Seventy-one-year-old Robert Evans, producer of Chinatown , seducer of Ali MacGraw, walked into the Regency Hotel’s restaurant at lunchtime on June 24 and turned every head in the joint. It was a 90-degree day, but the impossibly tanned Mr. Evans was dressed for San Francisco in a blue cashmere turtleneck, white linen suit, black loafers, white tube socks, silver bolo tie and rimless, tinted Chanel sunglasses.
He took a seat, ordered a round of Bloody Bulls-tomato juice, beef bullion, lemon juice and vodka-and got down to business. “So what do you want to talk about? Fucking ?” he said with a deep, phlegmy laugh and the wet grin of a man who was intimate with the term in a way that most mortals were not.
Four years ago, Mr. Evans suffered a stroke during a pitch meeting with horror director Wes Craven that should have quelled his mojo for good, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.
For one thing, Mr. Evans volunteered that everything’s in working order beneath his briefs. “Dexterous I’m not,” he said, referring to the stroke’s debilitating effect on his bedroom agility. “However, that vessel didn’t get clogged. That’s the best way I can put it.”
What was even more convincing than Mr. Evans’ words were the way that people in his orbit responded to him during his stint in New York promoting the documentary adaptation of his autobiography, The Kid Stays in the Picture , which USA Films is scheduled to release on July 26. The publicists handling the picture were aggressively protective of his schedule; the film’s co-director, Brett Morgen, seemed to be craving more face-time with the subject of his work; and even the film’s producer, Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter-despite his strenuous attempts to appear disengaged-admitted that his 9-year-old daughter regularly badgers him with the question, “Is Bob coming over for dinner tonight?”
Mr. Evans’ mojo was still working. And like the cocaine that seduced him in the dark ages of the 80′s, he wasn’t just alluring, he was addictive: a man who so embodies that moment when Hollywood was both sybaritic and smart that mere proximity can provide a contact high in this current era of bloodless bean-counters. As Mr. Evans himself put it several times during his interview with The Transom: “The kid is still in the picture.”
“If Disneyland had a ride called Bob Evans, this would be it,” filmmaker Brett Morgen had said giddily as he sat in one of the Regency’s conference rooms. He was referring rather confidently to The Kid Stays in the Picture, which he’d co-directed with Nanette Burstein. But 20 minutes later, it was clear that Mr. Morgen was jonesing to get back on the ride himself.
“Where is Bob right now? Is he free?” Mr. Morgen asked as soon as his interview session disbanded. “Is Bob here? On this floor? Can we say goodbye to him?”
Indeed, Mr. Carter had noted-not entirely seriously-that Mr. Morgen’s uncanny impersonation of Mr. Evans was becoming more and more frequent. “It’s kind of creepy,” said Mr. Carter, who was decked out in a pink Oxford-cloth button-down shirt and occasionally dabbed his high, sweaty forehead with a purple polka-dotted bandanna that he kept in his back pocket. “He’s becoming the joke he set out to tell.”
Of course, Mr. Carter has been riding the Bob-coaster even longer. He optioned Mr. Evans’ life rights in 2000 and, that same year, put the kibosh on Mr. Morgen and Ms. Burstein’s plans for their own Evans documentary, suggesting that they join him and do things his way. Mr. Evans sided with Mr. Carter, who had Barry Diller fronting cash from USA Films.
The allure of Mr. Evans becomes clear within seconds. Listening to him drip honeyed names like Warren and Jack, Ali and Mia, and talk unrepentantly about cocaine as “the great leg-opener” is like ingesting an uncut eight-ball of 1970′s Hollywood.
The casual way Mr. Evans’ Kid voice-over describes tectonic shifts in film history as shouting matches between himself and some “Polack” (Roman Polanski) or “goombah” (Francis Ford Coppola, who is also referred to as a “fat fuck” in the film) is part of what made the audiotape version of The Kid Stays in the Picture a cult phenomenon in Hollywood. Mr. Evans claimed that Rushmore director Wes Anderson bought 50 copies and Disney chief executive Michael Eisner 500 to give as Christmas gifts some years back.
“With Bob, it’s absolutely organic the way he speaks,” Mr. Carter said. “It’s a cross between a Valley girl and Damon Runyon.”
Apparently, Mr. Evans’ charisma affects his closest buddies, too. Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty attended the first screening of The Kid Stays in the Picture , which was held at Woodland, Mr. Evans’ edenic estate in Beverly Hills. When the movie finished, according to Mr. Evans, Mr. Nicholson was crying. “I can’t believe you did this,” he remembered him saying. Mr. Beatty, too-in tears! “It was the first time I saw a tear come from his eye,” said Mr. Evans. “I don’t think Warren cried at a funeral .”
In some ways, Mr. Evans’ backlot of a life is preserved as well as Main Street U.S.A. He still lives in the rose-filled Woodland home-thanks to his pal Mr. Nicholson, who, as Mr. Evans points out in the film, once flew to Europe to convince buyers to sell his sanctuary back to him. He still works from his old offices on the Paramount lot.
“I’m not proud of any of the pictures I’ve made in the last 10 years,” he said quietly of The Saint , Jade and Sliver . “They’ve all been committee-ized down in one way or another. They don’t have that much respect for me around there now. It’s a very big company …. It’s not that I’ve made that much money for them.”
Mr. Evans paused after this last admission. “I saved Paramount in a lot of ways. But that’s not their Paramount,” he said of the new executives.
But he wasn’t about to sound ungrateful. “Paramount has been extraordinarily good to me,” he said. “You don’t know when they’re good to you until you’ve been lying on your back with a stroke and they pick up your option.”
And when The Transom asked him to name a film executive who recalled his glory days, he didn’t miss a beat before fingering his boss, Paramount’s Sherry Lansing.
“She is bright and creative-and I don’t say this to blow smoke up her whatever-but getting a no from her is better than getting a yes from anybody else,” Mr. Evans said. Then he pointed out that he’d screen-tested Ms. Lansing in 1967 for Goodbye, Columbus. Ms. Lansing, who like Mr. Evans began her Hollywood career as an unsuccessful thespian, did not get the part.
“She came in second to Ali!” Mr. Evans said with a wheezy guffaw.
Stop the Press
If The Kid Stays in the Picture is, as Mr. Evans kept insisting, an inspirational and aspirational film about “staying in the picture,” it is also a crash course on the intertwined relationship between Hollywood and the press. When, as the film shows, Peter Bart wrote the New York Times profile of the young producer that got him hired as Paramount’s head of European production, Mr. Evans’ first move was to appoint Mr. Bart as his No. 2, and the current editor of Variety went from being a Hollywood reporter to a Hollywood player.
By the time Mr. Evans was busted for cocaine and implicated in the Cotton Club murder, the press that had built his career proceeded to tear him down.
Now, as Mr. Evans enters what he calls his “third act,” it is on the arm of another journalist, Mr. Carter.
“The lettering on the poster was Graydon’s. See how it’s Vanity Fair type?” said Mr. Evans as he leaned over to sign some one-sheets with a silver pen. The poster’s tag line-”Success, Scandal, Sex, Tragedy, Infamy … and That’s Just the First Reel … ” is indeed printed in Vanity Fair ‘s recognizably chunky typeset. There is no question that the power of Mr. Carter’s position smoothed the way for The Kid Stays in the Picture . In his interview, Mr. Morgen credited Mr. Carter with keeping USA Films’ suits at bay, keeping costs low by securing film footage for low rates, and helping to get 255 of the 256 releases signed by celebrities who appear in the film’s photographs and clips. Bud Cort, the child star of Harold and Maude , was the only hold-out. Apparently, he was miffed about royalties.
But Mr. Evans’ prowess with the press seemed to have been lost on the two public-relations executives from USA Films charged with tending to the producer. They ejected an Observer photographer whose presence at the lunch had not been “finalized.” They balked when Mr. Evans tried to take The Transom to his suite to show them the manuscript for his new book, The Fat Lady Sang -the sequel to The Kid Stays in the Picture -despite Mr. Evans’ contention that “I don’t have anything else to do this afternoon.”
The Transom extracted permission from the P.R. executives to return “just to say goodbye” to Mr. Evans, who told them he was distressed. “We were having a conversation, like human beings,” he said. “We had drinks, we went out, we talked, and now you’re telling me that I can’t show them the books I said I would show them? It’s not right. I understand it’s your corporate position, but I wasn’t finished talking.”
He got his way.
“I’m not a puppet,” said Mr. Evans. Then a nicer thought came to him, and he smiled. “That’s why I have women work for me,” he said. “Because they’re tough.”
The Last Mafioso
“My birthday is this Saturday, and you know how old I’m going to be?” Mr. Evans asked. He waited a beat. “Five years old.”
He was off by one year, but referring to 1998, the year he was “born,” when three debilitating strokes paralyzed the right side of his body. Mr. Evans said that all he can remember from that day at Woodland was making a champagne toast to Mr. Craven and the strains of Ella Fitzgerald singing “What a Wonderful World.” According to Mr. Evans, his parting line after falling to the floor was “I told you, Wes, it ain’t never boring around here.”
The strokes, he said, set the stage for his “third act.” Since that day, Mr. Evans said that he’s had to abstain from two of his favorite “three S’s”-sun and sports. The bronze skin is maintained these days with sun booths and a little bit of what Mr. Evans called “foundation.” The producer was happy to report that the third and most important “S” is still a viable option.
But, he said, in the days immediately following his collapse, that certainly didn’t seem to be the case. “I was dead. I was in cement, and no one thought I’d live,” he said. Mr. Evans walked over to the window, where there were stacks of his autobiography on audiotape, a few paperback copies of The Last Mafioso and a single copy of a book called How to Heal Depression.
“If it weren’t for Sumner Redstone …. ” Mr. Evans said. He paused for a moment, then recalled that the 79-year-old chairman and chief executive of Viacom, which owns Paramount, came to see him in the hospital. “He came to visit me,” he continued, “flew from wherever he was around the country to hold my hand. Because he went through a terrible burn accident in 1979-everyone thought he’d die. No one was allowed in intensive care, but he was there, and he held my hand and he says, ‘If I can do it, you can. You’re gonna pull through.’
“I wouldn’t be here right now,” Mr. Evans said flatly. “I’d be dead. That’s why I didn’t want them [the publicists] to stop me from talking to you.”
Mr. Evans grew increasingly serious. As he spoke, his words started to catch in his throat and his body began to tremble. “And here is the biggest man in the media world-flew in his plane, stayed for two hours. And six months later, he told me, ‘I didn’t think you were going to live.’”
Mr. Evans started to cry. “You can’t buy that,” he choked, “You can’t …. “
He paused and tried to regain his composure. “I call it loyalty, and you never know where you get it from. You never know. He was there with me.”
The room was silent for a moment. He picked up the tattered Xerox copy of The Fat Lady Sang . “I want to show it to you in my book,” he said. “I write about it in my new book.”
He flipped to the Redstone chapter and recounted the story, scene by scene, as he had just told it. Only this time, he didn’t cry.
– Joe Hagan and Rebecca Traister
“I’m the luckiest person I know,” boasted model Maggie Rizer as she played roulette in a long teal dress at the second annual “Viva Glam” gambling night that she hosted to benefit Design Industries Foundation Fighting Aids (DIFFA) on June 19.
Ms. Rizer was probably too young to remember the “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful” shampoo ads that used to run on television, but she really seemed to be tempting fate by claiming that her good fortune extended beyond her genetic makeup.
But who could blame her? It seemed like everyone within the cavernous confines of Cipriani 42nd Street on this evening was feeling lucky.
At one table toward the back of the room, Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière, in from Paris, played blackjack with French gamine model Audrey Marnay (dressed Indian-style in a sari), fashion designer Isabel Toledo and fashion-show producer Alex de Betak. Ms. Toledo’s mustachioed artist husband, Ruben-who looked like a matador-stood by and kept track of the wins.
Mr. de Betak said his girlfriend, Ms. Marnay, was very lucky. Mr. Toledo said his wife was very lucky. And everyone agreed that Mr. Ghesquière, who had a small pile of red chips in front of him, was also very lucky, despite his beginner’s status. The designer had learned blackjack that very evening, and though he found it a little ” compliqué ” at first, he said, he seemed to be enjoying genuine beginner’s luck.
Across the table, the croupier sported a shaved head, deep tan and pierced ears. He looked like a cross between Hulk Hogan and Mr. Clean. His name was Ernesto Alvarez; he hailed from Cuba and said his day job was at the Bellevue Hospital morgue. Whether or not Mr. Alvarez was lucky himself, he knew a lot about the subject, given both of his jobs.
When The Transom asked Mr. Alvarez how Mr. Ghesquière & Co. were faring at the blackjack table, he shrugged his shoulders. “Eeehhh,” he chuckled. “So-so.”
Ms. Marnay made a mock pout.
“They’re nice people, but they have not much luck,” he continued, chuckling some more. “That’s true-not much luck.”
And with that, he swept the table clean of their chips, raking them in toward him .
The Transom Also Hears …
On June 20, the artist Julian Schnabel had dinner with a few of his children and some friends at Dave’s Grill, a posh restaurant in Montauk on Long Island. Mr. Schnabel-who has a studio nearby-gleefully plowed through some oysters and then a plate of cioppino, at one point passing it across the table to one of his companions, saying, “Put down that crap you’re eating and try this.”
After disquisitions on the financial hardship of training his dog and the loneliness of ice fishermen, a boisterous chorus of “Happy Birthday” for a kid eating at a nearby table and a few glasses of wine, Mr. Schnabel was evidently in the mood to tell a joke.
“It’s like, you know that woman in the show Dallas , the secretary with the black hair?” Mr. Schnabel said. “O.K., O.K. What does she put behind her ears to attract men?”
Everyone gave up.
“Her feet!” Mr. Schnabel exclaimed.