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A Rogue in Vogue

Hollywood maverick Robert Evans, subject of a documentary released today, has always had a unique style

July 26, 2002|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I'll show you what style is," purred Robert Evans in his melodious growl as he ushered a visitor into the bedroom of his Regency Revival home in Beverly Hills. Evans, the first and only actor appointed head of a major movie studio, isn't talking about the room's velvet appointments, or the mink bedspread--a gift from Alain Delon--or even the autographed, oversized Helmut Newton prints hanging on his silky walls.

What's truly classy to Evans is a simple, plastic-covered booklet that looks like a thin movie script. "This is something you can't buy," he said, flipping open the hand-written letters of appreciation from CAA agents he invited last week to his screening room to preview a documentary about his life. "I learned something from this," he said, reflecting on the meaning of the personal and thoughtful gesture. "I appreciate this so much. That's style."

If ever there was something that Evans personified, it's style, that singular, seamless expression of character and aesthetics. His hard-boiled speech, glamorous attire and cavalier ways make him seem like a vestige from another era. Yet his suave manner is celebrated today as buzz builds about "The Kid Stays in the Picture," the bio-documentary, based on Evans' 1994 memoir of the same title, that opens tonight in Los Angeles and New York theaters.

Now 72, Evans has lost little of his movie-star looks, and even less of his mostly-black, undyed hair, which sweeps the base of his collar much as it did in the 1970s. His dark eyes twinkle beneath blue-tinted Chanel blade sunglasses, one of dozens of fashionable prescription glasses stored on special shelves in his mirrored dressing room.

Though they stretch tighter across his middle lately, his signature shirts feature a button-down collar or covered placket, mostly in solid silk or airy cotton. Today's is an elegant pistachio silk charmeuse with a wing-tip collar, custom-made by Anto in Beverly Hills. The slithery shirt, its straight-hem worn untucked, is anchored by a silver bolo tie that he coaxed from a London belly dancer--for $1,000. Though every article of his clothing seems to have a fantastic story attached, it exists for one reason.

"Everything I wear is done as background to make me, as foreground look good," he said, repeating what has become a trademark expression: "Background makes foreground. That fits in film, it fits in personhood, it fits in style, it fits in life. Don't forget it. It's a good thing to remember. Whatever you do, let everything make you look good."

"He's outrageous," said Michael Viner, a neighbor who is president of New Millennium Entertainment, which released the audio version of Evans' book. "He's managed to go from icon to cold as ice and back to icon again, with a lot of hard road in between."

Married and divorced five times--wives have included Ali MacGraw and former Miss America Phyllis George--Evans also plead guilty to cocaine possession 1980 and was swept up in scandal when business associate Roy Radin was murdered in 1983, though Evans was never charged in connection with the crime. Then in 1998, he suffered three strokes in two days that paralyzed his entire right side.

"I was Quasimodo," he said, contorting his tanned face. He spent three excruciating years learning how to walk, talk and function normally, though he walks with an unsteady gait.

Now he is basking in what he calls the best period of his life. As Evans might put it in his characteristic Q & A lingo: Best? Really? Really. This from a guy who had it all--fame, fortune, women and the chutzpah to revel in their many pleasures.

Though he was a child actor, Evans had left entertainment to work in his brother Charles' successful clothing firm, Evan-Picone in New York. While conducting business poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1957, actress Norma Shearer plucked him from obscurity to portray her late husband, movie mogul Irving Thalberg. Nearly a decade later, the actor was handpicked by Gulf+Western owner Charlie Bluhdorn to run production at his new property, the fading Paramount Pictures. The job brought Evans scorn, praise and an insider's view of Hollywood.

His perceptive and self-deprecating tales of studio life and his years as a producer have made riveting entertainment. Audiences at May's Cannes Film Festival and in Los Angeles screening rooms have been soaking up the mogul's mannerisms that filmmakers Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein captured in their documentary. The audio book version of his memoir, featuring his distinctive, dramatic narration, has a cult following, selling a chart-busting 50,000 copies since it was released in 1994. The typical audio book sells for six months, Viner said, and becomes a bestseller at the 10,000 mark.

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