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The Fat Lady Sang, by Robert Evans, It Books, RRP£12.99/$17.99, 240 pages
There are no second acts in American lives, F Scott Fitzgerald once declared. Former Hollywood studio chief Robert Evans, who ran Paramount between 1967 and 1974, manages to disprove the aphorism with this svelte, scintillating sequel to his 1994 bestselling memoir The Kid Stays in the Picture.
The time is May 1998. Evans, then 67, has already enjoyed renewed attention arising from The Kid and its accompanying audiobook, which he voiced himself, peppering the listener with profanities in a lush baritone. He is at home in Beverly Hills, about to sit down for dinner with the horror flick director Wes Craven, when he is felled by a collapsed lung and subsequent strokes – three no less.
Evans cheated death and went on to recover his motor skills and his speech, not to mention his irrepressible libido. In The Fat Lady Sang, he intersperses episodes in his recovery with flashbacks to the past, sidelights that didn’t fit the narrative arc of his first book but are, nonetheless, of interest in and of themselves.
As always with Evans, there is bombast, there is chutzpah, there is loyalty – but above all there are liaisons, described with all the delicacy and deference to liberal sensibilities that one would expect of a Beverly Hills movie mogul. These range from the “long-stemmers” (long-legged Broadway showgirls) and “debu-tramps” (society girls) he dated in his New York youth, to Grace Kelly (before she was famous), to an unnamed Hollywood diva on a night flight back from Mexico when he was a hot young actor (the clues suggest it was Deborah Kerr), to a post-operative Beverly D’Angelo, her leg in a cast.
As Evans grapples with the intensive therapy required to recover from his strokes – he is told he has a nine-month window in which he can restore certain capacities before the deterioration remains in place for ever – he recalls the various acts of friendship that have defined his life. In the early 1960s, for instance, when he married the Swedish model Camilla Sparv, they hung out together with the Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa and his fifth wife Odile Rodin. Evans had played a bullfighter in the 1957 film of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. So as a wedding present, Rubirosa drove them to a small Spanish town and led them into the oldest corrida in the world, where the two greatest matadors of the day, Dominguín and Ordóñez, each fought a bull in a private command performance. “They did it for Rubi. He did it for me.”
In the wake of his stroke, Evans enjoyed a deluded week-long marriage to the actress Catherine Oxenberg, followed by an annulment – testimony to his powers of seduction if nothing else. He also enjoyed further professional recognition. Broadcaster ESPN had so enjoyed his audiobook of The Kid that they hired him to become the voice of Sunday Night Football, which covered his mortgages. The Kid was made into an acclaimed documentary, again with Evans’s voiceover beguiling the viewers, and won standing ovations at Sundance and Cannes. It was even made into an animated series for Comedy Central called Kid Notorious. Invited to the Aspen Comedy Festival, he faked another stroke on the podium, then continued his reading from the floor. Cue laughter and another standing ovation.
Being driven across Central Park by Senator Jack Kennedy, hanging out with best buddy Alain Delon and being introduced to the ultimate brothel-keeper Madame Claude (who “could go toe-to-toe with the world’s most entrepreneurial financial geniuses”), dropping acid with Cary Grant – the anecdotes never disappoint and are judiciously melded with his recovery narrative.
Today, the seven-times married Evans spends a lot of time with the love of his life – Woodland, the idyllic Beverly Hills home he created for himself. He likes to drop Ambien (a brand of sleeping pill), watch old movies, and savour the sweet knowledge that he is the last man standing. Might there yet be a third act? Don’t bet against it.