"There are three sides to every story: Yours, mine and the truth.
And no one is lying."
Evans' opening quote qualifies the content of The Kid Stays in the Picture, based on his autobiography of the same name. Gravelly voiced Evans narrates the documentary with “been there, done that” authority and wry, irreverent humor. Knowing how Evans has literally charming the pants off dozens of gorgeous Hollywood starlets and produced over thirty films (including Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, and The Godfather), no doubt that he's using the same silky skills to woo the audience to see his point of view, but what the hell… The film entertains and brings a true insider view behind the scenes. Who wants to cross check for facts with such a freewheeling narrative!
The title gets its name from an incident during the filming of The Sun Also Rises (1957), in which several of the movie’s actors and Ernest Hemingway himself petitioned producer Darryl Zanuck to remove Evans from the project, claiming that he was totally wrong for the bullfighter Pedro Romero role. Evans admittedly was a “half-assed actor” and had never even seen a bull before this picture, but he worked hard to come across competently. During a rehearsal, the diminutive Zanuck raised his 5-foot 3 frame and bellowed, “The kid stays in the picture!”
Evans declares that this moment was a turning point in his life. Not that he was able to continue acting, but because he realized that he really didn’t want to be an actor. He wanted power. He wanted to be the guy who could say, “The kid stays in the picture.”
The fact that Evans got involved in Hollywood pictures began with a “lucky” circumstance—though businessmen like Evans believe that “luck” is a matter of hard work, persistence, and recognizing opportunities. A promoter of ladies' slacks sales for his brother's clothing company, Evans was lounging in the pool at the Beverly Hills Hilton when legendary actress Norma Shearer pegged him to play her late husband, Irving Thalberg, in Man of a Thousand Faces (1957). Given the locale, she assumed he was a movie actor already but his poolside manner with continual phone calls, convinced Shearer that he was perfect for the role.
Despite his natural charisma and energy, Evans soon gravitated towards the career for which he was destined, and rose to power within Paramount Studios as head of production in the late 1960s and 1970s. The documentary includes a clip of Evans greatest sales job—on the verge of bankruptcy, the teetering studio was within one board of director’s vote of folding before Evans entered with the most important featurette of his life that pleaded for time, largely on the basis of the projected success of Love Story. When the box office receipts rolled in, Evans was top of the heap for leading the formerly destitute studio to the #1 ranking.
Directors Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein, deftly trim Evans biography down for a fast paced visual drama, including photos of Evans and many of his beautiful Hollywood cohorts, press clippings, archive television footage, and movie clips to give an overall view of the movie mogul. Details are left out—without doing additional research you might think that Ali Mcgraw is the only wife he had when in reality Evans was married five times. His tone clearly establishes his continuing soft spot for her, blaming himself for the marriage failure for being too obsessed with The Godfather production to pay close enough attention to her.
The Kid Stays in the Picture makes me want to break out The Godfather DVD to compare Coppola's commentary with Evans' recollections. The details are fascinating, from the initial rejections and proposal that they find an Italian director to the studio's qualms about Coppola creating a metaphor on American capitalism to Evans’ remarkable insistence that Coppola expand his initial 2 hr. cut to a more epic 3 hr. length. How many producers can you imagine asking for the “extended” version to play fewer times in the multiplexes?
Evans certainly had a down side, and the documentary doesn't avoid his cocaine conviction, his rumored connection with a murder, his stint with a psychiatric hospital, or his fall from grace within Paramount. The man who had successfully headed studio productions of Chinatown and The Godfather, flopped financially as an individual producer on The Cotton Club and Popeye and failed in all ways imaginable with The Two Jakes. Still, Evans deserves kudos for taking chances on edgier material with major Hollywood production dollars. It’s enough to forgive him for the sappy Love Story.
Despite less stellar recent success, The Kid Stays in the Picture paints a remarkably compelling portrait of the prototype producer, a man who has accomplished what many can only daydream about in one of tightest edited documentaries of the past decade. This is one case where the continual narration enhances the images, further establishing the persona that hitherto we’ve only speculated about. Be sure to stay through the end credits for Dustin Hofmann’s hilarious spoofing of the charismatic director—even without seeing Evans negotiate a deal on camera, we know that Hofmann captures his non-stop verbal performance, providing a perfect grace note to end the performance.