All the lies told anywhere in the world about Robert Evans are true!” Joe Eszterhas
once wrote about the legendary producer and autohagiographer. For those unfamiliar with the lies or truths of Robert Evans, a brief primer. Evans was, in the 1950s, a moderately unsuccessful screen actor before transforming himself into one of the key producers of the New Hollywood, shepherding classics such as Chinatown and
The Godfather into existence. He also, as he likes to inform us regularly, has a lot of sex.
In 1998, Evans keeled over at his home, the victim of a massive stroke. “See, I told you things were never dull around here,” he croaked to appalled guest Wes Craven. It’s precisely the kind of mordantly witty line he’d no doubt like to go out on. Thankfully he didn’t exit this mortal coil, but survived — albeit after suffering two further strokes in hospital, and then only just.
This book, best seen as a kind of extended appendix to his previous memoir The Kid Stays In The Picture, charts his hellishly difficult recovery and rehabilitation. Possibly brain-damaged and totally paralysed down one side, he is confined to bed — an ordeal for anyone, but for one with the zest for life of Evans, a special kind of torture. He uses this experience to flash backwards to various periods of his life. In small doses this can be heartily entertaining and occasionally informative. A story about JFK is a cracker. And there’s an interesting interlude with Madame Claude, one of Paris’ classiest procurers of prostitutes. But as it goes on, cracks begin to appear. For a start, all the really interesting stuff for cinephiles — the time at Paramount, the making of the classics — was covered in his previous book. Thus what we are treated to is a great deal of sexual braggadocio undiluted by much movie material.
Evans’ own neurotic pursuit of “pussy” is grinding, monotonous and finally wearing. what’s worse, he shows no understanding of anybody else. women are beautiful, stunning or a perfect ten. men are fellow cocksmen and loyal friends. for the producer of psychologically complex films, it’s all disappointingly two-dimensional. the most touching part of the book deals with the travails of his recovery, the challenges of rehabilitation and his determination to avoid public sympathy (an account of a birthday dinner for sumner redstone, during which he disguises the fact that he can’t hold a fork, is
one of the book’s most affecting moments). the name, then, might be slightly lower down the marquee, but the kid is still in the picture. whether the movie’s any good, well, that’s another matter.
Reviewed by Adam Smith