Remembering Robert Evans: How the Producer and Former Paramount Chief Changed How We Watched Film

Bad news always travels fast and so it was with the death of Hollywood producer and maverick, Robert Evans, who passed away Saturday evening at the age of 89.

 How seismically has Hollywood changed over the last twenty years? Look no further than the utter lack of recognition for the passing of such a colorful and influential character as Evans, who was a producer and studio chief with a difference: He cared creatively about what went up on the movie screen and championed unknown talent and unheard of films when most doors in Hollywood had been all but closed on those two towering pillars of the creative world known as Hollywood. In part, and in many cases because of Robert Evans, American cinema was transformed by such projects as Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, Urban Cowboy, Marathon Man and The Godfather.

 Perhaps such incendiary and game-changing American classics could have only been brought into reality through the devices of someone as colorful as Evans: Outspoken (sometimes to his own detriment) and colorful to the point that would make a peacock blush, this onetime actor was one of the biggest champions and advocates of America’s favorite pastime, going to the movies. The man loved movies and fought for the ones he truly believed in, even as such excesses as women, whispers of mob connections and drugs began to cloud his star in the land of make-believe, Hollywood. However, none of these scandals, real or imagined, could diminish his influential years as Vice President in charge of production (and, by 1969, Vice President of worldwide production) at Paramount Studios. The honor role of films under his watch forever and radically changed and helped to usher in a second Golden Age in Hollywood where creativity and risk-taking was key in establishing the playbook for the industry for the following decades and which some key players still occasionally dust off to remind themselves of everything Hollywood once was and what it might still be again, if only we had another Robert Evans to materialize before us.

But, of course, there was only ever one Robert Evans and, in the years after his seeming banishment from Hollywood, he reminded those of us paying attention of this in such works as his candid tell-all, The Kid Stays in the Picture and his sensational early 1990s interview with Movieline Magazine.

 In the Hollywood of 2019 there aren’t any mainstream characters of the ilk of Evans and I daresay that if there were they might not be allowed to thrive in an industry that has gotten further and further away from the words creative mavericks and now hitch their wagons to special effects laden properties as Fast and Furious and The Avengers and seems sometimes browbeaten by the political climate of the day. If there is a Godfather for the Millinneal set, it has yet to introduce itself and we are collectively the poorer for the lack of individuals, like Evans, who might even take a chance on such an unlikely (in hindsight) film. Evans got out of Hollywood before films became properties and most of our domestic interests in Tinseltown were farmed and sold out to Overseas interests, depriving us of a purely American movie going experience. “Know how to make an entrance,” goes an old Hollywood bromide. On Saturday evening Robert Evans, always playing by his own rule book, reminded us just how important a thing a proper exit is, too; loved by many, hated by many, the man made and left his mark and always managed to “stay in the picture.”

About Ryan Vandergriff

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