has to stay in the film. Evans stayed, but soon gave up his acting career himself and became not just the best-looking Hollywood producer, but also the most profitable for a decade.
“Rosemary’s Baby”, “Harold and Maude”, “The Great Gatsby” and above all “Chinatown” were among his successes because he modernized the film business at the right moment. By the end of the sixties, old Hollywood with its epic westerns and Bible-sized monumental films was done for. It took an outsider like Evans who wasn’t already looking at television and giving investor money generously to younger people. He hired Roman Polanski, he promoted William Friedkin, Peter Bogdanovich and Francis Coppola, he made Jack Nicholson a star. He was responsible for the unspeakable and unspeakably lucrative kitsch film “Love Story”, which secured Hollywood’s survival in 1970, but also for the little-seen “Dialog”, Coppola’s best film. For decades he argued with Coppola about who had worked on the first “godfather” in such a way that he became an Oscar-worthy winner and a classic.
In the industry this is known as “Selznick’s disease”, named after the producer who used five directors and even more authors for “Gone with the Wind” because he basically knew better. Polanski and Coppola became stars, nobody knew the producer of their films. “Chinatown” should change that, Evans’ name appeared in the opening credits, he had made it and went crazy.
With his gold chains, the grown suntan and the eternal starlets, he was the cliché mogul
Producers are anyway considered megalomaniac show-offs, immoderate women devourers and in the editing room as ruffians, blind to the artistic vision. Evans, however, excelled in all three disciplines: With his gold chains, the grown suntan and the eternal starlets, he gave the cliché mogul who never lit a cigar with less than a hundred dollar bill. In between he was married seven times, including love-means-never-asking-for-forgiveness performer Ali McGraw.
In the sequel to “Chinatown” he really wanted to appear as an actor and even had his face reworked for it. He was so bad that his director fired him. The project turned into a fiasco, as did Coppola’s “Cotton Club”, which was filmed in the cocaine rush that Hollywood indulged in in the late 1970s.
A moment ago he had been the king of Beverly Hills, who made everything he touched a success, now he brought the entire industry into disrepute – which drove him out when one of his prospective financiers fell victim to a contract murder. A woman was convicted of regularly procuring drugs for Evans. The producer disappeared until he released his 1994 memoir “The Kid Stays In The Picture”. Why should he disappear from the picture when he went through everything and knew everything about everyone?
In its long sunset, Hollywood has long since stopped indulging in crazy people who are so megalomaniac and so good, but that’s why the films are only big and no longer good. Robert Evans, a real movie star, died on Saturday at the age of 89 – and of course in Hollywood.