Friday, June 26, 2015

Staying in the Picture with Robert Evans

In Hollywood, it never hurts to have a gift of the gab. Robert Evans, who’s certainly had his share of showbiz ups and downs, started out as a handsome young actor, detoured into a stint in women’s pants (his brother was a founder of Evan-Picone), ran Paramount Pictures during its glory days, got into serious legal hot water, got canned, then eventually wrote a memoir that got better reviews than any of his films, including The Godfather and Chinatown. Evans’ book is called The Kid Stays in the Picture, in tribute to Darryl F. Zanuck, who insisted that Evans not be booted from the unlikely role of a Spanish bullfighter in the film adaptation of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1957). So successful was The Kid Stays in the Picture, which came out in 1994, that it eventually was made into a 2012 documentary that was a hit at Cannes.

 Evans’ book has clearly not been massaged by a ghost writer and then vetted by a conscientious publicist. He explains his modus operandi right off the bat (these quotes are taken from the intro to the 2013 edition): “To tell the truth . . . and nothin’ but the truth . . . yet stick a bit of lightnin’ up the reader’s ass—that’s one mean hat trick. Don’t care how talented you are, or think you are. If you meant to make truth jump from the page, you need a hook!” Talk about finding your voice as a writer!  He goes on to say, directly contradicting the values of ardent grammar cops like me, “Forget grammatical perfection. Leave that to the pens of the more talented. Who the fuck wants to go toe-to-toe with George Bernard Shaw, anyway? Shock ‘em with the unexpected! . . .  Let ‘em laugh at you. But be you. Be an original!”

And here’s the book’s much-quoted epigraph: “There are three sides to every story: yours . . . mine . . . and the truth. No one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.”

Much later in the book, Evans pauses to sum up his highly original life, which has included pursuing Grace Kelly, tangoing with Ava Gardner, feuding with Frances Ford Coppola, plucking Jack Nicholson out of the Roger Corman ghetto, and marrying Ali MacGraw. Not to mention staging a impromptu Passover seder intended to convince Roman Polanski to direct Chinatown: guests included Walter Matthau, Sue Mengers, Warren Beatty, and Kirk Douglas, who presided in perfect Hebrew. Here’s his take on two key decades in his life: “As the fifties aged, so did I. Made it to the big screen! Beaten up by Errol Flynn, kissed by Ava Gardner, slapped by Joan Crawford, toe-to-toe in close-ups with Jimmy Cagney. Not bad, huh? Not good either. By decade’s end, I was sure of one thing: I was a half-assed actor.”

“The sixties? That’s a different story. No back door this time – front door all the way. ‘Run the joint,’ was the order of the decade. Run it I did, for more than a decade. First and only actor ever to make the jump. Don’t understand it. This world of fickle flicks? It’s been well over thirty years now and I’m still  here, still standing behind them same gates. Bet your house, it isn’t dull. I’ve either done it, or gotten it. You name ‘em, I’ve met ‘em—well, almost. Either worked with ‘em, fought with ‘em, hired ‘em, laughed with ‘em, cried with ‘em, been figuratively fucked by ‘em, or literally fucked ‘em. It’s been one helluva ride!”

And one helluva read.


  1. So after all that, is the book enjoyable, or insufferable?

  2. Some of both, perhaps -- but definitely a fascinating picture of the way Hollywood thinks, and the way Evans talks. Thanks for asking, Hilary.

  3. I have this book stacked up - really looking forward to it. Did you see the documentary version, Ms. G?

  4. Didn't see it, though I'd like to. It would be easy to hate Robert Evans, but he's so wonderfully honest about his own strengths and weaknesses that you have to like him, despite it all.