Legendary Producer Robert Evans Dies, Aged 89

Robert Evans

by James White |
Published on

There are few figures – especially those who spent most of their lives working behind the scenes despite early dreams of acting roles – that have become as legendary in their own time as Robert Evans.

Born Robert Shapera in New York, he quickly locked into what he initially wanted to pursue – performing. Before he turned 18, he'd appeared in more than 300 radio shows and the occasional TV show and play. A collapsed lung took him out of that world for a year, and he became a salesman for the sportswear firm co-founded by his brother.

But the urge to act never left Evans, and while opinions differ as to whether he was truly discovered by actress Norma Shearer and handed the role of her ex-husband, MGM executive Irving Thalberg in The Man Of A Thousand Faces, he did appear in the film. Following that was 1957's Hemingway adaptation The Sun Also Rises, on which his fellow actors begged producer Darryl Zanuck, but he replied with a now iconic telegram, "the kid stays in the picture" which Evans eventually used as the title of his memoir.

The acting work continued, but Evans showed little true flair for it, and the jobs soon dried up. He returned to the garment industry until his brother's company was sold and then found his way into producing, handling such films as The Detective, which he'd discovered in novel form and developed for Fox.

From there, he made the shocking leap to the high executive ranks of Paramount, where he oversaw numerous movies including Paint Your Wagon, Rosemary's Baby and The Great Gatsby. He was also involved with The Godfather though that falls under his more controversial titles, as he clashed with Francis Ford Coppola, was slighted by the director in his Oscar acceptance speech and claims the film was made over his objections.

His personal life was rife with tales of sex (his name appeared on a list of clients from influential madam Heidi Fleiss), drugs (he was arrested for cocaine possession), adultery and crime (he was dragged into the case of a murder during the production of The Cotton Club).

When his tenure at Paramount came to an end, he produced films such as Chinatown as an independent, and maintained an office at the studio, developing other titles, none of which in recent years came to fruition.

Married and divorced seven times (including to Ali McGraw, who left him for Steve McQueen), Evans is survived by his son, Josh, and a grandson.

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