The United States of America Library of Congress in 1999 selected 75 films of the 20th Century to be vaulted for preservation in perpetuity. In June of that year, a congressional member, in front of a filled Academy Theatre audience, bestowed an honor to Robert Evans that stands alone. He is the only living producer who possesses the distinction of honoring two of his films among the selected 75: Chinatown, as its producer, and The Godfather as its creator.
His career has made motion picture history, spanning every facet of the entertainment industry. In 1956 while swimming at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Evans was discovered by film legend Norma Shearer. She insisted that he was the only person she would accept to play the role of her late husband, Irving Thalberg, opposite Jimmy Cagney in Man of a Thousand Faces.
Three months later, and three thousand miles away, Darryl Zanuck eyed Evans dancing the tango at the El Morocco nightclub in New York. "I don't know who he is, but I want to meet him...He is Romero."
Zanuck was referring to Pedro Romero, the young bullfighter who steals Ava Gardner away from Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn and Mel Ferrer, in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Time Magazine critiqued his performance calling him, "the most exciting young man since Valentino."
Evans, the only actor ever under personal contract to Zanuck, starred in several of his films. Following The Sun Also Rises was The Hell Bent Kid and The Best of Everything just to name a few.
Quoting Evans, "I considered myself, at best, a half-assed actor. Knowing I'd never be the next Paul Newman didn't bother me. What I really wanted to be was the next Darryl Zanuck."
Going from pretty boy actor to producer was no easy feat. His instinct dictated that his only shot was to own a piece of material no other person could get. His philosophy was that the property is always the star and his saying, "If it ain't on the page, it ain't going to be on the screen," has proven to be his main key to success. His first step was buying an unknown author's novel, The Detective, which later became a huge success. It proved to be the key to get his foot in the door. Within four months Evans had purchased, through various connections, a half-a-dozen properties before they hit the market. It precipitated Peter Bart of The New York Times (now editor of Variety) to headline Evans in The Times' Sunday Arts & Leisure section, as, "the most aggressive young producer in Hollywood..." Bart continued, "...If ever there was a case of art imitating life, it is Robert Evans, who a decade ago was the only actor to ever portray Irving Thalberg in film. He could very well be on his way to becoming him in life."
At the time Evans was developing The Detective, starring Frank Sinatra, when Charles Bludhorn (Chairman of Gulf & Western) acquired Paramount Pictures. With Paramount close to bankruptcy, Bludhorn sought out Evans and offered him the challenge of running Paramount Pictures.
At that time, Paramount was ninth of the nine major studios. Evans accepted Bludhorn's challenge, and under his auspices, Paramount produced such landmark hits as: Alfie, Barbarella, Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Romeo and Juliet, Rosemary's Baby, Medium Cool, Italian Job, True Grit, The Out-of-Towners, Love Story, Harold and Maude, Lady Sings the Blues, Play it Again Sam, Don't Look Now, Serpico, Paper Moon, The Conversation, The Longest Yard, Downhill Racer, Once Upon a Time in the West, Goodbye Columbus, The Conformist, Serpico, Save the Tiger, Paper Moon, The Great Gatsby, The Godfather I and II and many others.
Through his close relationship with Lucille Ball, Evans' entrepreneurial flair enabled him to purchase her production company, Desilu. His visionary investment of $10 million on behalf of Paramount remains one of the most extraordinary deals in film history. In the 30 years since the acquisition, it has generated over $10 billion in revenue for Paramount.
Equally prophetic was Evans utilizing his personal relationship with Leon Shimkus to steam Simon & Schuster away from Universal Pictures. In a whirlwind negotiation, he purchased the publishing jewel for Paramount for a paltry $11 million. Two years ago, Viacom sold 75% of the company for $4 billion and still retained the rights to trade publications including fiction and non-fiction.
In 1966, when Gulf & Western acquired a crumbling Paramount Pictures, it contributed less than 5% to its parent company's corporate revenue. By the end of Evans' decade long tenure, Paramount had risen to become the number one source of revenue for Gulf & Western, contributing over 56% of its bottom line profits. Remarkably, it took only four years for Evans to move the Paramount mountain from last to first place, where it remained until 1975. That year the studio captured 43 Academy Award nominations, a record unbroken to this day.
In a desire to put his own signature on his films, Evans set up an exclusive production partnership with Paramount Pictures, which is still in effect today. Among the many films bearing his personal stamp are, Chinatown, Marathon Man, Black Sunday, Players, Popeye, Urban Cowboy, The Cotton Club, The Two Jakes, Sliver, Jade, The Phantom, The Saint and The Out-of-Towners. In 2003, Evans produced How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Paramount's highest grossing film of the year. His ten-year tenure made him the longest active producer to remain at the same studio.
Currently, Evans' production dance card is more filled today than 30 years ago when he left as head honcho at Paramount to become an independent producer.
First up on his production agenda is The Myth, which Evans is co-producing with Brian Grazer and Billy Friedkin is set to direct. It is currently being penned by famed writer Nick Pillegi (Goodfellas, Casino)
Next up is Mailman. Though purchased before its release, it has become one of the hottest books of the year. Sam Mendes (American Beauty) is set to direct.
Also on the card is Paul Theroux's critically acclaimed erotic bestseller, The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro.
Just an Old Fashioned Girl is a shocking, bizarre and totally original erotic love story. It is currently being written by Katrina Bronson. "It ain't no Disney Film," says Evans, "but it sure has heat."
Next up on the agenda is Wedding Season. Purchased two months before the book's release, the novel hit bookstores with rave reviews and raging business and will soon be on every bestseller list of the country. It is in the genre of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, but with the texture of American Beauty.
Possibly the project he is most excited about is the theatrical version of his highly acclaimed television series Kid Notorious in which he is partnering with Brett Ratner. "It will be the franchise of the decade," claims both Evans and Ratner.
Evans has eight other projects that are in various stages of preproduction and development, believing each will be made for a simple reason, they are not trend following...rather, trend setting.
The easiest way to understand the arc of Robert Evans' career is that, in 1958 as an actor, he was voted the Most Popular Newcomer of the Year, receiving his award on the nationally televised Steve Allen Show. Thirty-
four years later, in May of 2002, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame outside of the Chinese Theatre. His star is adjacent to his closest friend, Jack Nicholson.
Robert Evans' flamboyant, controversial and daring exploits read like fiction. Continually making headlines in every major publication and journalistic television show, Evans' mystique looms larger than ever.
On the first Sunday of 1998, he graced the cover of The Los Angeles Times. The headline read, "The Last Original - Robert Evans has lived nine lives, not all of them charmed. But today, he is a hero to the junior moguls of the new Hollywood who idolize him."
Best illustrating his rebirth in success was The Wall Street Journal's front-page, six-column article in a story about his phoenix-like career.
The recipient of worldwide humanitarian and industry awards, Evans is the only one in the industry to ever receive the Key to the City of New York - an honor that is reserved strictly for heads of state.
In a rare half-hour interview with a Hollywood personality, Nightline's Ted Koppel simply stated, "More often than not, Evans far out-shadows the stars in his films. Even if you're not privy to anything connected with Hollywood, chances are you have heard of Robert Evans."
He chooses to rarely appear on entertainment television shows, and rightly so, but he does enjoy taking on the elitist of hard news shows, from Edward R. Morrow to Hardball with Chris Mathews to Anderson Cooper to Dan Abrams to the Power Lunch. Don Dahler, who interviewed Evans for Nightline's Up Close said, "His life is so extraordinary we, for the first time, have devoted two full segments that illustrate how fact can be stranger than fiction."
The single most emotional and important award to Evans was presented to him in February of 2003. Another first, the Producers Guild of America unanimously voted Robert Evans to be the recipient of the David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement Award. He looked upon Selznick as the greatest producer in the history of Hollywood. At the ceremony, Evans was introduced by Dustin Hoffman. His speech mesmerized the audience to the extent that it was reprinted in many periodicals throughout the world. Upon receiving the award Evans quipped, "I stand alone in the history of Hollywood as the only guy who started out as head of a studio and ended up...an animated cartoon!"
Evans' 1994 autobiography, The Kid Stays in the Picture, was translated into eight languages and became an international bestseller. The audio version of the book became a phenomenon and a cult classic. It is the best-selling book on tape in the history of the genre. Graydon Carter, Editor-in-Chief of Vanity Fair, was so enthralled with the flamboyant journey of his autobiography that he convinced Evans to allow him to produce a film version. Carter's instincts, as usual, proved to be on the money. The Kid Stays in the Picture opened on July 26, 2002 to the best reviews of any film that year. It broke box office records in the first few weeks of release.
Evans has spent these last three years penning the sequel The Fat Lady Sang. It has already been sold to Universal as a theatrical release. Carter will produce and Brett Ratner will direct.
On February 17th, 2004, Publisher's Weekly Magazine chose "The Kid Stays in the Picture" as one of the six best books ever written, Including it with such classics as "The Prince" by Niccolo Machiavelli, "The Beautiful and the Damned" by F. Scott Fitzgerald and "Democracy in America" by Alexis De Tocqueville. They called "The Kid Stays in the Picture" a naughty, outrageous, and wild ride-and perhaps the best Hollywood memoir ever written.
By far, the highlight of his entire career happened in March of 2004. A decade after its release, "The Kid Stays in the Picture," has joined the most elitist club in publishing. More than 58 thousand books are published each year. Less than one-tenth of one percent are chosen by the libraries of America to be enshrined in perpetuity. They will never be publicly sold, thus allowing future generations the opportunity of reading its text.
What boggles his mind is that it seems to be that the rougher the trek - the more joyous the read. He concludes, "It is a lot easier to read it than to live it."
Clear Channel has invited Mr. Evans to do a One Man Show at the Helen Hayes Theater on Broadway in New York City to begin in the fall of 2005.
On February 20th, 2005, Mr. Evans was launched into a new medium and a new audience when his show "In Bed with Robert Evans" premiered on SIRIUS satellite radio. As Claudia Eller noted on the front page of the LA Times Business Section on Monday, February the 21st, "Evans opens with the line 'I'm not here to get into your pants. I'm here to get into your head."
Two days later, on February the 24th, 2005, Mr. Evans broke new ground when "The Drudge Report" carried the entire 5,000 word transcript of his radio show. That day, the site received over 10 million hits catapulting him into the catbird seat as a voice to be reckoned with around the world.