'Rosemary's Baby': Robert Evans Salute

William Castle, Mia Farrow, Robert Evans on the set of Rosemary's Baby
Producer William Castle, Mia Farrow, Robert Evans on the set of Rosemary's Baby.

Robert Evans“An Academy Salute to Robert Evans” will feature a 40th anniversary screening of (a brand new print of) Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, and an onstage “conversation” with all-powerful Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone (he of the Tom Cruise spat), film director Brett Ratner, Velvet Revolver guitarist Slash (formerly of Guns N' Roses), and Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart – all “close friends” with producer and former Paramount head Robert Evans (right). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Evans “Salute” will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 22, at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

According to legend, Evans was discovered by Norma Shearer, who thought that the young man at the Beverly Hills Hotel pool could pass for her late husband Irving Thalberg in the 1957 Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces. (If the story is true, Shearer was in dire need of glasses.)

20th Century Fox chieftain Darryl Zanuck gave Evans a five-year contract, but that led to only a couple of supporting parts – a bullfighter in The Sun Also Rises (1957), a playboy in the melodrama The Best of Everything (1959) – and one lead role in Gordon Douglas' The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958).

His acting career went nowhere, but by the late 1960s Evans had built enough solid relationships to be chosen to lead Paramount. During his tenure, the studio cranked out Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Odd Couple (1968), True Grit (1969), Love Story (1970), Harold and Maude (1971), The Godfather (1972), Paper Moon (1973), The Conversation (1974), and The Great Gatsby (1974).

In the mid-'70s Evans became a full-time producer. Among his films are Chinatown (1974, for which he received an Oscar nomination), Marathon Man (1976), Black Sunday (1977), Urban Cowboy (1980), Popeye (1980), The Cotton Club (1984), The Out-of-Towners (1999), and How Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003).

His autobiography, The Kid Stays in the Picture, was made into a documentary in 2003.

“Bob has done it all in this business, with style and flair,” Academy President Sid Ganis was quoted as saying in the Salute's press release. “When you get right down to it, he saved Paramount in the early 1970s. And he's got his finger on the pulse of popular culture, having an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what moviegoers want to see.”

I don't know about Evans' business “style and flair,” but “his finger on the pulse” has been quite erratic. Hasn't Ganis heard that The Great Gatsby, Popeye, and The Cotton Club – not to mention Players (1979, starring one of Evans' former wives, Ali MacGraw), The Two Jakes (1990), Sliver (1993), and Jade (1995) – were all box office disasters?

Mia Farrow, Robert Evans, Roman Polanski on the set of Rosemary's Baby

Written and directed by Roman Polanski (who received an Oscar nomination for his adaptation of Ira Levin's novel), Rosemary's Baby was a surprising critical and commercial success. Even though its impact has long been diluted by myriad Satan Loves You horror flicks, Polanski's thriller still offers a few spooky moments, and both Mia Farrow (as the expectant Rosemary of the title) and Academy Award winner Ruth Gordon (as the grooviest of satan worshipers) are excellent. John Cassavetes plays poor Rosemary's ambitious actor-husband, who – quite literally – sells her out to the devil.

Mia Farrow, Ruth Gordon in Rosemary's BabyOthers in the cast are veterans Maurice Evans, Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly, and Elisha Cook, Jr., and newcomer Charles Grodin.

Tickets to “An Academy Salute to Robert Evans,” featuring Rosemary's Baby, are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For additional information, visit www.oscars.org or call (310) 247-3600.

Photos: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library

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