Just when you thought you knew it all about Hollywood lothario-turned-legend Robert Evans, it turns out there’s more.
We all know the story by now: The son of a dentist in New York, Evans made his way to Hollywood in the 1950s, where he climbed the ladder from supporting actor to studio executive at Paramount, turning out such film classics as “The Godfather” and “Rosemary’s Baby” before leaving to produce his own such gems as “Chinatown” and “Marathon Man.”
Oh, and then there’s the partying and the romancing. The ultimate ladies’ man, Evans bedded dozens of models and movie stars over his decades in the business. With his distinctive glasses, swept-up hair, drug use, wild parties at his Wonderland estate, open-collared shirts and captivating smile, he cultivated his reputation as the last Hollywood legend. From palling around with Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson to romancing Grace Kelly, Ali McGraw and countless princesses and prostitutes, Evans recounted much of his story in his 1994 memoir, “The Kid Stays in the Picture.”
But there’s more, as we learn from the stories in his new book, “The Fat Lady Sang,” involving the ultimate cast of A-listers including a young Jack Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, John Wayne, Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn, Jimmy Cagney, 50 Cent and Henry Kissinger.
Evans opens the memoir on the night that he suffered a stroke in May 1998 while toasting horror-movie director Wes Craven with some friends at his Beverly Hills home. While lying on the floor, unable to move, the strains of Ella Fitzgerald’s “It’s a Wonderful World” filling the room, Evans whispered to Craven with his inimitable charm: “Told you, Wes, it ain’t ever dull around here.”
That night in the ER at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, Evans suffered a second stroke, and his mind flashed back 50 years earlier to May 1948, when he was a scrappy 18-year-old trying to bed showgirls at nightclubs like the Latin Quarter and the Copacabana in New York. That sets Evans traipsing down memory lane, recalling the following juicy tidbits from a four-decade career:
* An incident with New York’s Bishop Stephen Donahue, the second-highest-ranking Catholic in the U.S., that became a cause celebre and prompted Evans’ father to want to have Donahue arrested and put behind bars.
* In his first movie, “Man of a Thousand Faces,” Evans went into shock and couldn’t say his lines during a scene with Jimmy Cagney, prompting the acting legend to advise him, “Don’t be afraid. Not of me, not of anybody.”
* How Evans won a $100 bet with his buddy Dick Van Patten that he could get a young actress to sleep with him. After stalking her apartment house, trying to bribe the doorman, he finally charmed her, riding off into a New York night in a horse and buggy. The actress: Grace Kelly.
* Frank Sinatra was so envious of Evans for dating screen beauties Ava Gardner and Lana Turner at the same time that he took him out to lunch to pick his brain and offer some tough advice: "Your ego tells you them dames are dying to f--- you. They are, yeah – but you’re the one who ends up getting f---ed.”
* Years later, Evans played a role in breaking up Sinatra’s marriage to Mia Farrow by convincing her to star in his movie “Rosemary’s Baby” rather than play second fiddle to Sinatra in “The Detective.” The singer was so outraged that he had an assistant deliver divorce papers to her on the set of her movie. When Sinatra saw Evans later at Ruby Dune’s restaurant in Palm Springs, he screamed at him so loudly that he ruptured a vocal chord. Years later, Sinatra forgave him, telling Evans, 'Dames! Sayin’ nothin’, they’re more seductive than any lyric… Can’t fight ’em, they just don’t play fair.'”
* How Warren Beatty "congratulated" Evans on his two-day marriage to actress Catherine Oxenberg: “How many guys can sweep a girl off her feet, take her away from a guy she was engaged to for four years, marry her and dump her in one week?”
* Joining the mile-high club with a young actress on a cross-country flight just two feet away from a sleeping Walter Winchell, the most powerful gossip columnist of his time, who was completely oblivious.
* Liam Neeson cheering him up on his hospital bed with a handwritten note: "Just heard about your penis implant in hospital. Congratulations on pulling thru."
* Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone visited Evans in the hospital after his stroke multiple times, inspiring Evans by talking about his own recovery from a hotel fire at Boston’s Copley Plaza in 1979: “The pain was beyond belief. In those days, they didn’t have artificial skin. They had to take the skin off the rest of my body. It was horror.”
"The Fat Lady Sang" was published Nov. 12 by It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.