Show Business: The Producer: Robert Evans

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There is a story making the rounds in Hollywood about how Bob Evans had a few friends in to watch a film in the screening room of his 16-room Beverly Hills mansion. Bob was reclining on his hospital-style bed as usual, nursing his bad back. The picture was a dreadful sci-fi epic featuring an invading army of ants that marched interminably across the screen. "What do they want anyway?" a guest protested. Another viewer, Producer Ray Stark, replied, "They want the final cut."

Bob Evans has made himself the hottest reputation in Hollywood by insisting maniacally on the final cut—or editing privilege—on films. He also immerses himself in every decision on casting, musical scoring. There are directors who find his intrusions insupportable, but Francis Ford Coppola, who fought some heroic struggles with him in the course of The Godfather, ended with a genuine respect for him. Coppola lengthened his final version of the picture perilously because Bob thought "all the humanity and warmth had gone out of it." Evans knew what Coppola had sliced from his film because he watches the daily rushes on all Paramount filming. "Bob forces you to come up with alternatives," says Coppola. "He pushes you until you please him. Ultimately, a mysterious kind of taste comes out; he backs away from bad ideas and accepts good ones."

Evans, a Manhattan dentist's son, relishes the growing legends that surround his success. With his darkly handsome face and deep mellifluous voice—a blend of West Side New York with Bill Buckley vowel attenuation—drama is his element. The wonder is that his own acting career failed. In fitting Old Hollywood style, he was "discovered" by Norma Shearer by the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Shearer decided that Evans was the man to play her late husband, MGM Producer Irving Thalberg, in the film Man of a Thousand Faces. Evans has since been compared to Thai-berg many tunes, but as an actor he was to get nowhere.

In 1962, Evan-Picone, the sportswear firm in which he had an interest, was sold. Following such legendary predecessors as Adolph Zukor (furs) and Samuel Goldwyn (gloves), Bob took his share of garment-district profits to reconquer Hollywood as a producer. His aggressive entrance into the packaging market attracted the eye of Charles Bluhdorn, who had just acquired Paramount. He hired Evans and has protected his position ever since. Evans is dead serious about Paramount. "Running a major studio is more difficult than running a country," he says without a trace of irony. "A small country."

These days, however, he believes that he overcommitted himself to The Godfather and feels his neglect of Third Wife Ali MacGraw (the others: Actresses Sharon Hugueny and Camilla Sparv) led to the collapse of their marriage. He still talks obsessively about Ali to anyone who will listen. Since her departure, he rattles noiselessly around the house among his housekeeper, chef, tennis court, swimming pool, screening room and 32 telephones. He sometimes shuts them off when his and Ali's son Joshua comes to stay. Evans' back is slightly better since he found a Chinese acupuncturist in Paris. He can use his tennis court again. His game is a triumph of concentration and wily shots over a lack of natural skill.

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