Robert Evans — the legendary Hollywood movie producer who backed hits like “Chinatown” and “The Godfather” and lived a life as wild as any of his films — has died. He was 89.
The movie maestro’s publicist on Monday confirmed that Evans passed away at his Beverly Hills mansion Oct. 26, but did not provide additional details.
“Bob Evans produced some of the greatest films of all time, but the greatest production of all, was his life,” tweeted Brett Morgen, who directed a 2002 documentary about Evans based on his first autobiography.
The perpetually tan icon with a flair for the theatrical fully embodied the 1994 memoir’s title “The Kid Stays in the Picture” — always finding a way to make a comeback and claw his way back to the top of tinsel town.
“The higher you get, the lower you can fall,” he said in a 2003 interview. “You pick yourself up at the count of nine, you come back and win and be done with it.
“I believe in being a survivor.”
Robert J. Shapera was born in Manhattan in 1930, the second son of a dentist dad and homemaker mom who changed the family name to Evans when he was 10.
He went from co-owning a ladies clothing company with his brother Charles, to part-time actor to holding the reins of Paramount Pictures.
A wanton womanizer, Evans was linked to a chorus line of beautiful women including Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly and Lana Turner. But he was terminally unlucky in love, marrying seven times, with the longest union, to “Love Story” actress Ali MacGraw, lasting three years.
In a 2002 interview, he said Frank Sinatra badly wanted to meet him because he was dating Turner — “a terrible alcoholic” — and Gardner — “very unhappy with her life” — at the same time.
Evans’ roller coaster showbiz life seemed stranger than fiction.
It began when — as a 26-year-old co-owner of the Evans Picone ladies clothing company — he jumped into the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel, catching the eye of actress Norma Shearer.
She persuaded producers to hire Evans, then dark-haired and handsome, to play her husband in the 1957 film “Man of a Thousand Faces.”
After that role, he was signed to a contract at Twentieth Century Fox and cast as a bullfighter in 1957’s “The Sun Also Rises.”
When the filmmakers insisted he wasn’t right, producer Darryl Zanuck visited the set to see for himself and eventually declared: “The kid stays in the picture.”
Once acting roles dried up, Evans nabbed a gig as head of production at Paramount at just 36, reinventing himself into a savvy studio head.
He’s credited with converting the company into a hit machine, despite his inexperience, by bringing in titles like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Love Story” among others.
A visionary, he optioned “The Godfather” while Mario Puzo was still writing it and presided over Francis Ford Coppola’s production, ordering the director to tack nearly an hour onto the film.
The initial cut, Evans declared was “a long, bad trailer for a really good film.”
“He had strong instincts as evidenced by the long list of great films in his career,” Coppola said of Evans on Monday, recalling the colorful character’s “charm, good looks, enthusiasm, style and sense of humor.”
“May the kid always stay in the picture,” Coppola said.
Evans once told Esquire of his film hunches: “My business is gambling. It’s the gambling instinct that makes me tick.”
But when it came to his liaisons, Evans didn’t make the best bets.
After brief marriages to actresses Sharon Hugueny and Camilla Sparv, he wedded MacGraw in 1969, and they had his only child, Josh Evans.
MacGraw famously cheated on Evans with Steve McQueen, while spending four months in Texas filming “The Getaway.”
In 1998, he told The Post’s Cindy Adams: “If I had it to do over I’d still be with Ali.”
“It was my ego. Ali warned me, ‘I’m a hot lady. Never leave me for more than two weeks.’ Well, I left her for four months. So she left me for Steve McQueen.”
When the story of their breakup made headlines, he claimed Henry Kissinger called to offer his help.
“If I can negotiate with the North Vietnamese, I think I can smooth the way with Ali,” Evans recalled Kissinger saying.
“Henry,” he replied. “You know countries, but you don’t know women. When it’s over it’s over.”
Left financially bereft by his string of divorces, Evans elbowed his way into a deal that allowed him to work as a producer independently and he quickly turned out Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” in 1974.
But then came a series of flops including Coppola’s “The Cotton Club,” “Chinatown” sequel “The Two Jakes” and thrillers “Sliver” and “Jade.”
By the end of the 1970s Evans was up to his ears in debt — and addicted to cocaine. He was briefly married to former Miss America Phyllis George and then pleaded guilty to cocaine possession in 1980.
His life took an even sharper turn for the melodramatic in 1983, when he was called to testify in the murder trial of “The Cotton Club” investor Roy Radin. Evans pleaded the fifth on his lawyers’ advice — which sullied his name, though he was never linked to any wrongdoing in the case.
In 1998 he suffered a near-fatal stroke during a dinner party in honor of director Wes Craven. He later told a reporter: “A bolt of lightning shot through my body. I thought I had died. I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing ‘It’s a Wonderful World.’”
But though his doctors warned Evans to watch his health, it didn’t stop him from marrying “Dynasty” actress Catherine Oxenberg, who was more than 30 years younger than him.The union was annulled about 10 days later.
In 1990, he told Adams he couldn’t pay his electric bills, but his bestselling memoir and the documentary a couple years later, helped him bounce back into Hollywood good graces.
The moviemaker played himself in the animated sitcom “Kid Notorious” in 2003 and began hosting the satellite radio show “In Bed with Robert Evans” the following year.
Shortly after his 75th birthday in 2005, he married his seventh wife, socialite Lady Victoria White, but their union went caput by 2006.
Evans published his second autobiography “The Fat Lady Sang” in 2013, quipping of the title: “The fat lady sang, but she forgot the last verse.”
In July, Evans and Paramount finally parted ways when the studio declined to renew its deal with Robert Evans Productions, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Evans’ last tweet was in response to a reporter posting his article about the split.
“I bet your ass I’ve done more in the last month than you in your entire life,” he wrote.
With Post wires
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