Hollywood Flashback: Robert Evans Staged a Premiere at 35,000 Feet in 1970

Courtesy of Dayton Daily News & Paramount Pictures
TWA Capt. J.E. Frankum, Ernest Borgnine, Anna Moffo, Bekim Fehmiu and wife Branka Petric, Leigh Taylor-Young and Lewis Gilbert.

The late Paramount chief screened 'The Adventurers' aboard TWA's new 747 aircraft during its maiden flight from New York to Los Angeles, where studio and airline execs, along with hundreds of journalists, mingled with the likes of Ernest Borgnine and other stars.

It was, in many respects, a perfectly ordinary premiere. There was a red carpet. There was champagne. There were movie stars. The only difference was that it took place at 35,000 feet.

On Feb. 23, 1970, Paramount Pictures, headed by publicity-loving Robert Evans (who died in 2019 at age 89), held its premiere of The Adventurers aboard TWA's new 747 during its maiden flight from New York to L.A. Dozens of studio and airline execs joined hundreds of reporters to mingle midair with Ernest Borgnine, opera singer turned actress Anna Moffo, Yugoslavian heartthrob Bekim Fehmiu and a few other stars, as the film — a $14 million ($92 million today), three-hour-plus Harold Robbins bodice-ripper about a Brazilian playboy — was projected on five screens throughout the jumbo jet. Dinner was duck à l'orange.

"The thing I most remember was that there was no way to walk out," recalls Leigh Taylor-Young, 75, who played one of Fehmiu's romantic conquests. "If you didn't like the movie, you were stuck."

Most of the other cast and crew are long dead, but thanks to the scores of journalists on board, details of the flight have been preserved.

"The carpet was so thick, it swallowed my loafers," wrote a young Gene Siskel in the Chicago Tribune of his walk down the red carpet of Flight Wing 1, the plane's exclusive loading gate at JFK.

The party in the sky cost Paramount $250,000 ($1.6 million today), but many thought it was an aerial debacle. Takeoff was delayed 45 minutes because of a phoned-in bomb threat. Landing was delayed another hour as the jet circled, waiting for the movie to end.

At least one VIP passenger found the experience excruciating. "Seeing it on the plane was ghastly," Lewis Gilbert, the film's director, fretted to reporters.

"It's not meant to be shown on a plane." The movie ended up tanking, grossing just $7 million ($46.5 million today).

This story first appeared in the Feb. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.