The orange light from the fading sun bounces across the ocean to my right as my car roars south on Pacific Coast Highway's winding path. Sunset.
The baritone voice of Robert Evans fill my speakers and I turn up the volume control for a moment as he utters one of the most memorable quotes I've ever come across:
There ain't no greater turn-on than knowing that for a moment in time in another person’s life, your presence made the difference between growth or compromise.
Fourth time listening to this book, and I still get chills when I get to this part of the tape.
Wait wait - back up a bit.
A week ago, mediajonez gave me what turned out to be one of the best gifts I have ever recieved in my life: an audiocassette version of legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evan's autobiography, The Kid Stays in the Picture. A life story of a genuine maverick and scoundrel, gentleman and bon vivant. If Evan's life was written as a work of fiction, it would be rejected by every publisher in New York for being "too unrealistic." But real he was - a radio voice-actor-turned-movie-star who ended up running a major studio (Paramount Pictures) before spiraling into self-destruction (and subsequent rebirth). He writes with the sort of brutal, unflinching frankness of a man who spent his life taking big risks, scoring big victories ... and committing big, big mistakes. For better or for worse, my kind of hero and role-model.
An excerpt from The Kid Stays in the Picture (this was when Evans was the top of his game, working 18-hour days running Paramount Studios):
Every so often, a dame would walk in with one of my pals and had a bit of magic about ‘em ... something really special. Didn’t know what it was. You rarely do. We talked for a while. I was jealous when they left with the other guy, but what the hell could you do about it?
All these dames shared a connective tissue. They all came from different parts of the country. All dreamed of becoming actresses. All of them were studying. Ah, but they all had legitimate jobs - they were either sales girls, waitresses, dental hygienists. And they all shared the same dilemma: it’s called No Wheels.
It’s weird about it, and why I bring it up is that, without exception, all of them were given an ultimatum by their parents: stay home, and anything you want that we can afford, you can have. But if you leave and go to Hollywood, you’re going to have to make it on your own. We will not support you.
How f-cking dumb and short-sighted parental decisions can be?
A son is one thing ... a daughter’s another. If it meant taking a night job, I’d make certain my daughter was covered no matter where she wandered.
Because when things get tough, and the rent ain’t paid, and the electricity is turned off, and there ain’t no food either, and the poor kid is too scared to call her judgmental parents ... Well, doesn’t matter if you’re a decent girl or not; sooner or later - I’ve seen it happen so often - the girl ends up spreading her legs to the world’s oldest profession.
When you live in LA, having a car is as important as having shoes in New York. You gotta drive your way up the ladder here, not walk it.
From time to time ... even if it was from a half-hour casual hello, I’d pick up a magnetic quality from some wannabe actress - something that was really special.
With no strings attached - I know I sound like an idiot telling you this - but I’d rent her a Mustang convertible from a pal of mine, David Shane who owned Hollywood You-Drive-It. The cost? In those days, it was a hundred and forty eight bucks a month. Seems strange, but that’s all it was. It was a lot then. Did I take advantage of it? Never. For one reason - I didn’t have the time.
Was I propositioned? Yeah, by some. But only because they thought it was necessary.
Was my gesture generous? No. Selfish. You know why?
There ain’t no greater turn-on than knowing that for a moment in time in another person’s life, your presence made the difference between growth or compromise.
It was October of ’69 and I’m getting married to Ali McGraw. How can I tell her that I was renting cars out for fourteen different girls? Try to explain that! You can’t, and I didn’t try. So I called my pal David Shane.
"Dave get the cars back - I’m getting married."
"Bob, you can’t! You’re my biggest customer!"
"Hey pal, I may be eccentric, but I’m not crazy. I’m marrying Ali McGraw and I don’t need no front-page tabloid crap. Now come on, you understand."
"Cut it, Dave."
Reluctantly, he acquiesced.
Now why did I tell you this story?
Today, of the fourteen girls - six of them are now internationally famous stars. None of them earn less than a million or two million dollars a year. Four of the others married guys so wealthy, their state taxes are more than what I earn a year. The other four ... I’ve no reading on them. Yet.
When I think back at it, I smile. That hundred and forty-eight buck a month car made a difference in the paths their lives took.
I hope you get the message, Mister Father of Any Daughter. If you don’t, you’re an idiot.
As I listened to the story for the fourth time, my memory rolls back, back to my misspent youth watching MTV. It was one of those hair bands - who was it? Ah yes - Poison. The song? Fallen Angel.
She stepped off the bus out into the city streets
Just a small town girl with her whole life
Packed in a suitcase by her feet
But somehow the lights didn't shine as bright as they did
On her mama's TV screen
And the work seemed harder
And the days seemed longer
Than she ever thought they'd be
But you know you got to stick to your guns
When it all comes down
Cause sometimes you can't choose
It's like heads they win
Tail you're gonna lose ...
Am I the only one that finds it a touch ironic that, in a book packed with stories about powerful people and the excesses that accompanied them, this was the most significant and memorable passage? No matter. Thank you, Bob Evans, for sharing that story with us. And thank you, mediajonez, for sharing Bob Evans with me.