Robert Evans, the glamorous, cult-figure former studio executive who produced Best Picture Oscar winner "Chinatown" (1974), has died. Variety reports he died Saturday at 89.
NYC-born Evans tried his hand at acting in the '50s and failed, turning to the women's clothing business, which made him a millionaire. Discovered by '30s star Norma Shearer, he was pushed by her to play her late husband, Irving Thalberg, in "Man of a Thousand Faces" (1957). From there, he was hired by 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck to appear in "The Sun Also Rises" (1957) over the protestations of author Ernest Hemingway and co-star Ava Gardner. So strong was the on-set disdain for Evans' acting abilities that Zanuck felt the need to shout into a bullhorn during filming, "The kid stays in the picture. And anybody who doesn't like it can quit."
"The Kid Stays in the Picture" would become the title of Evans' acclaimed, dishy memoir (1994) and a 2002 documentary adapted from it.
His acting career fizzling, he realized he would rather produce, and optioned the novel "The Detective," which would later become a huge movie hit for Frank Sinatra. With no experience at all, Evans charmed his way into being named a VP at Paramount in 1966, and, by 1969, executive VP of worldwide production. Though hiring a young novice was controversial, and though Evans oversaw flops like "Darling Lili" (1970), he was also at the helm for the production and release of the smash hits "Rosemary's Baby" (1968), "Romeo and Juliet" (1968), "Goodbye, Columbus" (1969), "Love Story" (1970), and "The Godfather" (1972).
Evans was known for his abrasive input, clashing with filmmakers. That and a cocaine addiction — he was arrested for possessing the drug in 1980 — led to Evans' slide from studio exec to producer. It was, at first, a fortuitous change, when his first film, "Chinatown" (1974), was both an international hit and a critical sensation. He won the Oscar for the film, and followed it with hits like "Marathon Man" (1976), "Black Sunday" (1977), and "Urban Cowboy" (1980).
His fortunes declined with flops like "The Cotton Club" (1984), a notoriously over-budget film, and "Sliver" (1993), among others. His final success as a producer came with 2003's "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days."
Evans was married seven times, including to actresses Ali MacGraw and Camilla Sparv, and to former Miss America Phyllis George. A 1998 union with actress Catherine Oxenberg was annulled the same year he suffered a debilitating stroke, from which he fought back.
Evans is survived by his son with MacGraw, producer-writer-actor Josh Evans, and one grandson.