William Friedkin, Rose McGowan and More Hollywood Talent Pay Tribute to Robert Evans

Robert Evans -Kid Stays In the Picture, The (2002) - Photofest -H 2019
Focus Features/Photofest

The 'Chinatown' and 'The Godfather' producer, who became the head of production at Paramount at age 36, died Saturday.

William Friedkin, Rose McGowan, Philip Noyce and other collaborators and friends of Robert Evans paid tribute to the legendary producer Monday after news outlets reported that he had died at age 89.

The Chinatown (1974) and The Godfather (1972) producer died Saturday, with no details immediately available. 

The former actor and co-owner of a women's clothing company became the head of production at Paramount at age 36 in 1966, when he is credited with rescuing the studio from collapse over the course of a nine-year run that saw him overseeing and producing such films as The Italian Job (1969), Love Story (1970) and Harold and Maude (1971). After being demoted at Paramount, Evans went on to produce iconic films including Marathon Man (1976), The Godfather Part II (1974), Sliver (1993) and Jade (1995), among others.

William Friedkin, the director of Jade, said Monday:

Bob had the most undistinguished careers as an actor you could possibly imagine. He was not a good actor. His origin story about his acting — that he ran into Norma Shearer at a swimming pool and she wanted him to play her husband in a movie — left a lot of room for doubt. But he had an amazing instinct about storytelling. He brought Paramount Studio back to life. Paramount was Lazarus and he raised it from the dead with titles like Chinatown and The Godfather and Rosemary’s Baby that nobody else would have done at the time. He had unique, contemporary tastes.

He was very mellow and sweet but he had really extraordinary prejudices. He was always saying this person was a ‘bum’ and that person was a ‘bum.’ He once called me a ‘bum,’ too. But we were dear friends for many years. After The French Connection came out and I won an Academy Award [in 1972], he was running Paramount and he sought me out. We would see each other socially. I went to a lot of those legendary Saturday night screenings at his house. Jack Nicholson was always there. I remember one time Steve McQueen was there and he introduced me to the crowd as the director of the second best chase scene ever made. That was before Ali MacGraw left Bob for McQueen. After that, you never saw McQueen there again.

Bob and I talked for years about doing a movie together. We wanted to make a film about Sidney Korshak, the lawyer who represented the Chicago mob and the Teamsters and who virtually controlled Hollywood [in the 1960s]. We never got around to making it but we did finally make a film together [in 1995]. Bob gave me the script for Jade and I thought it had tremendous potential. It got lambasted by the critics but I’m very happy with that film. It’s got the best chase scene I’ve shot, among other things.

Bob had flaws. Who doesn't? But you never thought about his flaws when you were in his company. At one point [he] had a serious narcotics problem, although I never saw a grain of any kind of narcotic at the Saturday night screenings. And he had other problems in his life, [like the Cotton Club scandal in the 1980s]. A guy named Roy Radin, who raised a lot of money for the film, was murdered, and Bob was questioned. It was a very tough period for him. He was down at the DA’s office every day, in the newspapers as a suspect. But I can’t believe he had anything to do with somebody’s murder.

He was one of the most knowledgeable guys about film and the history of film that I knew. I loved the guy. He was extraordinary.

Philip Noyce, the director of Silver, added, "I have a lot of stories but most of them I can’t tell. But he was incredibly generous. Those screenings he held at his home — it was a collection of directors, writers, producers and actors that you could never dream of meeting. The elite of Hollywood. And he prided himself on being the conduit between people. He would introduce you to these great luminaries and he’d do it with such pride. He was so gracious and so loyal, right up to the end, which is why people looked after him, because he looked after so many along the way."

Christine Peters, a producer who worked with Evans on 2003's How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, said:

As a countless Hollywood men go down in #MeToo flames, the common rebuttal from the fallen and their defenders is, “Back in the day, this is how everyone behaved.” And they often point to Bob Evans as that quintessential member of Hollywood’s “boys club,” where the rules did not apply. Perhaps it’s because Bob dated beautiful women and wielded enormous influence in the industry that this absurd reputation stuck. But as someone who worked for Bob for 14 years, I can say definitively that he was nothing like the men who have been exposed in recent years as predators and abusers. Bob was always the consummate gentleman. He hired women and solicited their insight when others often saw females as merely objects who should be seen and not heard. Conversely, Bob desperately wanted to hear a woman’s perspective. He understood a woman’s intuition more than anyone else. When he first asked me to come to work with him at Paramount he made sure “the girls” were there and wanted them to know they were always going to be a part of the team.

Christina Engelhardt, Evans' longtime executive assistant, remembered:

He was a night owl. He slept all day and was up all night. And everything happened with Bob in bed. All of his meetings were in his bedroom. [At night] he loved to rewatch movies — mostly his movies — and we’d discuss them scene for scene. How he met Mario Puzo and all the Francis Ford Coppola stories. He loved reminiscing. There were countless stories. And any story you heard from Bob was probably true. But when he lost his Paramount deal a few months ago, that was the end. I knew that was going to speed up [his death]. We’d go into Paramount, we’d pitch, but nobody wanted to give him a project. They were afraid it was going to kill him. People could see he was struggling with his mobility. Sumner [Redstone had] kept him on the payroll — Sumner really loved Bob — but nobody wanted to give him a project that would be his undoing. He fell into a huge depression. Near the end, he didn’t want anyone to see him.

Silver writer Joe Eszterhas recalled, "He was one of the great Hollywood characters of all time. Bob had a legendary reputation that proceeded him, with all those years at Paramount, where he made some terrific movies, and Ali MacGraw and all that. But he was a very charismatic man with a terrific sense of humor. I always enjoyed meetings and dinners with Bob because you never knew what was going to happen at them. I remember once we were having dinner and two or three gorgeous women walked by our table. I said, ‘Bob, are you interested?’ He said, ‘I haven’t gotten it up since 1971, but yes, I’m interested.’”

Rose McGowan wrote in her own remembrance:

On a cold, rainy Los Angeles day in 2015, I was invited to Woodland, a legendary estate in Beverly Hills. My heart was pounding, my nerves on edge. I was going to meet a lion. A lion in winter, maybe, but still a lion: Robert Evans. He was a connection to a time that now looks like a mirage in reverse.

Robert Evans was my kind of Hollywood. The real Hollywood. The Hollywood of mavericks, rascals, cowboys and larger than life personalities, not the conglomerates that now rule through mediocrity and make movies by consensus. Evans was the storied lover of Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Ali MacGraw and probably a thousand others. He was an actor that became the head of failing Paramount Studios. He lived the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

His tan was as legendary as his legacy. But he’s so much more than white teeth and unnaturally dark skin. He was a real bullshit artist who happened to be telling the truth. When I left his home that day, I wept. I wept for someone extraordinary, I wept for a humbled giant. In those two hours with him, I fell in love. That’s my kind of Hollywood.

Earlier Monday, more of Evans' acquaintances in the industry weighed in on his passing. Evans' ex-wife and Love Story star MacGraw said, "Our son, Joshua, and I will miss Bob tremendously and we are so very proud of his enormous contribution to the film Industry. He will be remembered as a giant."

Francis Ford Coppola, who worked with Evans on The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II and The Cotton Club, said in a statement, "I remember Bob Evans‘ charm, good looks, enthusiasm, style, and sense of humor. He had strong instincts as evidenced by the long list of great films in his career," the filmmaker said in a statement. "When I worked with Bob, some of his helpful ideas included suggesting John Marley as Woltz and Sterling Hayden as the Police Captain, and his ultimate realization that The Godfather could be two hours and 45 minutes in length; also, making a movie out of The Cotton Club — casting Richard Gere and Gregory Hines, and bringing Milena Canonero, George Faison, Richard Sylbert and many other talented people to work on the film. May the kid always stay in the picture."

Chinatown writer Robert Towne added:

The thing that I remember very vividly, and I think it would make him happy, [was when] we were in his living room. He was on one sofa and I was on the other. We’d been on the stage working with Jerry Goldsmith and some of the musicians on Chinatown. We’d been at it all night long and by then it was around four in the morning and it was tough because we didn’t know how much time we’d have with it. I said something about it, expressing something about hoping it’d be all right. And all I remember is Evans sitting there, turning to me and saying, "Fuck it. I just want it to be good." And I thought, that’s really from the heart, that’s all he really wanted. When push came to shove, he didn’t care about the publicity or the deadline or anything. "Fuck it. I just want it to be good." It was said with such feeling. And it coincided with what I wanted too. He was wonderful and infuriating and I loved him very much.