The hugely ambitious but terribly inexperienced Evans took over the ailing Paramount in the ’60s and reinvented it as the most profitable studio in town. His remarkable slate at the Gulf+Western company included The Italian Job, Love Story, Harold and Maude, and The Godfather Parts I and II, as well as The Great Gatsby, Rosemary’s Baby, and Chinatown, his final film as head of production at Paramount for which he received his one and only Best Picture Oscar nomination.
The New York-born Evans got his Tinseltown start when actress Norma Shearer saw him in Beverly Hills while he was selling women’s clothes. That led to roles in Man of a Thousand Faces, The Sun Also Rises, and The Best of Everything. But working behind the scenes interested Evans more, even after he lost his taste for studio work. After leaving Paramount, he worked as an independent producer on blockbusters like Urban Cowboy, Marathon Man, and Popeye. His more recent titles were Sliver, The Saint, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.
In 1994, he wrote a memorable biography called The Kid Stays in the Picture, which was adapted into a documentary in 2002. The last paragraph in his book reads, “Not unlike Popeye: ‘I yam what I yam, that’s all what I yam.’ Imperfect? Very! Do I like myself? Finally! Do my detractors bother me? Hell no! It’s their problem. I ain’t gonna change. Resolve: f— ’em, f— ’em all.”
His 2013 memoir, The Fat Lady Sang, addressed the near-fatal stroke he suffered while hosting a dinner for director Wes Craven in 1998.
Survivors include a son, Joshua, whose mother is Love Story actress Ali MacGraw.