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The Kid Stays in the Picture and Lady Luck
Sam North - Editorial- August 2002

There’s a moment near the beginning of the wonderful and illuminating documentary about Bob Evans – the movie producer who made Love Story and The Godfather, as well as countless other films, when he admits that everything came down to good luck. A moment, a day playing hookey from work and diving into the swimming pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He came out a star. He was spotted by the actress Norma Shearer and she wanted him to play Irving Thalberg as a young man opposite Edward G Robinson. Luckily for Bob Evans he knew how to act, he’d been something of a child star. Not act well mind you, but something with a bit more dignity than Vin Diesel for instance. On the other hand as an individual he was a tad reptilian. But maybe that's what is required to survive in Hollywood.

Of course he played his luck right down to the wire. He made some turkeys along the way – Finnians Rainbow among them, but Rosemary’s Baby was the winner and launched Roman Polanski on the USA. He became head of Paramount, won them Oscars and made them Number One on the Hollywood lots. He married the movie star Ali McGraw and well, he had it good.

Then came Cotton Club. Legal battles with Francis Ford Coppola and serious miscasting with Richard Gere.
Bob Evans luck ran out and he let it get to him, as well as the cocaine.

Luck is one of those things that happen to almost everyone, at least once. The importance of ‘The Kid stays in the Picture’ produced by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen is that you can see what you can do with it when equipped with self-confidence and some talent. You don’t have to be a genius, you don’t have to be good at everything, you don’t actually have to be good at ANYTHING, but when luck calls, you’d better know someone who is good at something because that’s the day you’re going to need ‘em.

Luck doesn’t do anything. Luck just taps on the head and says ‘Today’ you’ve got 24 hours or five minutes, or whatever. It could be the name of a horse that will win a big race. Yes really. That happened to me and you know what, I still kick myself for only putting £50 quid on it. It won by miles and never won again. Luck said here’s your chance and I blew it.

Luck can happen in many ways. A call, can you help? Someone has let me down; do you know anyone who can help? What you going to do, say no?
This is luck. It gives you a chance to help someone and if it helps you, then that’s luck. It happened to me with a BBC TV show once – a writer didn’t deliver and I was given a day to come up with a treatment and a week for a 50 minute episode. You think I said no, I’m busy, it’s Christmas? I worked flat out. Got a nice cheque.

Luck called on a friend of mine. Gave a lift to a man whose old Ford had broken down. Took him all the ways home in the opposite direction because he was broke and well he was a nice old guy who seemed a bit bewildered. Five years later the old boy left him $50,000 in his will. Remember luck always gives a chance to say no.

Of course, as Bob Evans will tell you, if you live by luck, you have to accept his twin brother ‘bad luck’ as well. Not just Cotton Club, but cocaine busts when you grow over-confident and sometimes just plain misjudgement. Witness he made ‘Sliver’ which grossed millions but also remade ‘Out of Towners’ which went nowhere. Nevertheless, as long as you realise that for every piece of bad luck, you’ll be due some good luck, however small-you’ll survive.

Now you’re saying, all this is superstitious nonsense and hey, you might be right. But I come from a family that lives for luck and signs, and takes it all pretty seriously. My mother and two sisters are obsessed with ‘luck’. However I do believe that we have to make our own luck. By that I mean if you want be a famous actor, writer, artist, then you had better learn your craft. You might get lucky, like Bob Evans and get to star in a movie first time out, but even he realised that he was a terrible actor and he had better get another way to earn a living pretty fast. Being good at what you do enables you to appreciate and use luck when it comes. Otherwise you’ll be like that awkward fifteen-year-old kid who gets asked out by the prettiest girl in school and takes so long to stammer a reply she’s changed her mind.
(Actually I once spent an entire summer in Sandilands wanting to talk to a particular girl but too shy to and on the day she was going I found out she had spent the entire summer wishing she had the courage to talk to me – so I know exactly what it feels like – stupid.)

Right now you might be in a job you hate and yet haven’t actually sent your CV out to other people. It’s OK to let other people know that you feel trapped and unfulfilled in your current job and desperate to show what you can really do. What are they going to do? Hire someone who’ll hate the job? Make luck happen, tell them what you’d like to do. Find out something about the company first; let them know you appreciate what they do and how you’ll fit in.

You may not have a job at all and worse, like me, on the wrong end of the age curve that gives employers an excuse to say no. Well, create a job. What can you do? Teach? Fix stuff? Help people? What are you really good at? Don’t tell me the answer is nothing. It’s takes a lifetime of utter stupidity to become good at nothing. We can all do something, even if it’s helping a friend out painting their basement.
"You know Frank needs his basement painting too, how much would you charge?’ That’s luck talking.

I want to apologise for writing this upbeat editorial. I can’t think what came over me. Most unlike me, but I’ve been trying to persuade a close friend that is OK to change course, even at 29. We all change course at sometime in our lives, by choice or sometimes it is forced upon us. It’s healthy to change, even if you are comfortable and unchallenged in what you currently do. You may not know it but you may actually be bored as well. Find the route that is closer to your heart. Luck will find you there. I promise.

‘Nurse, feel my pulse, I’m still feeling optimistic…’

Hacks visits the new Museum of Glass in Tacoma

Hot Sweats in a Cold Read at the Anza Club

© Sam North
August 2002

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