Book Review: The Fat Lady Sang by Robert Evans

Robert Evans goes to hell and back in his new autobiography.
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Robert Evans is one of the few remaining producers anyone can name in Hollywood.  After the smashing success of his autobiography, and subsequent documentary, The Kid Stays in the Picture, Evans became the poster child for Hollywood rambunctiousness and at the age of eighty he isn’t quitting yet.  His second book, The Fat Lady Sang, isn’t necessarily an autobiography with loose lips and gossip dripping from every page; it’s an introspective story about a man who almost dies and is reborn into a body which refuses to cooperate.  Writing the book kept Evans sane, and while it isn’t a page turner, it’s an unhurried introspective tome about life, aging, and the fading light of Hollywood celebrity.  

Those who criticize Evans bring up his self-indulgence, his misogyny, and his bloated belief in his own celebrity and that certainly is on display within The Fat Lady Sang.  Evans has a very out-dated view of women, although the comments about them aren’t nearly as horrible as other celebrity autobiographies I’ve read written by men of this time period.  Oddly enough, Evans doesn’t kiss and tell in this book, keeping several stories close to the chest and being a gentleman about his relationships.  Sure, he alludes to trysts with Beverly D’Angelo, briefly mentions his marriage and annulment to Catherine Oxenberg, and tells a blind-item story about a fading blonde diva he had a one-night stand with back in the day, but that’s it.  For all the talk about carousing with Jack Nicholson and Roman Polanski, Evans keeps it classy.

The lack of anything particularly juicy will definitely turn off readers expecting The Kid Stays in the Picture, Part 2.  Frustratingly, Evans starts to tell stories only to pull back and say he won’t share them; the story about the blonde diva for example.  It makes for a rather blasé biography at times, particularly since Evans is one of the dwindling stars of old Hollywood out there, coupled with the fact he worked opposite some iconic stars, so you want him to reveal all.  He has a few fun anecdotes within his brisk book; he gets advice from Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra, as well as briefly details a faux pas moment with Grace Kelly.

The majority of The Fat Lady Sang is detailing his life within the last fifteen years, and it’s been hellish for Evans.  The crux of the book’s trajectory is following his life after a series of strokes which left him debilitated and struggling to gain control of basic functions such as walking and speaking.  There’s an air of humanity wafting through the book, as Evans realizes celebrity doesn’t save him from the basic failures of the human body.  He appreciates his life, and several times throughout the book he’s ready to give up on everything.  To him, the fat lady has sung and it’s up to him to figure out what to do once he realizes God hasn’t claimed him yet.  His subsequent depression and allusions to addiction are all heartfelt and humanizing.  The cast of characters who parade through the pages - Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter, Sumner Redstone, and Nicholson - are the ones responsible for giving him a reason to live.  From there, he discusses the adaptation of his book into a successful film; the creation of Comedy Central’s show lived cartoon based on his life, Kid Notorious (despite it’s success, the show failed due to Evans’ and others competing egos), and receiving the David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement award.

Evans has led an amazing life, but you really should read The Kid Stays in the Picture for a better understanding.  The Fat Lady Sang is more an autobiography of Evans purging the demons he’s suffered over several years, with a celebrity element added in.  Too often he pulls punches, and the general confusion over chronology of events can have you thinking an event as recent, when it was over ten years ago.  Evans continues to have a languid, easygoing mien to his prose, and I will certainly continue to read whatever he puts out.  The Fat Lady Sang isn’t the juiciest celebrity tome you’ll read, but it isn’t required.  Evans keeps you riveted by his triumph of perseverance, while remaining the spunky old man of an earlier era.  Worth getting for the movie buff in your family.

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