Robert Evans (born June 29, 1930) is an American film producer and former studio executive, best known for his work on Rosemary's Baby, Love Story, The Godfather and Chinatown.
Evans began his career in a successful business venture with his brother, selling women's apparel. In 1956, while on a business trip, he was by chance spotted by actress Norma Shearer, who thought he would be right to play the role of her late husband Irving Thalberg (appropriately, another film mogul) in Man of a Thousand Faces. Thus he began a brief film acting career. In 1962, Evans decided to go into film producing instead, using his accumulated wealth from the clothing business, and began a meteoric rise in the industry; he was installed as the head of Paramount Pictures in 1967. While there, he improved the ailing Paramount's fortunes through a string of commercially and critically acclaimed films. In 1974 he stepped down in order to produce films on his own.
In 1980 Evans' career, and life, took a downturn after he pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking; over the next 12 years, he produced only two films, both financial flops: The Cotton Club and the Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes. In 1993 he began to produce films on a more regular basis, with a mixed track record that included both flops (such as Jade in 1995) and hits (such as How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days in 2003, his most recent film).
Evans was born Robert J. Shapera in New York City, New York, the son of Florence, a housewife who came from a wealthy family, and Archie Shapera, a dentist in Harlem. He has described both of his parents as "second-generation Jews." He grew up on New York City's Upper West Side during the 1930s, where he was better off than most people living during the Great Depression. In his early years, he did promotional work for Evan-Picone, a fashion company founded by his brother Charles, in addition to doing voice work on radio shows.
He was spotted by actress Norma Shearer next to the pool at The Beverly Hills Hotel on Election Day, 1956. She successfully touted him for the role of her late husband Irving Thalberg in Man of a Thousand Faces. The same year, Evans also caught the eye of Darryl F. Zanuck, who cast him as Pedro Romero in the 1957 film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, against the wishes of co-star Ava Gardner and Hemingway himself. In 1959, he appeared in Twentieth Century Fox's production of The Best of Everything with Hope Lange, Diane Baker and Joan Crawford.
Dissatisfied with his own acting talent, he was determined to become a producer. He got his start as head of production at Paramount by purchasing the rights to a 1966 novel titled The Detective which Evans made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra, Lee Remick, Jack Klugman, Robert Duvall and Jacqueline Bisset, in 1968. Peter Bart, a writer for The New York Times, wrote an article about Evans’ aggressive production style. This got Evans noticed by Charles Bluhdorn, who was head of the Gulf+Western conglomerate, and hired Evans as part of a shakeup at Paramount Pictures (which included Bart, whom Evans would recruit as a Paramount executive).
When Evans took over as head of production for Paramount, the floundering studio was the ninth largest. Despite his inexperience, Evans was able to turn the studio around. He made Paramount the most successful studio in Hollywood and transformed it into a very profitable enterprise for Gulf+Western. During his tenure at Paramount, the studio turned out films such as Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Rosemary's Baby, The Italian Job, True Grit, Love Story, Harold and Maude, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Serpico, Save the Tiger, The Conversation, Chinatown, The Great Gatsby, and many others.
Dissatisfied with his financial compensation and desiring to produce films under his own banner, Evans struck a deal with Paramount that enabled him to stay on as studio head while also working as an independent producer. Other producers at Paramount felt this gave Evans an unfair advantage. After the huge critical and commercial success of the Evans-produced Chinatown, he stepped down as production chief, which enabled him to produce films on his own. From 1976 to 1980, working as an independent producer, he continued his streak of successful films with Marathon Man, Black Sunday, Popeye and Urban Cowboy. After 1980, his film output became both more infrequent and less critically acclaimed. He produced only two films over the next twelve years: The Cotton Club and The Two Jakes. From 1993 to 2003 he produced the films Sliver, Jade, The Phantom, The Saint, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.
Evans continues to produce, although the last film that he produced was released in 2003. He produced and provided the voice for his eponymous character in the 2003 animated series Kid Notorious. In 2004 Evans hosted a Sirius Satellite Radio show, In Bed with Robert Evans.
In 2009, Evans was in talks to produce a film about auto executive John DeLorean, as well as an HBO miniseries titled The Devil and Sidney Korshak. Neither project has yet come to fruition.
Evans has been married seven times but all of his marriages have lasted three years or less. His first was to Sharon Hugueny (1961–1962). After his first divorce came Camilla Sparv (1964–1967), Ali MacGraw (1969–1973), Phyllis George (1977–1978), Catherine Oxenberg (1998), Leslie Ann Woodward (2002–2004), and Victoria White (2005–2006). Evans' marriage to Oxenberg was annulled after nine days. He married his seventh wife, Victoria White O'Gara (widow of Lord Gordon White), while in Mexico, on August 2005 shortly after his 75th birthday. She filed for divorce on June 16, 2006, citing irreconcilable differences. In the film adaptation of the autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture, only Ali MacGraw is discussed, and their relationship is discussed at length. Evans has one son, Josh Evans, also a producer, from his marriage to MacGraw, and one grandson, Jackson, born in 2010 to Josh Evans and daughter-in-law Roxy Saint, a singer. Evans had one brother, Charles Evans, a New York real estate developer and film producer (Tootsie, 1982, Monkey Shines 1988), and has one sister, Alice Shure a New York independent producer. Evans is the uncle to documentary producer Charles Evans, Jr., Al Jazeera America Political Corrspondent Michael Shure and Tony Shure founder of Chop't Salad.
Joe Eszterhas repeatedly describes his friend, Evans, as "the devil" in his book, Hollywood Animal, and says that "all lies ever told anywhere about Robert Evans are true." His autobiography also goes into detail about a cocaine addiction that plagued Evans in the 1980s. Eszterhas's book The Devil's Guide to Hollywood: The Screenwriter as God includes an anecdote about Evans showing his appreciation for one of Eszterhas's scripts by sending him a woman with a "congratulatory note" inside her vagina.
Evans was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 1980. He entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor in federal court after being arrested after engineering a large cocaine buy with his brother Charles. As part of his plea bargain, he filmed an anti-drug TV commercial. The alleged drug dealing, which Evans continues to deny (the misdemeanor was later wiped from his record), came out of his own involvement with the drug. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer in a 1994 interview, "Bob 'Cocaine' Evans is how I'll be known to my grave". He claimed that he should never have been convicted of federal selling and distribution charges, as he was only a user.
Evans was introduced to the theatrical impresario Roy Radin, a producer of traveling musical and comedy revues, by cocaine dealer Karen Greenberger (aka Lanie Jacobs). Radin was trying to break into the film industry with a movie about the legendary New York nightclub, the Cotton Club. Radin's financial situation was reportedly quite challenged due both to neglecting his live tours and reported drug-related situations. The deal arranged on the film The Cotton Club mandated that Evans and Radin establish a production company in which each would own 45% of the film with the remaining 10% split between two other parties. Radin offered Greenberger (aka Jacobs) a $50,000 finders fee for her efforts which she found unsatisfactory.
As The Cotton Club film financing was being arranged, the 33-year-old Radin was murdered in 1983. Contract killer William Mentzer was among four people sentenced for shooting Radin multiple times in the head and using dynamite to make identification by authorities more challenging. At the trial, Karen Greenberger was convicted of second-degree murder and kidnapping. Her involvement was said to be over a fear of being cut out of a producer's role and potential profiting in the Cotton Club movie. As a result, the murder court case of Radin was dubbed the "Cotton Club" murder trial.
Under the advice of his attorney Robert Shapiro, Evans refused to testify during a May 1989 preliminary hearing, invoking the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating himself. When he took the stand during the hearing and was asked if he knew Roy Radin, Evans invoked the fifth. The police reports that had been submitted to obtain search warrants indicated at least two witnesses said Evans was involved in the Radin murder.
Greenberger testified during her 1991 trial that Evans was not involved in the murder. She also claimed during her trial that she had been Evans' lover.
On May 6, 1998, during a dinner party in honor of director Wes Craven, Evans suffered a stroke while giving a toast, and was rushed to nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Evans flatlined in the ambulance, but was resuscitated. Suffering a series of three strokes in quick succession, he was left paralyzed on his right side and completely unable to speak. During his hospital stay, he was encouraged by media mogul and friend Sumner Redstone, who stayed at his bedside, to work on his speech and recovery. A few days after Evans' stroke, Frank Sinatra died from a heart attack in one of the adjoining rooms at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Witnessing his body being taken away, Evans said it was an event that furthered his desire to recover.
Evans eventually regained his ability to talk and returned to producing. As of 2013, he relies on a cane for shorter walks and has limited mobility.
Actors have admitted imitating Evans' distinctive mannerisms.
Orson Welles' unfinished final film, The Other Side of the Wind (1970–6), a scathing satire on 1970s Hollywood, has a young studio boss "Max David" played by Geoffrey Land, who Welles admitted was a spoof of Evans.
In the 1997 movie Wag the Dog, a Washington, D.C. spin doctor distracts the electorate from a U.S. presidential sex scandal by hiring a Hollywood producer played by Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman's character was based directly upon Robert Evans. Hoffman emulated Evans' work habits, mannerisms, quirks, clothing style, hairstyle, and his large square-framed eyeglasses. The real Evans is said to have declared, "I'm magnificent in this film!"
Bob Ryan, a recurring character in the HBO series Entourage is said to be based on Evans. The character, portrayed by Martin Landau, was a successful movie producer in the 1970s who now chafes at no longer being considered a major Hollywood player. While Evans reportedly declined an offer to play the part himself, he did agree to allow his home to be used in the show as Bob Ryan's home.
Evans served as the inspiration for a Mr. Show sketch, in which Bob Odenkirk portrays God recording his memoirs, dressed as and speaking like Evans. Odenkirk also attributes Evans as his primary influence on his portrayal of lawyer Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad.
Evans plays himself in the movie An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood Burn (1998).
He likewise voices a fictionalised caricature of himself in the animated series, Kid Notorious, alongside his real-life butler, Alan "English" Selka, and next-door neighbor, former Guns N' Roses lead guitarist Saul "Slash" Hudson.
Evans also appears in the 2005 Bruce Campbell novel Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way, with Bruce impersonating him to infiltrate the Paramount Studios lot.
In 2010, Smuggler Films acquired the stage rights to Evans' memoirs, The Kid Stays in the Picture and its sequel, The Fat Lady Sang (which was eventually published in 2013). The play was to be written by Jon Robin Baitz. No further information has been released on the production.
Bill Hader played a character inspired by Evans in the two-part season two finale of Documentary Now! that parodies The Kids Stays in the Picture.The Kid Stays in the Picture (Hyperion Books, 1994) – autobiography, also released as a 1994 audiobook read by Evans; adapted as a 2002 documentary film
The Fat Lady Sang (It Books, 2013) – Library of Congress data remains incomplete April 2014 (publication date November 22, 2013)