Robert Evans, who has died aged 89, is best-known as the producer who saved Paramount Studios from ruin in the 1960s and ’70s with a string of hits, including The Odd Couple, Rosemary’s Baby, True Grit, Love Story, The Godfather, The Great Gatsby, and Chinatown. His fortunes changed for the worse in 1980 when he was convicted of drug trafficking, and the spiralling budget of The Cotton Club (1983) accelerated the downturn in his career, although he continued producing films sporadically for another twenty years.
Born Robert J. Shapera in 1930, Robert grew up on New York’s Upper West Side and began his career promoting his brother’s fashion company, Evan-Picone, and doing voice work on radio. In 1956, actress Norma Shearer spotted Bob by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and suggested him for the role of her deceased husband, legendary Hollywood producer Irving Thalberg, in Man Of a Thousand Faces, a Lon Chaney biopic starring James Cagney.
It was not his first movie role – he had already played a minor part in Jean Negulesco’s Lydia Bailey (1952), and an uncredited bit part in The Egyptian (1954), both at Twentieth Century Fox. (The studio’s top female star, Marilyn Monroe, had been tipped for the role of Nefer in this expensive biblical epic, until head of production Darryl F. Zanuck cast his girlfriend Bella Darvi instead.)
After shooting Man Of A Thousand Faces at Universal, Evans returned to Fox at Zanuck’s behest, to play bullfighter Pedro Romero in a star-studded adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises. He was second-billed in The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958), and worked again with director Negulesco on what would be Evans’ final acting role for many years, as Dexter Key in The Best of Everything (1959), starring Hope Lange and Joan Crawford.
In his best-selling 1994 memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture, Evans described how missing out on the chance to co-star with Marilyn in Let’s Make Love (1960) put paid to his hopes of stardom, and ultimately changed the course of his life. (He was first suggested for the role of Tony Danton by producer Jerry Wald, before losing out to the British singer Frankie Vaughan.)
“From the moment we met, Jerry Wald and I became fast friends. Jerry was by far the most entrepreneurial producer in Hollywood. No one had a greater flair with both industry and press. Best of all, he even respected me as an actor and wasn’t shy in telling anyone. From the Saturday Evening Post to Photoplay, to television, radio and print, the industry was well aware that I was Jerry Wald’s pick as ‘the romantic rage’ of the sixties.
It didn’t happen. As a bullfighter, the head of a studio, or a crazy killer, at the very least, I was believable. Playing myself, I was a dud. Why? I was a better imitator than actor.
Jerry Wald felt different. Maybe because he had already gone out on a limb announcing me for the second male lead in The Billionaire, opposite Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand. Who was I to argue?
The title is not the only thing that got changed. Now called Let’s Make Love, principal photography kept getting pushed back and back. Monroe was being her usual indecisive self. Meanwhile, Jerry Wald offered me a co-starring part in Return to Peyton Place. What could be worse than being in a sequel to a piece of shit? Playing the same part I had just finished, that’s what. Only this time it was ‘Dexter Key Goes to New England.’
‘No thanks,’ I said.
‘Fine,’ said Lou Schreiber, who ran business affairs at Twentieth. ‘You’re on suspension.’
Dumb move, Evans. Being on suspension, Twentieth cast someone else in the Monroe film.”
“A single page removed from a trade publication such as Variety or The Hollywood Reporter with text reading in part ‘Thank you / Marilyn Monroe’ — an ad the star placed in the publication to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for her 1962 Golden Globe win for ‘World Favorite Actress,’ mounted to cardboard; found in Monroe’s own files. ”
SOLD for $512
A framed still photo showing Marilyn with co-stars June Haver, William Lundigan and Jack Paar in Love Nest (1951); and a costume test shot for Don’t Bother to Knock (1952.)
Photo sets SOLD for $640 and $896, respectively
Marilyn and Jane Russell performing ‘Two Little Girls From Little Rock’ in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, as seen on the cover of LIFE magazine in 1953. Marilyn’s costume is expected to fetch a maximum $80,000 – see here.)
Magazine SOLD for $896; costume SOLD for $250,000
A still photo of Marilyn during filming of River of No Return in 1953. The gown she wore while performing the theme song is expected to fetch a maximum $80,000 – see here.
Photo set SOLD for $1,152; costume SOLD for $175,000
Travilla’s costume sketch for the ‘Heat Wave’ number in There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), and a colour transparency of Marilyn in costume for a wardrobe test shot. (The costume itself is estimated to fetch up to $80,000 – see here.)
Sketch SOLD for $11,520; photo SOLD for $750; costume SOLD for $280,000
A framed still photo of Marilyn performing ‘Heat Wave‘, and a custom-made, one-of-a-kind poster made for the Century Theatre in the Hamilton, Ontario area to advertise a raffle to win tickets to see There’s No Show Business Like Show Business.
Photo SOLD for $750; poster SOLD for $1,280
“A group of three, all original prints with a glossy finish, depicting the star behind-the-scenes on the set of her 1956 20th Century Fox film, Bus Stop; all have typed text on the bottom margin noting to credit Al Brack who was a ‘Sun Valley, Idaho photographer.'”
SOLD for $576
A pair of memos regarding Milton Greene’s photos from the set of The Prince and the Showgirl; and, sold separately, a contact sheet. The second memo reads in part, ‘Dear Mike, The print you sent me, that Marilyn Monroe said she had killed, is incorrectly numbered. Marilyn is right – she did kill it.’ Both memos are dated April 11, 1957, and are addressed to ‘Meyer Hunter.’ Lois Weber, one of Monroe’s publicists at the time, authored both memos.”
Memos SOLD for $312.50; contact sheet SOLD for $500
Still photo of Marilyn with co-stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in a scene from Some Like It Hot (1959.)
Photo set SOLD for $576
“A pair of colour slides of Marilyn Monroe in a scene from How To Marry a Millionaire (1953), and during a press conference for Let’s Make Love with co-star Frankie Vaughan on January 16, 1960.”
Still photos taken by Lawrence Schiller during filming of the ‘pool scene’ in Something’s Got to Give.
Photo sets sold for $1,280 each
“A collection of approximately 65 pieces comprising only photocopied scripts and documents, all related to Marilyn Monroe’s films. Some film titles have more than one copy of the script, and some feature the working title and not the final one. All are bound into 20th Century Fox covers of various colors and appear to be the studio’s ‘loan out’ or ‘library’ copies. Pieces include (in alphabetical order): All About Eve (a treatment only), As Young As You Feel (2 scripts ), Bus Stop (3 scripts), Dangerous Years (1 script), Don’t Bother to Knock (2 scripts), The Full House (1 script), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (2 scripts plus 4 related documents), How to Marry a Millionaire (3 scripts plus 1 related document), Let’s Make Love (2 scripts), Love Nest (2 scripts), Monkey Business (2 scripts plus 2 related documents), Move Over, Darling (1 script), Niagara (2 scripts plus 4 related documents), O. Henry’s Full House (2 scripts plus 1 related document), River of No Return (1 script plus 5 related documents), The Seven Year Itch (3 scripts), Something’s Got to Give (1 script), There’s No Business Like Show Business (3 scripts plus 7 related documents), Ticket to Tomahawk (2 related documents), and We’re Not Married (1 script plus 1 related document). Also included are a few miscellaneous pieces related to Monroe. “
Darryl F. Zanuck may have blamed Marilyn for delays in the River of No Returnshoot, but co-star Robert Mitchum did not, writing on this letter, “Dig!!! Marilyn – my girl is your girl, and my girl is you. Ever – Bob.“
After a bitter legal battle with Twentieth Century Fox, Marilyn returned triumphantly to Hollywood in 1956, armed with a list of approved directors.
Her first project under the new, improved contract was Bus Stop. Several lots of annotated script sides are up for bids this week.
“This is the first film Monroe made after beginning to study at the Actors Studio in New York City with Lee Strasberg, and the notations in these script sides demonstrate her method. Some of the notes are sense memories, like the following notation written after the line ‘I can’t look’: ‘Effective memory (use Lester – hurt on lawn),’ most likely referencing Monroe’s childhood playmate Lester Bolender, who was in the same foster home with Monroe. Another note adds ‘(almost to myself)’ before a line to inform her delivery or ‘Scarfe [sic] around my arms) Embarrassed.'”
Arthur O’Connell, who played Virgil in the movie, sent Marilyn his best wishes after she was hospitalised with pneumonia.
“A collection of Marilyn Monroe envelopes, messages and notes, including a florist’s enclosure card with envelope addressed to Monroe and a message that reads ‘To make up for the ones you didn’t recall receiving at the hospital. Please stay well so we won’t go through this again’, signed by ‘Arthur O’Connell – Virgil Blessing.’ Also included are five handwritten notes in an unknown hand that reference Clifton Webb, Lew Wasserman and Paula Strasberg.”
“The letter is dated simply June 9, and it accompanied the latest version of the script for The Prince and the Showgirl. Olivier discusses Monroe’s dialogue and that he has ‘written some extra dialogue and a direction or two.’ He reports on where they are in the script writing process and that they have cut the script down from ‘well over 3 hours’ to 2 1/2, to 2 hours 10 minutes. He continues about the scenes that were and were not cut, including ‘The Duke of Strelitz is, I think essential, as otherwise they will be saying what’s the matter with them – why the heck can’t they get married, particularly in view of Grace Kelly and all that, and our only answer to that question must be Yes but look at the poor Windsors do you see?’
On an amusing note, Olivier mentions, ‘By the way Lady Maidenhead has degenerated to Lady Swingdale because I am assured the Hayes Office will not believe there is also a place in England of that name.’ He closes ‘I just called up Vivien at the theatre … and she said to be sure to give you her love. So here it is and mine too. Longing to welcome you here. Ever, Larry.'”
Marilyn had many advisors on this film, including husband Arthur Miller who made suggestions to improve the script.
“Some of your dialogue is stiff. Also some expressions are too British. If you want me to, I can go through the script and make the changes – – in New York. I think the part – on one reading, is really the Best one … especially with you playing it. You are the one who makes everything change, you are the driving force … The basic problem is to define for yourself the degree of the girl’s naivete. (It could become too cute, or simply too designing.) It seems to me, at least, that they have not balanced things in Olivier’s favor. … It ought to be fun to do after BusStop. From your – (and my) – viewpoint, it will help in a small but important way to establish your ability to play characters of intelligence and cultivation. … Your loving Papa – (who has to rush now to make the plane – see you soon! – free!) – Art.”
Marilyn had strong opinions about the casting of Some Like It Hot. In the minutes from a business meeting at her New York apartment, it is noted that “MCA on the Coast has told [Billy] Wilder that there are ‘legal technicalities holding up her decision’ so as not to offend Wilder. Actually, she is waiting for [Frank] Sinatra to enter the picture. She still doesn’t like [Tony] Curtis but [Lew] Wasserman doesn’t know anybody else.”
This short note penned by Marilyn is thought to be a response to Tony Curtis’ notorious remark that kissing her was “like kissing Hitler.”
Novelist Truman Capote wanted Marilyn to star as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. However, her own advisors deemed George Axelrod’s watered-down adaptation unworthy of her talents. The film was a huge hit for Audrey Hepburn, but Capote hated it.
“A clean copy of the screenplay for Breakfast at Tiffany’s written by George Axelrod and dated July 9, 1959. Monroe was considering the part, and she sought the opinions of her professional team including the Strasbergs, her husband, and management team. The script is accompanied by a single-page, typed ‘report’ dated September 23, 1959, which also has the name ‘Parone’ typed to the left of the date. Literary luminary Edward Parone was at the time running Monroe’s production company and most likely is the one who wrote this single-page, scathing review of the script, leading with the simple sentence, ‘I think not.’ It goes on to criticize the screenplay, determining, ‘I can see Marilyn playing a part like Holly and even giving this present one all the elan it badly needs, but I don’t feel she should play it: it lacks insight and warmth and reality and importance.’ It has been long reported that Monroe declined the part upon the advice of Lee Strasberg, but this document provides further evidence that other people in her inner circle advised her not to take the role. Together with a four-page shooting schedule for November 4, 1960, for the film.”
Marilyn was generous to her co-stars in Let’s Make Love, giving a framed cartoon to Wilfrid Hyde-White on his birthday, and an engraved silver cigarette box to Frankie Vaughan. She also asked her friend, New York Times editor Lester Markel, to write a profile of her leading man, Yves Montand. “He’s not only a fine actor, a wonderful singer and dancer with charm,” she wrote, “but next to you one of the most attractive men.”
A handwritten note by Paula Strasberg reveals how she and Marilyn worked together on her role in The Misfits. “searching and yearning/ standing alone/ mood – I’m free – but freedom leaves emptiness./ Rosylin [sic] – flower opens bees buzz around/ R is quiet – the others buzz around.”
In 1962, Marilyn began work on what would be her final (and incomplete) movie, Something’s Got to Give. This telegram from screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, who was later replaced, hints at the trouble that lay ahead.
“The telegram from Johnson reads ‘In Revised script you are child of nature so you can misbehave as much as you please love – Nunnally.’ Monroe has quickly written a note in pencil for reply reading ‘Where is that script – is the child of nature due on the set – Hurry Love & Kisses M.M.’ ‘Love and Kisses’ is repeated, and additional illegible notations have been crossed out.”
“Raw footage of Monroe performing with the children in Something’s Got to Give exists, and Monroe’s notations are evident in the footage. The top of the page reads ‘Real Thought/ Mental Relaxation/ substitute children – B & J if necessary/ feeling – place the pain where it is not in the brow.’ B & J likely refers to Arthur Miller’s children Bobby and Jane. Another notation next to one of Monroe’s lines of dialogue reads simply ‘Mona Lisa’, which does in fact mirror the expression she uses when delivering this line. Even the exaggerated ‘Ahhhhh—‘ that Monroe does at the beginning of each take in the raw footage is written on the page in her hand, reading in full, ‘Ahhh–Look for the light.'”