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The Kid Also Rises

03 Feb

Dear Flynnstones,

Errol helped launch one of the most unlikly careers in Hollywood. That of actor/studio boss/film producer Robert Evans.

The Bob

Robert J. Shapera was born into a well off New Yorker Jewish family (the father being a dentist in Harlem) on June 29, 1930. His career choice was rather optional than conventional.

From an early age he was drawn to showbusiness, starting with speaking roles in radio, then working as a DJ in Miami and Cuba. When his older brother Charles launched a clothes line, Bob used his good looks, cunning and theatrics to promote the brand setting up a boutique in Hollywood. Soon they went nationwide and made a fortune under the name of Piccione and Evan. He remembered his contribution to their family enterprise: “In the beginning I was into women’s pants.“ But the suits to riches story doesn‘t stop here.

One hot day in Hellywood of 1956, at the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel, silent and sound screen siren Norma Shearer noticed Robert-new-surname-Evans had a striking similarity with her former husband, the late Irving Thalberg. She cast the youngster on the hot spot as whizkid producer, whose short life became legend, for the biographical “The Man of a Thousand Faces“. Subsequently the Juliet from the 1936 classic “Romeo and…” coached Bob E. to a T. His first scene put him opposite James Cagney in the role of Lon Chaney.  All he had to do was to portrait a self assured studio executive who is instructing an insecure newcomer on how to act for the big screen, when in fact it was the other way round. Evans turned mannequin again and no word of the five page script left his lips. It took Cagney doing his Yankee Doodle Dandy shuffle to loosen his young collegue up and things went smoothly from then on. Talk of the town was, a new Valentino had been found.

Fiesta forever

While former Twentieth Century-Fox boss Darryl Zanuck was assembling an all star cast for his independant production of Hemingway`s novel “The Sun also Rises”, he was still on the outlook for Mr. Right for the part of the bullfighter, who takes Lady Ashley by storm. John Gavin was tested and Ava Gardner was busy lobbying for her Italian lover, actor Walter Chiari. But when Zanuck saw Evans doing a tango at El Morrocco nightclub, he knew he had found his ideal Pedro Romero. Happy as a puppy, Bobby arrived in Morelia, Mexico, and was met with unexpected opposition. Outside temperatures were sweltering hot, on the set they were icey cold. Hem himself declared the movie a flop in advance, if Robert really was to don the montera of Pedro. Its script writer Peter Viertel took a quick look (down) at Evans and closed the door of his hotel room in his face. A petition against using Bob as matador was drawn up and signed by Ava, Tyrone Power, Mel Ferrer, well, by about everybody except…Errol Flynn.

F_ck `em, they are all jelous. Tyrone, Mel, both of them played bullfighters. Now they are just too f_cking old. Sit down, old boy. Have a drink!

Evans felt embraced at last. He started practicing his moves with a real bullfighter and a vengeance. When D. Zanuck arrived on the set he immediately wanted to know what this fuss was all about. Into the rolling cameras of director Henry King, Pedro/Bob went through the motions, swirling his cape under the scrutiny of friend and foes. Within minutes D.Z. took the trademark cigar out of his mouth bellowing into a bullhorn.: “The kid stays in the picture. And anybody who doesn`t like it can quit.” Spoken like a true Tinseltown tycoon, standing tall at five foot three.

Ol`Errol and young Evans made for a good combo, the apprentice always eager for advice. Flynn gave a plenty: “As long as you are here, old chap, don`t forget, don`t touch the food, the water, or the ladies- they`ll all give you dysentery.”

Filming turned into a never ending fiesta, each day`s work usually culminating in Errol`s bungalow. “Three girls were waiting for us. Sweeping everything off the table, he switched on a phonograph. Hot Latin music blasted out. Undress, undress!, he laughed. Now on the table, on the table, dance, dance! Settling back into a chair, hysterically laughing, he turned on a tape recorder and began speaking into a microphone. I`m doing my biography, old boy. The wilder the music, the wilder the dancing, the wilder Flynn`s memories became-none of them printable.”

Despite all the fun and games, Robert Evans soon decided to quit his act of acting the actor. Deep down he knew his ablities were limited at best. Switching sides was the way out. He now wanted to become the eye behind the lenses. Zanuck`s display of omnipotent producer had instilled the will in Evans to do likewise. He was looking for the job of literally calling the shots. Opportunity arose when Vienna born, Austrian emigré Karl Georg Bluhdorn, called Charly, the magnate of Gulf+Western Industries, bought Paramount Pictures in 1966. It was the least successful film studio out of nine at that time.

Like Shearer and Zanuck, Bluhdorn saw something in the kid. He installed him first as head executive of Paramount`s London branch. There Evans witnessed the making of a very successful mini movie starring Cockney turned leading man Michael Caine: Alfie. An unlikely success story he took by heart, which payed hefty dividends later on. Half a year after his return from England, R. Evans finally became Vice President of Paramount. Back in the black heartland of magic movies, the local media had a field day. Bob was riduculed as everything but a new Thalberg. Variety even declared him “Bluhdorn`s BJ”. Evans vowed to prove the industry wrong and surrounded himself with powerful wingmen. One he found in the shade, the other in permanent spotlight.

Consigliere Korshak & Godfather Kissinger

The Racquet Club in Palm Springs. Founded by Ralph Bellamy and Charlie Farrell in the 1930s. It`s Easter Sunday. The temperature 103 in the shade. Top of the mountain exec Robert Evans and the melting creme de la creme of movie makers and shakers watch a celebrity & pro mixed doubles tournament. In walks a man in a black suit and tie, who is not breaking a sweat. Who is he and why the outfit!? Robert Evans is intrigued by Sidney Korshak, born in Chicago and nurtured by Big Al, like in Capone. “Is he a mobster?”, Evans asks himself.

Worse, he`s a lawyer. Korshak represents the Hiltons, the Hyatts, the LA Dodgers and is giving airtight advice legally to Playboy Magazine, Max Factor and Diner`s Club. He has friends in high places like Lew Wasserman from MCA/Universal, Kirk Kirkorian from MGM and Ronald Reagan starring in the Errol Flynn movie “Santa Fe Trail”. Once an actor always an actor. S.K. is also a part owner of the Riviera Casino in Las Vegas. Rumour has it, Jimmy Hoffa must vacate his suite whenever Sidney comes to Sin City. Hoff has just left the building… After dinner at Le Pavillon in New York, Evans and Korshak become an unseparable duo doing lunch daily at the Bistro. E.A. is in awe again: “A nod from the Consigliere and the teamsters change management, the Santa Anita racetrack closes and The Dodgers suddenly play night baseball.” Sid`s connections would come handy, when Al Pacino had committed to another film, while Evans wanted him urgently for the lead in “The Godfather”. “Hold on, how do you spell Pacino?” “P-A-C-I-N-O.” “Ok.” One telephone call from El Sid was all it took.

Early 1972. Palm Springs again. Residence of Leonard Firestone, the tireless tire maker.  Hollywood head honcho Bob Evans and Henry Kissinger, the national security adviser to President Nixon, play a round of golf. They had met at a Paramount dinner two years before and taken a liking to each other instantly. “Bobby, can you help me? You said politics is nothing more than a second rate show business. A week from Wednesday I am turning in my resignation.” “What? “Why!?” “Why is not the question. I`m being told to!” Heavy Henry, according to Bob Evans a charmer equalled only by Cary Grant (though with a thick German accent), is looking for a way out of his political predicament. He hopes like in his flicks, Evans comes up with a magic trick. Indeed he does. PR prone he gets LIFE and TIME Magazine to run a cover story each about Kissinger`s importance as elder statesman for the nation. The government resigns, but H. Kissinger stays on. The speed of this feat is incredible. Keep in mind, Time Magazine awards Man of the Year only once, sometimes even for all the wrong reasons, and Henry Luce`s Life Mag sat on the Zapruder tape for 12 years before it was shown for the first time on US television- sans frame 313. Kissinger would return the favour attending the grand premiere of the Godfather. His comment as remembered by his saviour Bobby: “Reminds me of Washington. Just different names. Different faces.”

Korshak and Kissinger. And never the twains shall meet.

A spare pair of glasses

Barefoot in the Park. The Odd Couple. Harold and Maude. The Italian Job. Love Story. Paramount Studios went from last to first courtesy of Bob Evans. The constant limelight made him wear tinted glasses wherever he went. The equivalent of ventian blinds. A dark knight`s full visor. He even brought a spare pair as backup, in case he`d lose one. Maybe clear ones for perspective. On a clear day you can see forever. During interviews he was wearing the spare one on one hand like brass knuckles. With great power came great hostility. Newcomer Ryan O`Neal blew Evans off when begged to carry the promotion of Love Story alone, after Evan`s wife Ali McGraw almost miscarried their first and only child. Frank Sinatra had Mia Farrow served with their divorce papers on the set of Paramount`s adaptation of Ira Levin`s best seller “Rosemary`s Baby”. Mostly because the movie wasn´t wrapped up in time. Actually because she failed to play doting wife, while Sinat` was filming “The Detective”. His way or the highway. The love hate hate story between R. Evans and Francis Ford Coppola is an often cited folklore in the City of Stars. Bob would forever claim he saved “The Godfather” with his editing (Zanuck style) in the cutting room. Francis would forget to thank Evans when receiving his Godfather Oscars every time.

Robert Evans always credited himself with two major achievements. First and foremost for promoting a performer in Roger Coreman movies by the name of Jack Nicholson to A- list actor. They became good friends over the years. Evans nicknamed Nicholson “Irish” and Nicholson labelled Evans in turn “Keed”. Secondly and not the least for bringing Polish director Roman Polanski in from Europe.

Then tragedy hit. More devious than the Mob. Knives were used instead of bullets. All American sweetheart and rising starlet Sharon Tate was murdered together with four more persons in her cottage on 10050 Cielo Drive.The estate had once housed Michèle Morgan, then Cary Grant and later Candice Bergen and Terry Melcher, son of Doris Day. It was situated in a Cul-de-Sac right across the villa of flynnmate Doris Duke. While the devil`s deed was done, Polanski was tinkering on a screen play or preparing the film “Day of the Dolphin” in London only 11 hours away. His agent Willam Tennant reached him via telephone at the Londoner Playboy Club the night after the murders to give him the horrible news.

Tennant had been summoned by authorities to identify the victims. The sights haunted him to such an extent that the up and coming dynamo from Ziegler Ross Agency became a homeless drifter thereafter and camped in Griffith Park in years to come. Upon his return Roman Polanski found himself weeping in the arms of his ex-boss Robert Evans to no end. Evans was comforting his asset the best way he could and hid him away from public, press and police on the Paramount lot. The Hollywood Executive Apartments had 64 single rooms, each with bathroom but no kitchen. Originally called the Paramount Hotel it gave Roman much needed shelter. He regrouped enough to visit the house of horrors and posing in a cover story for LIFE two weeks  after the crime. He even managed to display some sort of gallows humour during a lie detector test, to see if he had anything to do with the murder, done by the LAPD . “Officers, I am gonna lie at first, so you can see clearly how it looks like when I am lying.” Once a director, always a director. He vowed to find the murderers of his eight months pregnant wife like a detective in a film noir.  Policemen at the crime scene gave a pair of glasses, which did not belong to any of the victims, to the father of Sharon, a top US Army official. He forwarded them to Polanski. Sharon`s self defence instructor Bruce Lee casually said he had lost his glasses. Roman took Bruce to an optician to see if the found ones matched the bad eye sight of the martial artist. Lee was cleared. Friends of Roman collected reward money for any hint on the hit. Amongst them they were whispering: “If one of us was the culprit, who could it possibly be?” Hollywood royalty went in hiding. Frank Sinatra was gone quicker from the scene than one can spell “Tannis Root” backwards. Steve McQueen, who had been invited by Sharon to join them on the night of the assault, but had other romantic plans, never again left the house without a gun. His coiffeur Jay Sebring, former fiancé and closest friend of Sharon had been amongst the victims. McQueen did not attend S. Tate`s funeral. Bob Evans did. There he told Sharon`s younger sister Patty that whenever she missed her sis, she could call her and she would be there. Once a producer, always a producer.

Gone and Dead

There is nowhere to go when you are on a mountain top, right? Robert Evans found a way. He went over the top. He had made millions for other people, now he wanted to earn the big green, or FU-money as he called it, for himself as an independant producer. The project was “Chinatown”, a coveted script of renowned writer Robert Town. Bob E. went into high gear and secured the services his best buddies Jack Nicholson and Roman Polanski. Add diva Faye Dunaway, a haunting score of Jerry Goldsmith and Old Sport John Huston basically playing himself and you have a winner.

How do you top going over the top? You develop a story about a legendary nightclub in Harlem, announce Sylvester Stallone and Richard Pryor in the leads. You tell everybody this will be another Godfather with musik. You convince yourself that after all the great editing only you can direct this unfailable endeavor. And then you do none of the above. Evans projected mammon behemoth “Cotton Club” proved to be as unsinkable as the Titanic. Plus it was a money pit. In a desperate attempt to steer clear from the inevitable iceberg, he b(r)ought in the director he loved to hate F.F.Coppola and granted him for the first time final cut! Talking about promising your first born to the devil. Out went Stallone and Pryor, in came Gere and Hines. Out went music, in went crime. Out went creative control, down went Evans.

With rising production costs by the minute, Evans resorted to dubious funders. His only highs by now were coke induced. In a stupor he was approached by a well connected to Colombia lady called Laney Jacobs. She told Bob about New York debonair entrepreneur Roy Radin who had made a fortune  with Vaudeville old timer comeback shows of the likes of George Jessel, Milton Berle and Joey Bishop in Police gyms and Masonic temples. A buck is a buck. And those bucks bought Radin Ocean Castle, an enormous mansion in the Hamptons. Mingeling with the Rothchilds, he too was thinking big and felt ready to make a splash in the film business. He told Laney he represented a country willing to invest 35 millions into the “Cotton Club”. They sealed the deal on a white line. Jacobs refered this to Evans, who was ecstatic. The Bob was back in the game. He and Laney even became an item. Sometimes it snows in April.

Matter of fact it is a long way down from the top. Things went bad, when R. Radin didn`t want to compensate Laney for her services and B. Evans true to form investigated via his laywers if the country with money was willing to eliminate their middle man Radin. This three party mexican standoff left one man dead, a woman in prison and a once prominent producer a pariah. Radin was found shot in a canyon outside of LA with half of his face missing. Somebody had stuck a stick of dynamite between his teeth. Bob Evans eventually was cleared of envolvement in the Cotton Club Murder Trial. Needless to say, consigliere Korschak did not take any more calls. For a fixer this was sloppy business. The abduction of a public figure, having him killed AND found was one thing too many. And as far as Kissinger goes, well Robert Evans, despite all his innocence, did not dare to approach him for more than a decade.

This is the life story of one whirlwizkid Robert Bob Evans. An actor who`s first role was in Lydia Bailey, a film Errol Flynn did not get to make. Who turned down the lead in Marjorie Morningstar, where Errol found his last love. And who lost out to Dean Stockwell, Flynn`s co-star in Kim, for the part in “Compulsion“.

It is also the story about a man, who modelled himself a little too closely after his mentors, be it swashbuckler, hit producer or kiss-the-ring counsellor.

Enjoy,

— shangheinz

 

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  1. Ralph Schiller

    February 4, 2023 at 3:47 pm

    Heinz Holmes! Thank-you for this magnificent article for the Errol Flynn Blog! Robert Evans was on top of the world in 1971 when he was chief of Paramount Pictures with a string of box office, smash hits to his credit, and married to the most beautiful, number-one female film star in Hollywood, Ali McGraw. Evans was preparing a lavish remake of “The Great Gatsby” and perfectly cast his wife Ali as the desirable but fickle-hearted character of Daisy Buchanan. Bored out of her mind waiting for this film to begin production, Ali McGraw accepted a starring role opposite Steve McQueen for the heist/prison film “The Getaway” (1972). While on location in Texas, Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw began an illicit affair. Everyone in Hollywood knew this except for Robert Evans, who foolishly thought “Why would Ali dump me for Steve McQueen?” Ali did dump Evans, and after their expensive divorce, she married McQueen, who also dumped his wife and children of a 15 years marriage. Bob Evans was publicly humiliated and was no longer Hollywood’s wonder boy who could do no wrong. He didn’t know it but he was finished and was never really successful again. At one point he decided to return to acting in a sequel to “Chinatown” called “Two Jakes” (1990). He backed out but produced this flop where Jack Nicholson was so fat that he looked more like “Three Jakes”! As soon as ex-wife Ali McGraw married Steve McQueen, her new husband ended her film career, wisely not trusting her in the arms of any leading men. “The Getaway” was a big hit for McQueen but the liberated, Vassar educated, upper-class, McGraw spent five years trapped as a housewife to a sexist macho male and ex-Marine. Her career never recovered its momentum when she was sitting on top of Hollywood after “Love Story” and was sought after by every studio in Hollywood. To his credit, Evans gave a wonderful performance as Irving Thalberg in “The Man Of A Thousand Faces” (1957). For the record, “The Great Gatsby” (1974) was a lavish, big-budget, boring stinker with a long running time, starring a completely miscast Mia Farrow as Daisy. The 2013 remake with Leonardo DiCaprio was even worse, more expensive, longer and boring! The best film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary classic was made in 1949 and starred Alan Ladd.

     
    • David DeWitt

      February 4, 2023 at 4:46 pm

      You added the topping to to the cake! Thanks, guys!

       
      • shangheinz

        February 13, 2023 at 9:07 am

        9E68043F-681B-4E9A-AC22-45B78AD40045.jpeg
        Rushstreet R.Alfie, thanks for your knowledgeable comment. Once a writer always a writer. When Steve McQueen stole Ali McGraw away from Robert Evans, he immediately became enemy nr. 1. Ali was scratched instantly as the female lead of “the Great Gatsby”, which was her dream role. McQueen tried to make good and corrupt the Paramount board of directors offering his services in a tandem with McGraw for free. Evans had a tough time to rationalize his personal vendetta, but came through with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. The movie didn`t.

        Austrian stunt driver Erich Glavitza, who worked with Steve McQueen on “Le Mans”, and sold him one of his motorbikes during “The Great Escape”, told me the story of the fatal night of Sharon Tate`s murder as he heard it directly from the mouth of the macho. Half of Hollywood claimed to have been invited, amongst them also the Fiesta script writer Peter Viertel (with him two of Evan`s most hated antagonists would have been in attendance!). McQueen considered, but told Jay Sebring to go alone, because he was diverted meeting a California girl at a petrol station and riding into the sunset with her on his motorcycle. Read it here: ray-magazin.at/mcqueen-machos-und-motoren/…
        George Lazenby, the Sean Connery stand-in, has claimed he was to attend the party at Cielo Drive, but despite he too took kung fu lessons from Bruce Lee at the time, I am not sure how friendly he was with Sharon and if that really was the case. Last but not least, Bob Evans also said he had gotten an invitation, but had been too busy working on a film project until late that night. Roman Polanski sent two surrogate ship trunks that afternoon, but vowed to be back in time for a reunion on his birthday Aug. 18th.

         
    • Ralph Schiller

      February 6, 2023 at 10:07 pm

      Thanks Sherlock Heinz!

       
    • Ralph Schiller

      February 11, 2023 at 8:33 pm

      Thank-you my fellow detective Heinz! The Manson killers had a tough time that evil night with a muscular, tough friend of Polanski from Poland. He put up a good fight. If Steve McQueen, a former combat-trained U.S. Marine, had been there the outcome might very well have been different.

       
      • shangheinz

        February 12, 2023 at 5:25 pm

        From chaise loungue investigator to armchair detective: My treat!
        Interestingly enough, Manson had McQueen on his (personal?) hit list. As well as Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones in a strange Las Vegas crooner connection. What were the grievances here? The same as with Terry Melcher and Dennis Wilson- unfullfilled promises!? On Spahn Ranch dune buggies were discovered much like the one Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen drove in that unforgettable scene from “The Thomas Crown Affair“.

         
      • shangheinz

        February 13, 2023 at 7:56 am

        37F53A52-F2C8-4656-93ED-BEAB0D57579D.jpeg
        From chaise loungue investigator to armchair detective: My treat!
        Interestingly enough, Manson had McQueen on his (personal?) hit list. As well as Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones in a strange Las Vegas crooner connection. What were the grievances here? The same as with Terry Melcher and Dennis Wilson- unfullfilled promises!? On Spahn Ranch dune buggies were discovered much like the one Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen drove in that unforgettable scene from “The Thomas Crown Affair“.

         
  2. David DeWitt

    February 4, 2023 at 4:44 pm

    Fascinating, and brilliant posting!

     
    • shangheinz

      February 5, 2023 at 7:29 pm

      Thanks David. Our man Flynn, as always, was a good reference point for a drive along Hollywood Boulevard.