“Kid, you remind me of me. Been watching you close. They tell me you’re comin’ off great. Been around long enough to have a nose who’s going to make it and who ain’t. You got a shot at going all the way.”
The words were coming straight from the mouth of the King—Frank Sinatra, by name—having a mano a mano powwow with me at Chasen’s, his favorite restaurant in town. That was spring of ’59.
Now it was 1965. Von Ryan’s Express, starring Frank Sinatra, exploded onto the cinematic scene, express-trainin’ it to Blockbusterville, making it Twentieth Century Fox’s number-one film of the year and sending Sinatra’s cinema appeal to stratospheric heights. Whatever Frank wanted, Frank got.
At that same moment, with my acting career at a standstill, I opted for a shot on the other side of the screen. I wanted to be the next Zanuck, not the next Troy Donahue. Five thousand buckaroos got me an option on a first-time author’s novel, The Detective.
Call it luck, call it a freak mistake, call it what you want. The novel took off. Became a number-one bestseller.
Prevailing friendship dictated I should send my newfound bestseller to Chairman Sinatra, giving him and his capos first look. You see this in movies, but in real life? Within 72 hours, there I stood, a virgin, with the King on his knees proposing.
Desperately digging The Detective, Sinatra made it loud and clear to all that the title character, Detective Joe Leland, was his and his alone to play. Immediately, he express-trained it to director Mark Robson, who maestro’d Von Ryan’s.
Before sun turned to darkness, Robson committed, shaking hands with Sinatra that The Detective would be their next filmic endeavor together at Twentieth Century Fox, their home studio.
The Crooner, his porcelain beauty bride, Mia Farrow, and I champagned to the tens The Detective’s closure at Fox. Rarely had a case been solved that quickly. And never did a case come back to bite me so viciously on the ass.
Pussy power was what brought Sinatra and me together. Pussy power was what tore Sinatra and the newly appointed studio chairman viciously apart.
By this time, I had Rosemary’s Baby, my pet film project at Paramount, and The Detective slated to start principal photography at approximately the same time.
Seem inconsequential? Not so! It had consequences big-time, starting a blaze that spread with a vengeance, leaving behind it havoc, both life-threatening and life-changing.
The power of the pussy: in this case, the ethereal Mia Farrow.
Both Mark Robson and Frank Sinatra were on high, anxiously expecting Mia to be Frank’s leading lady onscreen, as she was in life. But Roman Polanski, who was directing Rosemary’s Baby, envisioned the theatricality of Mia’s fragile beauty giving birth to the Devil’s own.
What happened? Sinatra’s ego went into shock when his lady fair opted to play mother to the Devil rather than putter-putter to his Detective. Didn’t sit well with Chairman Sinatra.
I wanted out. An actress is an actress is an actress is an actress. But I was too late. Professional smarts prevailed over family loyalty. Ethereal Mia tasted immediate stardom, leaving Sinatra hot beyond heat. Should have remembered his own advice:
Don’t try to figure ’em out. You can’t.
His acrimony turned to umbrage. Not toward Mia, toward me. Hey, Frank, we both know Lady Mia was no innocent bystander. It didn’t matter; I was the guilty one. There was nothing I could do except close the picture down. Which I couldn’t.
By now, the tension between Sinatra and his lady fair had erupted into open warfare. By dictate of the Chairman: “No negotiations. Total capitulation or you can drop the name ‘Sinatra.’ ”
By now we were six weeks into principal photography. Rosemary was giving birth on the screen and causing havoc in the streets. The Chairman’s verbal threats turned into formal legal notice. For her real-life marriage to prevail, her cinematic pregnancy would have to abort. Gotta believe babies always win out.
Rosemary’s did, bringing about a visit to the Paramount soundstages by the Chairman’s consigliere Mickey Rudin. Interrupting a highly emotional filmic moment, Rudin served the expectant mother with her true-life walking papers. This was no on-your-knees forgive me time, no tears, no copping pleas, no recriminations, and no second time around . . . it’s over and out.
Adios, Mia. Evans, watch out.
Chairman Sinatra let it be known loud and clear, in any and every circle that mattered, that I was the rat fink responsible for wrecking their marriage. Restaurant, party, you name it—whenever Sinatra’s presence was expected, I got the high sign to stay away.
Not only did the heat not subside, it went from back to front burner. For good reason: The Detective and Rosemary’s Baby opened on Broadway on the same f***in’ day in June 1968. And everywhere it counted—from film critique to box office—Baby sizzled, The Detective fizzled.
Not long thereafter, it was Gunfight at the O.K. Corral time. The place: Ruby’s Dunes restaurant in Palm Springs. We collided.
The restaurant cleared. There we stood. No guns, but plenty of language. When it came to letting off steam, it wasn’t easy going toe-to-toe with the Chairman. I did. The more we vented, the dumber we looked. Two sophisticated guys acting like junior high school losers. Sinatra’s tirade was such that he ruptured a vocal cord, putting him out of action for more than a month.
With every blue sky, there’s always dark clouds. The more awards Mia plucked for playing mother to the Devil, the more devilish Sinatra’s acrimony toward me grew.
Finally, though, we discovered that time does heal all. By now, it was 1974. As I was sitting down to dinner at La Grenouille, Sinatra walked over to my table as if nothing had ever transpired between us. With royal aplomb, he congratulated me on making Chinatown. Asked me to join his table. I did.
An hour later, we left together. Walking to his awaiting limousine, Frank shook his head, laughin’.
“Remember that night at Chasen’s?”
“How could I forget?”
“Gave you some good tips, huh?”
“Saved me more green than my accountant ever did.”
As the chauffeur opened the back door of the limousine, Ol’ Blue Eyes threw me a half smile. “Dames! Sayin’ nothin’, they’re more seductive than any lyric.”
Stepping into the backseat of his limo, he lowered his window. “Strange, ain’t it?” I said. “Pussy power. There ain’t nothin’ stronger.”
Our eyes met, and Ol’ Blue Eyes shook his head. “Can’t fight ’em, they just don’t play fair.” He started to roll his window back up. “Stay in touch, huh?”
This excerpt is republished from the book The Fat Lady Sang by Robert Evans, an American film producer and former studio executive. Copyright © 2013 by Robert Evans. Reprinted by permission of It Books, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.