Robert Evans had a successful career in the film business producing such films as The Godfather, Love Story, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby. In the spring of 1998, Evans suffered a debilitating series of strokes. Amazingly, he survived, but required intense physical therapy in order to recover. His new memoir The Fat Lady Sang is an account of that time. It’s the story of a remarkable man’s determination to stick around. Evans took time to speak with Publishers Weekly from his home in Beverly Hills.
You have a long history with Publishers Weekly, don’t you?
I do. I was living in New York, working as an actor that wanted to be a producer. George Wieser worked at Publishers Weekly and we became friends. I told George that I wanted to find a property to develop for a film in order to become a producer. He called me and said “I found a book by a guy named Roderick Thorp.” It was his first novel, but it was a helluva book.
For $5,000 I got an option on it [to turn it into a movie]. I brought it to 20th Century Fox, where I’d been acting. It was called ‘The Detective.’ It just so happened that Frank Sinatra wanted it bad, so I was able to tie him to the project. Those written words got me my first producing deal for 20th Century Fox. When I took over Paramount, I started a groundbreaking idea in publishing: first we create the film, then we create the book. Traditionally it had been the other way around. Films and books were developed simultaneously. Love Story and The Godfather are examples of this.
How did the Godfather get made this way?
George Wieser called me and said “I have a pal of mine named Mario Puzo. He needs money to pay his bookies. Can you loan him some money?” I told George to send him over. Mario Puzo came to Paramount with a 35 page treatment. It was called ‘Mafia.’ He said, “can you help me? I need $15,000.” I said, “I’ll pay you $12,500.” Six months later he comes back [with the book] and he asks if it’s okay if he changes the name to ‘The Godfather.’ I could have cared less. I didn’t think I’d get the book! That $12,500 made millions for Paramount.
Changing course, let’s talk about The Fat Lady Sang. The story of your recovery from your strokes is remarkable.
It took me nine months to be able to move my fingers. I had nine hours a day of therapy. But I got through it. My back was against the wall, but I have to tell you, the impossible did happen.
What kept you motivated?
My immediate family. I was depressed a lot. I was at the top of my game one minute, and one minute later I saw the white light. They raced me to Cedars Sinai. On the way the EMTs said “you better get this guy ready. He’ll be DOA if we don’t get the flashing lights.” The last thing I saw was that white light. I came to 48 hours later. Sumner Redstone came to see me. In fact, he was there every morning for a month. That’s more than loyalty. That’s what you call character.
Were any parts of the book difficult for you to get through while you were writing it?
I’ll tell you the truth. It’s taken me close to ten years to write this. I’ve had depression for months at a time. Writing it has not been cathartic at all. It’s been painful. But I wanted to show people that if I could do it they can too. It’s a how-to book. It’s how to live. It’s easy to say but it’s not easy to do.
Both of your books have some pretty crazy anecdotes in them. Have you ever stopped yourself from sharing a story in a book?
I suppose I have. I’ve been rather intimate in them—embarrassingly so. But you know who your friends are and who they aren’t.
Do you have another book in the works?
I do. It’s called ‘Seduction;’ it’s the story of my life and the lives of others that have been intertwined with it. Seduction isn’t necessarily sexual—it’s an expression of the way you are. Seduction comes into play from the moment you wake up until the time you go to bed. It has nothing to do with charm. Seduction is seduction. It’s creating an appetite and offering the potential of its fulfillment. It’s not lying.