“There are three sides to every story; your side my side and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently,” says Robert Evans, the legendary film producer in the devilishly entertaining “The Kid Stays in the Picture.” Based on his autobiography of the same name, the documentary chronicles the meteoric rise of the man responsible for one of the greatest streaks of critical and box-office successes in movie history – including classics “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Love Story,” “The Godfather,” and “Chinatown” among others – as well as his vertiginous fall from grace, which involved a drug bust and a murder scandal. Narrated by Evans himself, the documentary is a warts-and-all look at his life – and what a colorful life! He is a flamboyant self-promoter, but with his first-hand accounts of Hollywood, movie stars and fabled productions, this makes for an intoxicating experience.
I should tell you that Evans is quite a raconteur and has a way with words. He makes statements that are self-deprecating, self-reflective, as well as cautionary. Any man who thinks he can read the mind of a woman knows nothing!” he exalts. He also has one of the most seductive voices – lively and gravely. At times it sounds like he’s purring. The only voice you will hear is his, and it makes for great company. He’s also a terrific impersonator, and throughout the film you will hear him recall conversations and hilariously recreate the voices of Mia Farrow and Sylvester Stallone amongst others. Hearing him speak is so cool. You instantly imagine him with a tan, tinted glasses, a scotch in hand – wearing a red evening jacket and a foulard.
Born in New York City, he was working for Evan-Picone, a fashion-company founded by his brother. He recounts that on a business trip to Los Angeles in 1956, hanging out at the pool of the posh The Beverly Hills Hotel, he was spotted by actress Norma Shearer. She approached and told him he’d be perfect to play the role of her late husband, film producer Irving Thalberg in a biographical film about the silent actor Lon Chaney called “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” Soon after, he found himself acting with James Cagney – making headlines: “New York businessman dived in pool and comes out a movie star.” After returning from New York, he caught someone else’s eye – this time that of movie mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, who cast him as the matador Pedro Romero in the adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” The novelist and Ava Gardner opposed the casting for they felt the role should go to a real bullfighter. Evans recalls how he anxiously trained. Zanuck showed up to see him and decreed, “The kid stays in the picture!”
After playing a powerful and creative film producer and interacting with Zanuck, Evans has the realization that’s the career he wanted. (He also confesses that he wasn’t a very good actor. There’s a fun collage of close-ups of him overacting.) He learned quickly that owning the rights to a property to develop into a film was the key to success. He acquired the 1966 novel “The Detective” and made it into a movie starring Frank Sinatra and Robert Duvall. “When you own the property you’re king,” he utters. “When you don’t you’re out.” A writer for the NY Times, Peter Bart, noticed his aggressive style and wrote an article. Charles Buhdorn, who was head of the Gulf+Western conglomerate – which owned the flailing Paramount Pictures – hired him to be the vice president of production. Evans convinced Peter Bart to join him as an executive. He bought the rights to Ira Levin’s “Rosemary’s Baby” and took a chance on Polish auteur Roman Polanski. His anecdotes about working with Mia Farrow and Polanski are fascinating – and a bit about Frank Sinatra getting involved is delicious.
Under his guidance Paramount became the number one studio with films like “Barefoot in the Park,” “The Odd Couple,” “Rosemary’s Baby”, “The Italian Job,” “True Grit,” “Love Story,” “Harold and Maude,” “The Godfather,” “The Godfather Part II,” “Serpico,” “The Conversation,” “Chinatown,” “The Great Gatsby,” and many others. While making “Love Story” he fell in love with and married Ali McGraw – and then while consumed with “The Godfather” and “Coppola” – McGraw started an affair with Steve McQueen. For us cinephiles, we get an earful about the making of “The Godfather” and “Chinatown.” There’s not a dull moment in his life – and he’s upfront about it all. Eventually there’s a downfall – and it involves being found guilty of cocaine trafficking in 1980. “The seducer had been seduced,” he says. There is also a murder scandal – “The Cotton Club murder” – he wasn’t involved in any way, but it destroyed his reputation.
The film is elegantly put together by directors Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen with archival footage and a plethora of photos. Evans’ mansion is used as a stunning motif – the camera exploring its interiors and exteriors as it were searching for lost memories
He creatively butted heads and collaborated with the greatest directors.
Robert Evans: “Fighting is healthy . If people have to much reverence for the material it turns out underwhelming”
Available to stream on Peacock and to rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, Microsoft, iTunes, Vudu, Apple TV, FandangoNOW, Redbox and DIRECTV.
Screenplay by Brett Morgen
Based on the book by Robert Evans
Directed by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen
Narrated by Robert Evans
Featuring Eddie Albert, Peter Bart, Charlie Bluhdorn, William Castle, Francis Ford Coppola, Catherine Deneuve, Charles Evans, Josh Evans, Mia Farrow, Errol Flynn, Ava Gardner, Karen Greenberger, Ernest Hemingway and Arthur Hiller
Co-Director Brett Morgen on Bringing “The Kid Stays in the Picture” to the Screen
“We got a call from a woman named Pam Brady, who wrote the ‘South Park’ movie, in the fall of 1999. After “South Park” became a big success, Pam asked for a meeting with Bob Evans — she was a big fan of his book on tape [the audiobook version of his 1994 book ‘The Kid Stays in the Picture’] Pam offered to write a screenplay to produce. So she called us and told us about it, and it sounded like ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ We signed on to do it on the spot. We were about to shoot the film, we had raised one and a half million dollars, and three days before production was going to begin, we got a call from Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair. Graydon told us that he had the exclusive non-fiction rights to Bob’s life, and we needed to cease and desist. We met with Graydon later that afternoon and we decided to do ‘The Kid Stays in the Picture’ together, which was a departure for us because ‘On the Ropes’ was a pure cinema verite film and we had never done archival films before.” (indiewire.com)
Co-Director Nanette Burstein on Bringing “The Kid Stays in the Picture” to the Screen
“We didn’t really know if it would work having him off camera. It was a challenge…With documentaries, you have different perspectives or point of views, you either follow people and film them or you interview them, you’re a fly on the wall, and it’s more of a he said/she said. The best way to describe this film is a third-person autobiography in which Bob describes his life and his is the only voice you hear. He’s such a great storyteller that we wanted to embrace that and give you a Bob Evans experience. And then the visuals are commenting and we’re giving our own subtext to the film, underneath Bob’s narration…We always said this is the kind of film that Bob Evans would have greenlighted. The thing about Bob was that he was a huge risk-taker. He made “Harold and Maude,” about an 80-year-old woman having an affair with a 15-year-old boy. How do you sell that today? He had his losers and he had his winners. But this was a movie where we knew we had a guy talking off camera for 90 minutes and we weren’t really sure what we were going to see yet.” (indiewire.com)
About “the Kid” Robert Evans
Evans was born Robert Shapera in New York. Before the age of 18, he had worked on more than 300 radio shows and the occasional TV show and play. A collapsed lung forced him to recuperate for a year, and when he returned, he realized he’d lost his momentum. He worked his charms as a salesman at the sportswear firm Evan-Picone, co-founded by his brother Charles. Several years later, however, his show business career was revived: In the perhaps apocryphal tale, he was spotted by the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel with actress Norma Shearer, who asked him to play her deceased husband, the legendary MGM exec Irving Thalberg, in the film “Man of a Thousand Faces.” Darryl Zanuck then cast him as a bullfighter in the 1957 version of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” The other actors pleaded with Zanuck to replace Evans, but Zanuck sent a telegram, saying, “The kid stays in the picture,” which provided the title for his eventual autobiography. Evans’ good looks carried him only so far, however. His stiff onscreen presence in those movies and in “The Fiend Who Walked the West” (1958) and “The Best of Everything” (1959) did not warm the hearts of reviewers, however, and he returned to the garment industry. After Evan-Picone was sold to Revlon (netting Evans $2 million, according to some sources), he decided to return to the industry in a producing capacity. He purchased the rights to a novel, “The Detective.” New York Times reporter Peter Bart chronicled Evans’ tale in an article that caught the attention of Fox executives Richard Zanuck and David Brown, who put him in charge of such projects as “Achilles Force” (which was never made) and “The Detective,” starring Frank Sinatra. But his stay at Fox was brief. He befriended and charmed Charles Bluhdorn of Gulf & Western, which owned Paramount Pictures. The born salesman recognized another born salesman when he met him. In 1966 Bluhdorn controversially named the neophyte Evans VP in charge of production. By 1969 he was exec VP of worldwide production. Evans’ early Paramount tenure included such monumental flops as “Paint Your Wagon” and “Darling Lili,” which were Bluhdorn’s pet projects. Evans oversaw disappointments including “Catch-22” and the 1974 “The Great Gatsby.” But they were more than offset by Evans’ successes, starting with “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Goodbye, Columbus,” “Love Story” and “The Godfather” films.
The degree to which he personally deserved credit for any of these has always been debated, and even Evans claims that some of the best decisions made during his tenure, particularly with respect to “The Godfather,” were arrived at over his objections. Evans hired Bart at Paramount; Bart eventually joined Variety in 1989, and profiled Evans in his 2011 book “Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob, (and Sex).” As a studio ambassador Evans was a success. His attention to day-to-day production, however, soon deteriorated, exacerbated by his public divorce from MacGraw and growing cocaine dependency. He clashed openly with Francis Ford Coppola on “The Godfather” (and was slighted by Coppola when he accepted his screenplay Oscar). After Barry Diller was brought in over him in 1974, Evans eased into a producing deal. His first crucible was “Chinatown,” a tempestuous but ultimately successful enterprise that was nominated for 11 Oscars. After that, Evans started to slowly go downhill even as a producer. Thriller “Marathon Man,” starring Dustin Hoffman, was a hit in 1976, and 1977’s “Black Sunday” did OK, but did not live up to expectations. His tennis drama “Players” (starring MacGraw) was a flop, and neither “Urban Cowboy” nor “Popeye” (both 1980) were big enough hits to restore his golden-boy reputation…A personal dream, “The Cotton Club,” became a never-ending nightmare, taking up several years of Evans’ life and almost $50 million. The hybrid of music and gangsters found Evans begging Coppola to take over the reins. The results were uneven, but artistically interesting; the production was tied to underworld money and, in attempting to raise more funds for the film, Evans became involved with Radin, whose murder seemed to be a case of life imitating art. The scandal cast a large shadow over Evans that he never successfully overcame. “The Cotton Club,” released by Orion Pictures in 1984, went down in flames…
…He returned to Paramount in the early ’90s as a producer…In 1997 Evans produced “The Saint,” based on the long-running TV espionage-adventure series. He’d been nurturing the project for several years and hoped the film would be the first entry in a franchise…Evans had already published a frank memoir of his life, 1994’s “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” admitting some of his virtues and his vices. In 1998 Evans suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on one side and unable to speak, but he eventually made a full recovery after much therapy. He made a triumphant return in some sense with the 2002 documentary adaptation of “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” directed by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen, in which Evans idiosyncratically discussed his life. Taking advantage of the increased exposure, he exec produced “Kid Notorious,” a 2003 animated series based on his unique persona for Comedy Central. The same year he produced the successful romantic comedy “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” Evans maintained an office on the Paramount Pictures lot, and continued to develop projects, though none came to fruition: He had long planned a movie based on the renegade car builder John DeLorean, written by James Toback to be produced with Brett Ratner; he also had in development a sci-fi movie set in a futuristic Manhattan and based on a graphic novel, “NYC2123”; “Whip Smart,” the story of a young dominatrix to be directed by Catherine Hardwicke; and a superhero film, “Foreverman,” based on an original character created by Stan Lee and to be produced with Lee. He was married and divorced seven times, first to actress Sharon Hugueny, then to actress Camilla Sparv and, after his divorce from MacGraw, to former Miss America Phyllis George. His brief 1998 marriage to actress Catherine Oxenberg was annulled. Thereafter he was married to Leslie Ann Woodward and Victoria White. He and MacGraw had a son, Josh, an actor and director. Survivors also include a grandson. (variety.com)
About Co-Director Nanette Burstein
…Nanette’s first film, “On The Ropes,” received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance, and received the DGA award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement- all while she was still attending NYU Tisch School of Film. In 2013, Nanette earned the distinction of being 1 of 4 directors Nominated for the Commercial Emmy for her poignant Google Chrome spot, Jess Time. Additionally, Nanette’s success in the documentary field is widely known. For example, her Robert Evans biography, “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” was one of the most talked about movies of that year, winning the Boston Society of Film Critics Award, the Golden Satellite Award, and the Seattle Film Critic’s Award for Best Documentary. A few years later, Nanette expanded on her success with the film “American Teen,” which followed the lives of five teenagers through their senior year of high school in a small Indiana town. The film received immense critical acclaim and earned Nanette the Documentary Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Nanette’s other commercial work has garnered much attention form the media with high-profile spots for clients like Verizon, Marshalls, HomeGoods, Avon, Coke, and Walmart. Nanette was included in AdWeek’s Top 100 of 2016 list as well as their 20 Content Creators Who Are Setting the Bar for Creativity in 2016 and very recently returned from Europe after wrapping a ton of spots for Youtube. Immediately after, she began a new project, traveling to Iceland, Vietnam and Mexico City. She had just returned to the United States when she was called abroad yet again, this time, however, it was to accept a Silver Lion for her Microsoft spot Make What’s Next at the 2016 Cannes Lion Festival…(freethebid.com) A few of Burstein’s other works include “American Teen” (2008), “Going the Distance” (2010), “Backslide” (2012), “It’s Just Sex…” (2012), “Caught” (2013), “The Price of Gold” (2014), “Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee” (2016), “The Golden Girl” (2020), “Becoming a Lady” (2020), “The Hardest Decision” (2020), “Be Our Champion, Go Away” (2020).
About Co-Director Brett Morgen
Dubbed the “mad scientist” of documentary film by the New York Times, Brett Morgen has been directing, writing, and producing ground breaking documentary films for the past 15 years. His credits include “On the Ropes” (1999), “The Kid Stays in the Picture” (2002), “Chicago 10” (2007), “Nimrod Nation” (2008), “June 17, 1994” (2010), and “Crossfire Hurricane” (2012). He is also a prolific commercial director who has directed over 150 spots for companies as diverse as GE, Nike, Dominos, ESPN, HSBC, and Marlboro. Morgen majored in American Mythology at Hampshire College and attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where he received an MFA in film in 1999. His thesis film, “On the Ropes” (1999), premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, where it received the Special Jury Award. The film went on to win several awards and honors including an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary of 1999, the 1999 Directors’ Guild of America Award for Outstanding Direction in a Documentary, the International Documentary Association award for Best Film of the year, and an Independent Spirit Award nomination. It was one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. His next film, “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” became a world-wide sensation when it premiered at the Cannes film festival in 2002. Morgen wrote, produced, and directed the adaptation of Bob Evan’s infamous memoirs. It was named one of the best films of 2002 by Entertainment Weekly and over 50 publications. It was also selected as Best Documentary of 2002 by the Boston Film Critics, Seattle Film Critics, Washington DC film critics and the 2002 Golden Satelite Award for Best Documentary. It was released by Focus Features in the States. In 2007 Morgen released “Chicago 10,” which was selected to be the opening film at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Morgen wrote, directed, and produced the film that was released by Roadside Attractions and distributed by Paramount Home Video. The film received several awards and honors including Emmy, WGA, and ACE nominations. It is considered to be one of the first animated documentaries of it’s kind. Morgen has created and executive produced several television series and events. In 2008, he won his first Peabody Award for the Sundance Channel series “Nimrod Nation.” The film was hailed as one of the best series of 2008 by the Los Angeles Times and the Television Critics Association. In 2010, Morgen directed and produced JUNE 17, 1994 as part of ESPN’s 30 For 30 series. Morgen and the film received two Emmy nominations as well as a series Peabody Award. Morgen’s most recent film, the Rolling Stones documentary “Crossfire Hurricane” will be released worldwide in the fall of 2012… (brettmorgen.com) A few of Morgen’s other works include “The Sweet Science” (2003), “Chicago 10” (2007), “Truth in Motion: The US Ski Team’s Road to Vancouver” (2010), June 17th, 1994 (2010), “Crossfire Hurricane” (2012), “Cobain: Montage of Heck “ (2015) and “Jane” (2017).