Born Robert J. Shapera, June 29, 1930, in New York, NY; son of Archie (a dentist) and Florence (a homemaker) Shapera; married Sharon Hugueny (an actor), May 28, 1961 (divorced, 1962); married Camilla Sparv (a model and actor), c. 1963 (marriage ended); married Ali MacGraw (an actor), October 24, 1969 (divorced, 1972); married Phyllis George (an actor), 1977 (marriage ended, 1978); married Catherine Oxenberg (an actress), July 12, 1998 (annulled, July 21, 1998); married Leslie Ann Woodward (a model), November 2, 2002 (divorced, 2003); children: Joshua (with MacGraw).
Publisher— Dove Books, 301 North Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
Began career in entertainment as a radio and television actor while still in junior high school, 1940s; became an executive and stakeholder in his brother's clothing company, Evan–Picone, 1950s; cast in his first film, The Man of a Thousand Faces, 1957; appeared in The Sun Also Rises, 1957; appeared in several more films before leaving Hollywood to return to the clothing business, 1960s; sold his stake in Evan–Picone and left the company to return to Hollywood as a producer, 1966; landed three–picture producing deal with 20th Century Fox, 1966; headed world–wide production at Paramount, where he produced numerous hit films, 1966–1974; produced films as an independent producer, 1974—; published autobiography, The Kid Stays in the Picture, 1994; narrated movie version of The Kid Stays in the Picture, 2002; narrated cartoon Kid Notorious, Comedy Central, 2003—.
Film mogul Robert Evans rescued the Paramount movie studio from financial ruin when he became head of worldwide production in 1966. Under his leadership, which lasted until 1974, Paramount's earnings grew from five percent of Gulf and Western's (its parent company) income to 55 percent. Propelled by such hits as Rosemary's Baby and The Godfather, Evans' Paramount became the top–grossing film studio in Hollywood. But after leaving Paramount to become an independent producer, Evans fell on hard times, flirting with financial ruin himself, and running afoul of the law with a drug conviction. Evans' star rose again, however, with the 2002 film The Kid Stays in the Picture, based on his autobiography of the same name. The film was a hit, turning Evans into a celebrity, and once again, offers began to roll in for him.
Robert Evans was born Robert J. Shapera in New York City in 1930—the beginning of the Great Depression. Evans' father, Archie, was a dentist, and he ran his own clinic in Harlem. Archie worked seven days a week at the clinic to support the family, which included Evans' mother, older brother, and younger sister. "Both my parents were second– generation Jews," Evans said in his 1994 autobiography, The Kid Stays in the Picture. "That was all they had in common." Evans admired his father, who was also well liked by his patients in Harlem. Unusual for the time, Archie had a staff of both white and African–American dentists and assistants.
Very early on, while still in elementary school, Evans decided he wanted to become an actor. His inspiration was the stars of the silver screen—James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and others. While Evans was growing up, radio was king, employing more actors than any other medium, including film. So Evans set his sights on becoming a radio actor. When he was 12 years old, Evans began to audition regularly for roles in radio, and within a few months, he landed his first part—that of a Nazi colonel on a show called Radio Mystery Theater. By the time Evans turned 14, he was acting regularly on a program called Let's Pretend. More radio roles followed in rapid succession.
Evans changed his last name while in junior high school at the insistence of his father, who had always felt that his boys should be named after his mother (Ms. Evan before she was married; Evans added the "s") rather than his father, who was not a good parent. Evans continued his acting career in radio through high school, also picking up occasional roles on television, which was just starting to take hold as a viable medium for entertainment.
After an unsuccessful bid to become an film actor in Hollywood, Evans headed back East, where he worked for his brother's by–then–thriving women's clothing manufacturing business. Evans and his brother struck it rich, and before he turned 25, Evans was a millionaire. The company's label, Evan–Picone, continued to be a trend–setter in women's fashion into the 21st century.
Wealthy and 26 years old, Evans thought his acting career was well behind him. But while in Beverly Hills on business in 1956, he was spotted poolside at the hotel he was staying in by the female star of a new film in production by Universal, The Man of a Thousand Faces. The film also starred one of Evans' early idols, James Cagney. The female star, Norma Shearer, wanted Evans to play a role in the film. He screen–tested with Cagney that day, and was cast the following day. And so, Evans, without even trying, finally broke into films.
Shortly after finishing his work on his first film, Evans was spotted by Twentieth Century Fox producer Darryl Zanuck in a night club. Zanuck did not even know that Evans was an actor, but he saw in him star potential, and he cast Evans in a film version of the Hemingway novel The Sun Also Rises. In it, he played opposite Ava Gardner as her Mexican bullfighter lover.
It was during the making of this film that Evans found his true calling. Arriving on set in Mexico, he was instantly disliked by the cast, the writer, and the director, all of whom told Zanuck in no uncertain terms that Evans would make the film a failure. Zanuck came to the Mexican set to see for himself why Evans was so disliked. Evans turned on the charm for Zanuck during the filming of his scenes in the bullring. Afterward, Zanuck pronounced, as Evans reported in his autobiography, "The kid stays in the picture. And anybody who doesn't like it can quit!" Zanuck left the set without further discussion. Evans, who did indeed stay in the picture, decided then and there that what he really wanted to do was become a producer. As he put it in his autobiography, "It was then I learned what a producer was—a Boss. It was then I learned I wanted to be D.Z., not some actor desperate for a nod of approval."
Both The Man of a Thousand Faces and The Sun Also Rises came out within a few weeks of each other in 1957, to critical acclaim. For a brief while, Evans, by his account, was one of the most sought–after actors in Hollywood. But the offers quickly boiled down to roles in second–rate films. Evans, by his own admission, did not have the talents of a major film star. Then, too, his heart was in producing, not acting. After acting in several unmemorable minor films, Evans was given an ultimatum by his brother's company: either return to New York as an executive, or sell out his stake in the company.
By this time, Evans had married the first of what was to be six wives: Hollywood starlet Sharon Hugueny. Evans had a tough decision to make. As he said in his autobiography, "Looking at yourself in the mirror, calling a spade a spade ain't easy—Evans, you're not good enough to make it all the way. The parts you're offered you don't want, and the parts you want you're not offered. Paul Newman? No shot. Tab Hunter? More like it. Not for me. I wanted to be the next Darryl Zanuck, and I paid the price, making the most difficult decision of my life. I gave up the glamour of Hollywood, two firm pictures with Zanuck, a storybook existence, and returned to New York City with my child bride, back to Evan–Picone's showroom on Broadway."
Within six months of bringing his new wife to New York, Evans and Hugueny divorced. He hated his work at the clothing company, dreaming only of California's beaches and his friends in the film business back in Los Angeles. Not long after Evans's return to New York, in 1966, he and his partners sold their company to Revlon, Inc., making a reported $10 million in the process. Evans and his new bosses did not get along, and he left the company soon after, leaving him free once again to pursue his dream of becoming a producer.
By this time, he had married model Camilla Sparv. He took his new wife back to Los Angeles. There, with the money and the contacts to acquire literary properties to make into films, he started his new career as a film producer. Almost at once, he landed a three–picture contract with 20th Century Fox. Meanwhile, he grew restless in his marriage, and after Sparv caught him being unfaithful, and he refused to stop seeing other women, they got divorced.
Even as his marriage fell apart, Evans' star as a producer rose. A feature article about him the New York Times brought him to the attention of the heads of the Paramount movie studio, who hired him in 1966 to head the studio's European production office in London, England. It was an offer he could not refuse, and he had to back out of his contract with 20th Century Fox—all this before he produced a single film. Evans later credited the New York Times article, which was written by Peter Bart, with landing him the Paramount deal. Evans returned the favor a few months later by hiring Bart to be on his staff at Paramount after Evans was promoted and moved to Hollywood.
Evans' promotion put him in charge of production at the entire studio. At the time Paramount was dead last in earnings among the major Hollywood movie studios, and its owners were counting on Evans to improve its fortunes—they were not disappointed. The studio's first big hit under Evans was the 1968 film The Odd Couple. Based on the play by the same name by Neil Simon, the film became a smash hit, eventually spawning numerous sequels and a TV series.
Under the leadership of Evans, Paramount, tottering dangerously close to financial ruin when he took the helm, pulled back into the black. He followed up the success of The Odd Couple with Rosemary's Baby, also in 1968. It became the best–grossing film of the summer, and made its lead actress, Mia Farrow, a star.
Goodbye Columbus in 1969 was the next hit for Paramount, and it too catapulted its lead actress, Ali MacGraw, to stardom. Evans was just as taken with MacGraw as the movie–going public; he married her the year the film came out. They had one child, a son named Joshua, before divorcing in 1972.
Paramount produced many more hits under Evans, including 1968's Romeo and Juliet, 1970's Love Story, which starred MacGraw, and 1972's The Godfather. Under Evans, Paramount went from earning just five percent of the revenues of its parent company, to 55 percent, and became the top movie studio in Hollywood.
But while Paramount's fortunes soared, Evans' did not. Never earning percentages of his film company's profits, nor bonuses in addition to his salary, Evans found himself sliding into debt, and he left Paramount in 1974 to produce films on his own. His first effort as an independent producer, 1974's Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson, was a hit. In 1977, Evans married his fourth wife, former Miss America Phyllis George. That marriage lasted eleven months.
In 1980, Evans was prosecuted along with his brother for purchasing thousands of dollars worth of cocaine. He stayed out of jail, spending a year on probation. But it was the beginning of a decline for the producer. Two films ruined him financially in 1990. These were The Cotton Club and The Two Jakes. After his old friend Nicholson helped him financially, he attempted a comeback later in the 1990s by producing what turned out to be unmemorable thrillers. It was during this time, in 1994, that he published his autobiography, The Kid Stays in the Picture.
Evans suffered a series of debilitating strokes in 1998, and he required extensive rehabilitation. During his recovery period, he married Catherine Oxenberg after a five–day courtship. This fifth marriage was his briefest, lasting only a few days. "My fault," he later told People 's Jim Jerome. "My brain wasn't working right."
The Kid Stays in the Picture was made into a movie narrated by Evans himself, and released in 2002, to critical and popular acclaim. It made Evans into a celebrity once again. In May of 2002, he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Offers came rolling in, and he was soon back producing. Among his first efforts in this, his second comeback, was How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. The film, starring Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, was released in 2003.
Evans married for the sixth time in 2002. His bride was model and actress Leslie Ann Woodward; however, in 2003 the couple divorced. That same year, Evans was at work on a sequel to his autobiography called The Fat Lady Sang. Also in 2003, he lent his voice to cable channel Comedy Central's cartoon Kid Notorious, which was based on his life. According to CNN.com , the cartoon followed "the adventures of "Kid" Evans; his butler, English; his cat, Puss Puss; and his housekeeper, Tollie Mae, as Evans cuts show business deals, romances women, and schmoozes Hollywood." Evans wrote his own dialogue for the cartoon because "he figured no one else could capture his original style," CNN.com explained. Asked by the San Francisco Chronicle 's Edward Guthmann to name his biggest accomplishment, Evans replied, "Being alive today.… The doctors thought I would never walk and I'm playing tennis today. I'm still in the picture."
The Kid Stays in the Picture, Hyperion Press, 1994.
Boston Globe, August 4, 2002, p. L9.
InStyle, February 2003, p. 254.
New York Times, August 9, 1966, p. 29; November 4, 1966, p. 32; December 21, 1966, p. 46; August 5, 1972, p. 13; September 22, 1980, p. C15; May 20, 1993, p. C15.
People, August 12, 2002, pp. 135–38.
San Francisco Chronicle, August 4, 2002, p. 32.
"Outta the way—it's Kid Notorious," CNN.com , http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/TV/10/22/apontv.kidnotorious.ap/index.html (October 22, 2003).
— Michael Belfiore