This week we have a guest post from our good friend John H. Hersker. John is a fourth-generation theatre operator who serves on the board of the Bryn Mawr Film Institute and most recently was President and CEO of Movie Tavern, a chain of dine-in movie theatres based in Texas. Before that he worked for Paramount Pictures for over 26 years, where he rose from being a sales rep in Paramount’s Philadelphia branch office to be Executive Vice President for Distribution at the Hollywood studio. I met John in 1986 when he was Paramount’s Florida Branch Manager, and through the years we have enjoyed swapping stories about some of the famous and fascinating people we have met in our film careers. This week we are pleased that John has agreed to share one of those stories.
A highlight of my career at Paramount Pictures was getting to know Robert Evans, the legendary producer and former studio head who revived Paramount in the 1960’s and 70’s with such hits as The Godfather, Love Story, and Rosemary’s Baby.
Long before he published his memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture, I admired Evans and was grateful for his contributions to the industry.
My parents were independent theatre owners and I literally grew up in the business. Classic films like The Godfather did more than put food on our table. They instilled in me a love of movies and the business of movies that eventually brought me to Paramount.
During the years that I worked at the studio I was fortunate to spend time with Evans and always found him to be gracious and charming. One such occasion was an advance screening of the film version of The Kid Stays in the Picture at his Beverly Hills home in the spring of 2002.
Evans had invited executives from Paramount and Warner Bros. as a show of gratitude for a favor from Mann Theatres which at the time was co-owned by the two studios. He was about to receive his star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame, and Mann had agreed to the placement of the star directly in front of its famed Chinese Theatre.
Evans wanted that particular spot so that his star would be next to that of his close friend, Jack Nicholson. Given his cinematic accomplishments, granting the request was something of a no-brainer, but it was typical of Evans to express his appreciation with the classy gesture of a private screening at his home, complete with champagne and caviar.
Though everyone loved the movie, it was Evans himself who proved to be the star attraction. Late into the evening he regaled us with stories about his life and his elegant estate which he had purchased when he was head of Paramount back in the sixties. The studio had paid for all renovations except one that Charlie Bluhdorn, chairman of parent company Gulf + Western, refused to approve.
As we stood around his oval-shaped pool we learned that Evans had designed a Plexiglas walkway that, with the press of a button, would jut out just below the water’s surface. His plan was to amuse his friends by seeming to “walk on water.” But as Evans explained in his Austrian-accented Bluhdorn voice, he was shot down: “You’re CRAZY, Evans! You think you’re Moses! You’re CRAZY!” So the walkway never got built.
Bluhdorn was probably right to nix the idea, as I suspect Evans knew. The effect, while theatrical, would have been unnecessary.
Robert Evans never walked on water—but he didn’t have to. He gave the world a bounty of classic films, writing his own unique chapter in Hollywood history…and for a gathering of appreciative guests, some thirty years later, turned a warm April evening in Beverly Hills into a night to remember.