Rules are made to be broken. And Robert Evans has broken them all. he was the first actor to ever run a major Hollywood studio. In a decade he took it from worst to first. Voted the world’s most eligible bachelor, he was quintessential Hollywood royalty. In 1979, he had $11 million. With one mistake he spiraled south from legend to leper. In 1989, his worth was $37. Did he come back? Like a phoenix. His saga should inspire the most cynical. To quote Evans, “All my life I’ve lived on the edge and many times it came back to bite me. Was it worth it? You bet your a$$ it was.” His outrageous story proves that, at times, fact is far stranger than fiction.
eyelights: the exciting storytelling. the fantastic production.
eyesores: the limited scope of the piece.
“There are three sides to every story: Your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.” – Robert Evans
‘The Kid Stays in the Picture’ is a documentary based legendary film producer Robert Evans’ memoir. Narrated by Evans himself, using segments of the audio version of his book, it’s a deeply engrossing account of his rise and fall in Hollywood, his fame and shame, and his rebirth.
I knew absolutely nothing about Evans (heck, I had never heard of him before) when I first picked up this candid, if selective, biography from my local library. I was genuinely impressed the way in which that he and the filmmakers recounted his life, so I ended up buying the DVD. Twice.
In the mid-’50s, Robert Evans and his brother had a fashion company (he claims that they started the trend of women wearing pants). One day, actress Norma Shearer found him by a hotel poolside and was taken with him. Soon thereafter, he was in a movie with James Cagney.
Then he was discovered for the second time by studio head Darryl F. Zanuck. This film’s title comes from almost being fired from the subsequent film: he worked his ass off to keep the part and Zanuck stood up for him in the face of unanimous opposition. “The kid stays in the picture”, he told everyone.
That’s when Evans realized that he wanted to be on the other side of those decisions: he wanted to produce films, not star in them. In little time, he had bought a property, a book called ‘The Detective’, and soon thereafter he was running Paramount Pictures, which was in 9th place at the time.
Then came ‘Rosemary’s Baby‘, a massive success. It almost got railroaded by ‘The Detective’, because Frank Sinatra starred in the picture and he wanted Mia Farrow, Rosemary herself (and his spouse at the time), to star in it with him. Evans smooth-talked Farrow and saved the day.
Despite this huge hit, Paramount kept losing money. The board of directors decided that they were going to fold the company. But Evans had ‘Love Story’ up his sleeve, so he prepared a small reel of himself arguing his case and brought footage of the film. This time, he saved Paramount.
He fell in love with ‘Love Story’s star, Ali McGraw, and soon they were married and had a child. He felt like the luckiest man in the world, and promised never to be away from her for extended periods of time. He became involved in work (in particular, ‘The Godfather’) and failed in his promise.
McGraw left him for Steve McQueen. She had been making ‘The Getaway’ with the superstar and they became an item. Evans takes full responsibility: despite having brought Paramount back on top, having had many hits by then, becoming number one and winning awards, he had failed; he wasn’t there for her.
Like Lew Wassserman, he was friends with Sidney Korshak, the mob-connected lawyer. He got a deal to run the studio and produce his own picture – a deal that many envied. His first film? None other than ‘Chinatown’. It was a tremendous success. However, under pressure to choose one gig or the other, he chose to produce.
He was hot, on top of the world. Then he found cocaine. A string of hits (‘Marathon Man’, ‘Black Sunday’, …etc) flew by, but it wasn’t going to last. Soon he was busted for a drug deal that was set up by the DEA. Then he did ‘The Cotton Club’, which was a disaster on all fronts, including the production itself.
Then it got bad.
Promoter Roy Raden was found murdered, and Evans’ name was dragged through the dirt for years. He was never a suspect, but they knew each other and were connected by the suspect. The rumour mill gave him no respite and many doors were closed to him during that time. He was a total pariah.
Unable to work, and isolated, he succumbed to a deep depression. He stopped functioning and had himself committed in an institution. He couldn’t possible get any lower: he had lost everything. But he escaped, and, with the help of some friends, including Jack Nicholson, he made his way back.
At the time of the writing of the book and the making of the film, he was producing at Paramount again.
‘The Kid Stays in the Picture’ is a exercise in navel-gazing and self-congratulations like I’ve rarely seen before; Evans has a reputation for having quite the ego. And yet, there is a certain amount of humility comes through, especially with respect to his acting talent and his failures.
Whether he is sincere or not is debatable, but what is clear is that Evans is quite the storyteller: using his rich voice, he’s fast and loose, knowing when to cut to the chase. He also uses an entertaining array of metaphors and clichés to make his point. Some of it is trite, but he can also be kind of clever.
One thing he does that amused me was that he recreated key dialogues by doing both sides of the exchanges. He didn’t try to emulate the other parties’ voices, thankfully – that would have been sad. It was a nice touch because it made it more personal than if he’d recounted it in the third person.
How accurate it is is another matter, of course. But I guess he would have been sued by now if it wasn’t.
What makes ‘The Kid Stays in the Picture’ work, what makes it better than other such documentaries, is its style. It’s one of the most exciting, dynamic biographies that I’ve seen. And, while I haven’t exactly seen tons of them, I’ve seen enough to have a good point of comparison; they’re usually fairly static.
Like Evans, ‘The Kid Stay in the Picture’ is fast and stylish. Its editing and its use of archival footage, film footage of his performances, recreated phone conversations, use of pictures (subtly enhanced by CGI and other effects), news articles, …etc., keeps it in constant motion. It’s never boring.
Even the closing credits are a gas: there’s this genius clip of Dustin Hoffman, on the set of ‘Marathon Man’, pretending to be Evans 20 years later, in 1996. He plays him incoherent, mumbling, manic. It’s hilarious. Apparently, Hoffman inspired himself of Evans to create his character in ‘Wag the Dog’.
I’m a fan of this film, even if it’s clearly subjective, likely biased, and certainly not nearly as thorough as it could be (it takes huge leaps over many notable events). I’ve bought it twice because I later found a widescreen copy with a bunch of special features on it and wanted to explore Robert Evans even further.
It’s that good.
I highly recommend it to anyone who’s into documentaries and/or motion picture history. To say the least, it’s a fascinating journey.
“Was it worth it?”
“Sure. I love what I do.”
Date of viewing: April 2, 2014