Paramount Pictures is one of two Hollywood studios celebrating its centennial this year; the other one is Universal Pictures, founded a few weeks earlier in 1912. Peter Bart spent 17 years in the movie business, eight of them — from 1967 to 1975 — at Paramount, working with the legendary Robert “The Kid Stays in the Picture” Evans. In the trade paperback edition of “Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob (and Sex)”, Weinstein Books, 288 pages, 10 page photo insert, index, $15.00) Bart provides an insider’s look at one of the most creative periods of modern movie-making history.
A bit of movie history: Originally called Famous Players Film Co., Paramount was founded in May 1912 by Adolph Zukor. (The title of Bart’s book is a play on the original name of Paramount). It attracted film pioneers like Jesse Lasky and Cecil B. DeMille. Universal, the oldest Hollywood studio still in operation (the world’s oldest studio still in operation is France’s Gaumont Pictures) was founded on April 30, 1912 by Carl Laemmle, a German-Jewish emigre.
Bart was a young family man and rising reporter for the New York Times in 1967 when he was recruited as a production executive at Paramount by his friend and fellow production newcomer from New York City, Robert Evans. Evans, who had promotional experience in the “schmatta” (clothing) business — his brother Charles had founded Evan-Picone — had become an overnight star in his mid-20s playing a bullfighter in “The Sun Also Rises” and for portraying movie production legend Irving G. Thalberg in “A Man of a Thousand Faces.”
Born Robert J. Shapera in 1930, Evans was spotted by actress Norma Shearer next to the pool at The Beverly Hills Hotel on election day 1956. She successfully promoted him for the role of her late husband Irving G. Thalberg in “A Man of a Thousand Faces”. The same year, Evans also caught the eye of Darryl F. Zanuck, who cast him as Pedro Romero in a film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”, against the wishes of co-star Ava Gardner and Hemingway himself. Zanuck, the most famous man to come out of Wahoo, Nebraska, overruled Gardner and Papa, reportedly saying “The Kid Stays in the Picture.” In 1959, Evans appeared inTwentieth Century Fox’s production of “The Best of Everything” with Hope Lange, Diane Baker, and Joan Crawford.
When Bart was lured to Paramount in 1967 by Evans, the studio was languishing, its slate riddled with movies that were out of touch with the dynamic sixties. By the time Bart had left Paramount in 1975, the studio had completed a remarkable run with such films as “The Godfather”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Harold and Maude”, “Love Story”, “Chinatown”, “Paper Moon”, and the original “True Grit”. But this new golden era at Paramount was also fraught with chaos and company turmoil. Drugs, sex, runaway budgets, management infighting, and even the Mafia started finding their way onto the Paramount backlot, making porno movies where Cecil B. De Mille once made biblical epics. Owned by the conglomerate Gulf+Western, the brainchild of Charles Bluhdorn, Paramount may have been one of the worst-run studios in the history of the movie industry.
Bart says he managed to stay above the fray — not to mention the kid in the candy store availability of sex and drugs — surely worthy of admiration. He provides insights into the New Hollywood era at Paramount with behind-the-scenes details and insightful analysis. He also gives the movie-loving reader his recollections of the icons from that era: Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, and Frank Sinatra among others.
Gulf + Western started out prosaically enough as automobile industry supplier Michigan Bumper in 1934 and was built into a conglomerate by the Austrian-born Bluhdorn, one of the most flamboyant of conglomerate builders when flamboyance was the coin of the realm. It was renamed Paramount Communications in 1989 and was sold to Viacom in 1994.
The advantage of “Infamous Players” over other tell-all books is that it’s written by a professional journalist.For more than five decades, first on the inside as a studio executive, and later as the longtime editor-in-chief of Variety, Peter Bart has viewed Hollywood from an incomparable vantage point. The stories in “Infamous Players” make it a valuable resource for anyone who loves movies.
About the Author
Peter Benton Bart, 79, born in New York City, started his career as a reporter with the Wall Street Journaland the New York Times, then spent seventeen years as a film executive (vice president of Paramount, senior vice president of MGM, president of Lorimar Film Co.) only to return to journalism as editor-in-chief of Variety. Along the way, he was responsible for seven books, including “Shoot-Out”, written with Peter Guber, “Dangerous Company” (a short story collection), and four nonfiction books, “The Gross”, “Fade Out”,”Boffo”, and “Who Killed Hollywood?” “Shoot Out” became the basis for the weekly network television show currently hosted by Bart and Guber on NBC and the Encore Network.