Sunday, June 10, 2007

'The kid stays in the picture'

I used to want to be in pictures.

Not so much as an actor. That died after my second foray into high school acting. I didn't like memorizing lines. Hated the endless rehearsing.

My interests strayed --- first to writing, then directing. Yeah. That's where it's at.

Well, I majored in history. Got a job in journalism. You know that. But I never lost my love for the movies.

I do have to say, though, that I changed my mind somewhat. Getting into pictures ain't what it's cracked up to be. Just ask Robert Evans.

Evans was one of those storybook discoveries. He took a dive into a hotel pool. Norma Shearer spotted him. Next thing you knew, he was starring opposite Tyrone Power and Ava Gardner (Frankie's wife, for god's sakes) in "The Sun Also Rises."

Problems right out of the gate, though. Nobody thought Evans good enough to play bullfighter Pedro Romero. Ernest Hemingway sent a telegram to 20th Century Fox saying as much. He convinced Power, Gardner and Eddie Albert to sign it too.

But producer Darryl F. Zanuck was the boss. "The kid stays in the picture."

And he did.

Zanuck saved Evans' career. He'd also unwittingly pointed him toward a new path.

By 1970, Evans was head honcho at Paramount. He developed Eric Segal's book "Love Story" into a film version. The picture's box office success saved the studio.

Then came the string of hits. "The Odd Couple." "True Grit." "The Godfather."

Back up a minute. Evans married actor Ali MacGraw during production of "Love Story." For a few minutes, hers was the most famous face on the planet.

Evans' fascinating career is the subject of a 2002 documentary, "The Kid Stays in the Picture." A buddy, Ross Southerland, let me borrow the film to watch during my illness. I finished it tonight.

What a story.

After a successful run as head of Paramount, Evans jumped back into film production. Right out of the gate, he made a winner, "Chinatown." By 1979, Evans was worth $11 million. A decade later, he had $37 in his bank account and was a major suspect in a murder.

And yet, through the scandals, successes and disappointments, he managed to survive it all. He's still working at Paramount. His last big hit, "The Saint," grossed millions.

Maybe this picture bid'ness ain't so bad after all.

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