'The Kid Stays in the Picture' Director Brett Morgen Remembers Robert Evans: 'The Greatest Production of All Was His Life'
Legendary producer and studio chief behind The Godfather and Chinatown died Saturday at age 89
Filmmaker Brett Morgen is joining movie industry luminaries paying tribute to famed studio chief and producer Robert Evans, whose death was announced by Evans' family on Monday. Evans ran Paramount Pictures from 1966-1974, shepherding to the screen Rosemary's Baby, Love Story, The Godfather, and Serpico, and later produced Chinatown, Marathon Man and Urban Cowboy. He died on Saturday of undisclosed causes at the age of 89.
Morgen directed, along with Nanette Burstein, the 2002 documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture, which helped restore Evans' reputation after a severe cocaine habit and other scandals had wrecked his career.
"Bob Evans produced some of the greatest films of all time, but the greatest production of all, was his life," Morgen wrote on Twitter. "When you were with Bob, there was nowhere else on Earth you’d rather be. He was funnier, sweeter and more charming than the character he created."
Morgen and Burstein based their film on Evans' memoir, a colorful account of the Hollywood insider's rise and eventual banishment from the business. Evans began his career as an actor, possessing movie star good looks, but abandoned that to pursue producing opportunities, later joining the executive ranks. The cocaine addiction and a murder investigation involving the death of an investor on The Cotton Club - the 1983 film Evans produced and Francis Ford Coppola directed - damaged him in Hollywood.
Evans was married at least half a dozen times, once to actress Ali MacGraw. Stories about him became legend, largely because many of the films he championed impacted the culture so profoundly, including Coppola's The Godfather. At a Q&A at the Tribeca Film Festival last year Coppola recalled Evans insisting that Robert Redford be cast in the role of Michael Corleone (the part eventually played by Al Pacino), because, in Coppola's view, Evans identified with the glamorous, good-looking Redford and was, in effect, projecting himself into the part.
Coppola and Evans often clashed creatively, but the director recalled him on Monday with fondness.
"I remember Bob Evans’ charm, good looks, enthusiasm, style, and sense of humor,” Coppola said in a statement. “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... May the kid always stay in the picture."
The memoir and subsequent documentary helped remind Hollywood (and the public) of what a force Evans had been.
"The Kid Stays in the Picture is narrated by Mr. Evans in his distinctive voice and storytelling manner," Focus Features notes on its web page for the documentary. That style of speaking, which the New York Times described as a "gurgle-mumble," is partly what gave the film its memorably intimate tone. It felt like Evans was whispering stories in your ear at some impossibly exclusive Hollywood cocktail party.
"Through the years, Evans's closest friends have included Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Roman Polanski, Henry Kissinger, and Dustin Hoffman," the Focus Features website adds. "Long considered one of Tinseltown's most enduring bachelors, Evans has enjoyed meaningful love affairs with some of the most beautiful women of the past half-century, including Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Ali MacGraw, Cheryl Tiegs, Raquel Welch, and Margaux Hemingway. The Kid Stays in the Picture shares gripping anecdotes and Evans's unusual friendships and follows the thread of his tumultuous love life."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.