Book review: The Fat Lady Sang, by Robert Evans

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 January, 2014, 4:14pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 January, 2014, 4:14pm

The Fat Lady Sang
by Robert Evans
It Books
3 stars

Janet Maslin

In 1998, Robert Evans, the least bashful producer in Hollywood, suffered three strokes. But as his new memoir makes clear, his capacity for bragging and self-promotion remained mercifully unimpaired.

The Fat Lady Sang would not exist were it not for Evans' four-star memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture. Published in 1994, it has earned its place in Hollywood history because of its author's endless supply of gossipy, embarrassing stories and because of the high drama of his movie career.

Evans began in front of the camera and parlayed his good looks into life as a ladies' man. He was head of production at Paramount Pictures during the early 1970s, a great time to be there. The Godfather and Rosemary's Baby happened on his watch. In the midst of that, his marriage to third wife Ali MacGraw ( Love Story) - he was married seven times - unravelled publicly.

Using the strokes as a strange form of good luck, The Fat Lady Sang crosscuts between the fears of the debilitated Evans (who is now 83 years old) and the glory days that occurred long before his 1998 medical calamity.

This book also includes a heavy dose of man talk, as conducted by Evans and buddies such as Alain Delon, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty. According to The Fat Lady Sang, it's all about which women can be gotten into bed how quickly and whether they're good looking enough to be worth it. It's not hard to believe Evans really thinks this way. But when he cites a talk with Beatty about which of them bagged the oldest "above-the-line star", he seems to live in a world where men are lost in their memories, and status, sex and acquisitiveness are hopelessly confused.

The one truly dumbfounding story in The Fat Lady Sang is that of his decision to defy his doctors: under instructions to be cautious about his health, Evans, then in his late 60s, suddenly decided to marry actress Catherine Oxenberg (who was more than 30 years his junior and his fifth wife). He made his case by giving her a Jaguar and having her drive it to a jewellery store.

He intended to fly with her to Cap d'Antibes, France, but reality set in: the flight would be too taxing. They wound up honeymooning in California. He wound up not being able to get out of the bathtub. The marriage was over.

Evans seems to have bounced back in the 15 years since he was stricken. And a new book by the author of The Kid Stays in the Picture is a natural attention getter, even if the Kid stopped being a kid a long time ago. But in the earlier book he didn't need to emphasise every standing ovation that brought him to tears. He didn't end chapters with lines such as "Thus began the greatest odyssey of my entire life" and "And thus began the most celebrated years of my entire career". And he didn't need to play back every bit of puffery that came his way, such as "They're putting you on a pedestal you deserve".

He seems to have forgotten the value of understatement, which served him so well the first time around. It is well explained by Graydon Carter, the Vanity Fair editor whose dear friendship and major clout Evans seems to value equally well. "You're a strange phenomenon, Evans," Carter purportedly told him. (Let's skip the next line, about the Kid's mythical status.) "Just by doing nothing, you multiply your persona by 10."

Maybe The Kid Stays in the Picture didn't need a sequel after all.

The New York Times