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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Kid Stays in the Picture

I don't think I had this documentary about Robert Evans on my GASP list - it doesn't fit the criteria - but it was on my personal list. The one I keep in a tiny notebook and carry with me everywhere I go. How I missed this documentary, I do not know. But. I watched it yesterday evening and was absolutely engrossed.

For those of you who don't know, Robert Evans is the former head of Paramount Pictures and the legendary producer of LOVE STORY, ROSEMARY'S BABY, HAROLD AND MAUDE, CHINATOWN, THE GODFATHER (1 and 2), MARATHON MAN, THE COTTON CLUB and more. He and Ali McGraw were a power couple for a time after LOVE STORY (good movie but terribly, terribly dated, I'm afraid).

Evans was discovered by the side of the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel by Norma Shearer, of all people, and two hours later, he was auditioning for a part on the Universal lot opposite Jimmy Cagney. Talk about being at the right place at the right time. So much of Evans' story is about being in the right (and sometimes wrong) place at the right time. His story is one of risk-taking and bravado. Again and again he mentions relationships and friendships that came back to save him in moments of change. He was given a helping hand on many an occasion - sometimes just because someone met and liked him - that was enough to get Peter Bart to write the article about Robert Evans that led to his eventual installment at Paramount.

I was struck again and again in the movie by the rise and fall of those in the business. The "I knew-you-when" part of it. Who KNEW that Peter Bart would go from being a journalist for the New York Times to a producer at Paramount, president of Lorimar Films and then editor of Variety? Who knew that Evans would go from a B-list character actor to the legendary producer he did? Who do you know right now toiling away on this or that project who might be a person of significant creative and business importance in 10 years? That person might be YOU or it might be someone you know. You might be one of a graduating class of colleagues and peers who are very serious about this silly business called show.

Are you taking every opportunity to meet other writers and entertainment professionals (or aspirants)? Do you pay it forward and read scripts, give feedback, attend performances and be there for your peers and colleagues? That's the kind of stuff people never forget.

Why, just yesterday I got an email from a producer at a reputable company; she's looking for thrillers in the 25M range. We used to work for the same company about three years ago and we used to chat now and again about costume design (which was her passion at that time). Fast forward: She's an exec, we made a friendly bond and now there is an opening for me (or actually, one of my clients - my thriller's all tied up). You never know where friendships and relationships might take you in the future. Someone you chat with once in awhile might remember you down the line and might open doors.

Is there a direct correlation between Bob Evans and you, dear Waver living in Vancouver or Houston or Maryland? Well - we can't stretch this lesson too far - and yet you can take inspiration from his story. He was at the right place at the right time. It is Evans' most pivotal moment that defined his style ever afterward:

He was playing a bull fighter in THE SUN ALSO RISES. Hemingway, Ava Gardner and Tyrone Power had all written and signed a letter to producer Darryl Zanuck asking for Evans to be removed from the movie and Evans knew it. The bullfighting scene was being shot, Zanuck was there watching it and Evans said to himself BLEEP it - and he gave it all he had. Zanuck stood up and said "The kid stays in the picture. And anyone who doesn't like it can quit."*

Let's rewind the tape a moment: Evans is out there, in the ring, knowing that the writer and major stars of the movie he was in had requested his firing. In writing. The producer comes to watch the scene being shot and Evans decides to just go for broke and act the hell out of his scene. He didn't allow himself to be crushed or distraught over the disapproval of Gardner, Hemingway or Powers. He had nothing to lose so he went for it. But it gets better - it's not that this courageous moment led to a great acting career -Evans knew he was no actor. In fact, after this glorious moment came two embarrassing failures. Evans returned to New York (where had had a good job working for designer Evan Picone) thinking his life in Hollywood was over. But it wasn't over. Another opportunity came up - Evans was stubborn, he was brash, he just never gave up. And that, Wavers - that is the lesson he has for us.

If you haven't see THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE, make yourself a martini, light up a cigar and enjoy. I promise you'll be entertained and inspired. Or maybe you can just not light the cigar. Or get a candy one. Whatever puts you in the mood of a mogul-in-the-making. Just not smoking and illegal drugs - Evans had a problem with cocaine that the movie doesn't shy away from. It destroyed his career for some time. But I digress. Watch the movie. You'll love it.

*Actually I paraphrased the second sentence. I can't remember the exact words. You know, these days, some Anonymous Miscreant will track down the exact quote and give me hell. I actually tried to find the second half of the quote but couldn't. Stupid Intertubes.

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Seth said...

Julia Phillips' You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again is an even nastier, funnier account of the same times, if you like that kind of thing. Not that I read trashy tell-all memoirs. But, um, I heard. From somebody. Yeah.

JPS said...

Loved the Evans (both book and film), and I understand the audiotape of it was a big hit with H'wood execs a few years ago. I second the Julia Phillips book. It focuses more on the films and filmmakers of the 70s, and you'll learn more about Steven Spielberg than you ever want to know.

Altogether a fun read.

Anonymous said...

If one of the cable channels ever picks up Kid Notorious, Evans' short-lived animated series, do not miss it. One of my faves of all time.

chaia said...

1. For weeks after watching KID, my then-sweetheart and I went around speaking in all-caps gross hyperbole. "IS THIS THE BEST DAMN PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH IN THE ENTIRE WORLD? YOU BET IT IS."

2. If you liked this documentary, check out Nannette Burstein's most recent one, AMERICAN TEEN (Paramount Vantage) - it is really well done.

3. I third the Julia Phillips book, if you're into that sort of thing. Like some people might be.

JPS said...

I had the distinct pleasure of having one of my novels reviewed on the same page as Julia's either second or third book in People magazine's "Picks and Pans" section, and watching her get the "pan" and my getting the "pick".

I also had a better photo. Every little bit helps,

JPS said...

I believe Zanuck said, "The kid stays in the picture. Just shoot the writer."

I made that up, but it's perfectly believable, no?

E.C. Henry said...

Julie, haven's seen the movie BUT I did read Read Robert Evans' book, "The Kid Stays in the Picture." VERY interesting. Kinda heartbreaking too. Ali McGraw WAS Robert's great love in his life, at least that's how it seams to me, and eversince that ended I get the vibe that something has been missing in his life that no amount of syle can cover up.
Robert Evans friendship with Jack Nicholson is VERY interesting too.

Glad to hear you've got cool things going on in your life, Julie. I enjoy living vicariously through you, especially on St. Patrick's Day! I'm Sweedish, you're Irish, you see...

Sincerly, your playfull little puppy two states north,

- E.C. Henry