The iconic Hollywood producer Robert Evans died Saturday night in Beverly Hills at the age of 89; no other details were immediately provided about his passing. Evans was the former Paramount Pictures production chief who oversaw a string of commercially and critically acclaimed films including The Godfather, Harold and Maude, and True Grit. As a celebrated producer, his work included Chinatown and Urban Cowboy. Throughout the span of his life, Evans experienced many notable ups and downs, and he had an uncanny way of reinventing himself, while always maintaining his larger-than-life, fast-living persona.  

Growing up in New York, young Evans did voice work in over 300 radio shows before he turned 18, all the while he helped his brother run a successful women’s sportswear line Evan-Picone. But at the age of 27, Evans visited the Beverly Hills Hotel where, as fate would have it, actress Norma Shearer noticed him and consequently helped him be cast opposite her character in the film Man of a Thousand Faces

Likewise that year, film producer Darryl Zanuck cast Evans as the bullfighter in the film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. During the shoot in Mexico, things weren’t going so well; the filmmakers were convinced Evans was not suited for the part. In turn, Zanuck traveled to assess the situation himself. “The kid stays in the picture,” he insisted.

Evans’ career momentum was soon interrupted when he experienced a collapsed lung which required a year’s worth of recovery time. Roles stopped coming his way thanks to his ailment, but he had a change of heart; now it was movie producing that most interested him.

Enter Zanuck again. In 1966, Zanuck lured Evans back into the entertainment industry but this time as a producer. With an aggressive production style, Evans planned to make The Detective starring Frank Sinatra, but he never had a chance to when that same year, Paramount Pictures hired him to head production.  

He worked as a production chief from 1966 to 1974, transforming the struggling studio, which at the time was turning out mediocre films, into a lucrative hit-movie-making machine. Indeed, Evans went on to oversee film classics such as The Odd Couple, Rosemary’s Baby, True Grit, Love Story, Harold and Maude, and The Godfather. But wanting to earn more money, Evans stepped down from his position to work independently as a producer. In turn, he produced the likes of Chinatown, Marathon Man, and Urban Cowboy—all hits. 

Looking back at the making of The Godfather, Evans optioned the script as it was being written, and he’d go on to famously butt heads with Francis Ford Coppola during the making of the mobster classic. But Coppola, upon hearing news of Evans’ death, said of the man: “He had strong instincts as evidenced by the long list of great films in his career. When I worked with Bob, some of his helpful ideas included suggesting John Marley as Woltz and Sterling Hayden as the Police Captain, and his ultimate realization that ‘The Godfather’ could be 2 hours and 45 minutes in length.” Indeed, Evans went to bat for the filmmakers despite receiving flack from the head of distribution. Producer Albert Ruddy remembers, “He said, ‘I’ll quit before I cut the movie.’ He saved the movie.”

Evans’s 1994 memoir “The Kid Stays in the Picture” recounted the story of his early life and his personal journey of succeeding against the odds. 

And his longtime friend, Dustin Hoffman, created his Wag the Dog film character, it is said, using Evans as his inspiration. Hoffman earned an Oscar nod for his performance as an outrageous producer in the 1997 satire. 

Evans’ many hardships included struggling with drug addiction and, in 1980, he was arrested for cocaine possession. Married seven times, his third wife, actress Ali MacGraw, ended up leaving him for her 1972 The Getaway costar Steve McQueen. And in a surprising turn of events, Evans became embroiled in a Hollywood murder investigation. During the production of The Cotton Club, a would-be Hollywood player Roy Radin became a victim of a murder-for-hire at the age of 33. Although Evans became a material witness, he pled the Fifth, and it was never established that he had any knowledge or connection with the murder. 

In the 1990s, Evans returned to Paramount, and the films he produced like The Saint, and Sliver, did not receive the recognition of his earlier work. However, his 2003 film How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days proved to be a box-office hit. 

Which of Robert Evans’ movies is your favorite? Please share!

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