Drugs, Sex & Murder: Production Of Robert Evans’ ’84 Cotton Club Movie Was Rollercoaster Filled With Crime-Figure Financiers

Legendary Hollywood producer and playboy Robert Evans sought help from the mob and a female drug kingpin he was romancing in rounding up the financing for the 1984 film The Cotton Club. Evans, who was famous for turning around the fortunes of Paramount Pictures and producing such American cinema classics like The Godfather, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, Serpico and Love Story, died this week at 89. Evans was out of the studio system by the 1980s, coming off a high-profile cocaine bust and hoping for a big comeback by reteaming with Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, The Godfather Pt. II) to make what he hoped would be another epic mob tale, but with a musical twist. The idea for a Cotton Club movie was conceived around the famous Prohibition Era Harlem jazz club owned by New York gangster Owney (The Killer) Madden and frequented by all the top celebrities and Big Apple mob elite of the day Coppola and Evans famously fought like cats and dogs throughout the production of The Godfather, ultimately however triumphing with an Oscar for Best Picture and a film some consider the No. 1 movie of all-time. The second time around for Coppola and Evans wasn’t nearly as fruitful. In fact, it was quite a disaster. The movie’s first financial backer, Roy Radin, was murdered execution-style before the production of the project ever got off the ground. The primary financiers that came into the picture after Radin’s death and contributed the majority of the movie’s 60-million-dollar budget were the reputedly mobbed-up Doumani brothers, casino owners and real estate investors from Las Vegas. Evans met Radin in 1982 through his girlfriend at the time, Lanie Jacobs (also known as Karen Greenberger), a heavyweight drug dealer in Beverly Hills. Radin was a multi-millionaire who made his money from a traveling variety show and promoting rock concerts and was eager to get into the movie biz. Jacobs supplied Radin drugs in bulk for the musicians at his rock concerts. Radin and Evans agreed to create a production company and go 50-50 partners in making the film, The Cotton Club. They even got Sylvester Stallone to sign on to star in the picture. But Radin was slain before the movie started shooting, killed on Jacobs’ orders for her belief that she was being squeezed out of the movie deal and that Radin had masterminded a burglary of her Sherman Oaks home where large amounts of cash and coke were stolen. According to court documents, Evans tried to mediate the dispute at a dinner meeting held at his townhouse in Manhattan and the meal quickly degenerated into a screaming match and Jacobs storming out in tears. Less than three weeks later, Radin was whacked. Jacobs picked Radin up from the Hollywood Regency Hotel in her trademark limo on the evening of May 13, 1983 and he was never seen alive again. She had recruited her new boyfriend, Billy Mentzer and two accomplices, Bobby Lowe and Alex Marti, to do the job. They were all former bodyguards of porn king Larry Flynt, the founder of Hustler Magazine. Menzter, Marti and Lowe drove Radin, 33, to a desolate section of Gorman, California and executed him, pumping 12 gun shots into him and leaving his bullet-ridden body dumped in a barren canyon. Four years later, Larry Flynt’s brother-in-law and head of security, Billy Rider, came forward and told LAPD detectives that he heard Mentzer and Marti bragging about murdering Radin during a late-night poker game at Flynt’s Hustler Mansion. He agreed to wear a wire. That was the big break the cops needed. In October 1988, Jacobs, Mentzer, Marti and Lowe were arrested for the Radin homicide. They were all convicted at trial in 1991 – Jacobs and Lowe were nailed on kidnapping and second-degree murder charges and Mentzer and Marti were slammed with twin first-degree homicide beefs). Evans never faced charges in the case and pled the fifth when called to testify at a pretrial hearing. Testifying in her own defense at her trial, Jacobs absolved Evans of having any knowledge of the incident. Lowe, Jacobs’ limo driver on the night of the murder, implicated Evans in being aware of the hit and Jacobs’ intentions and detectives found a record of a call placed from Jacobs to Evans in the hours after Radin was bumped off. Jacobs, 71, ran in some pretty heavy duty circles in the drug world throughout her heyday on the street. Her boyfriend throughout the 1970s was Caribbean drug lord Milano Bellachasses and the pairing produced a son. After dating Evans and Mentzer, Jacobs married Florida “kilo dealer” Larry Greenberger, one of Colombian narco baron Carlos Lehder’s top smuggling lieutenants in the United States. Greenberger popped up dead under suspicious circumstances on September 14, 1988, a month preceding her indictment in the Radin case. Radin’s execution spooked Evans, according to court documents and federal law enforcement files, leading him to believe that he would be killed next to keep him from spilling what he knew, and resulted in him running into the warm embrace and protection of Eddie and Freddie Doumani, two brothers with alleged ties to mob figures in Chicago and Kansas City. The Doumani brothers owned the K.C. mafia-controlled Tropicana Hotel and Casino along with the El Morocco Hotel and Casino on The Strip and agreed to front Evans some $50 million dollars of his $60-million dollar film budget. Behind the Doumanis’ money was some heavy muscle – per FBI records, informants in the Las Vegas underworld told the Bureau that a portion of that $50 mil investment was held by Anthony (Tony the Ant) Spilotro, the Chicago mob’s crew chief on the Vegas Strip, and his Goomba buddy, Nevada wiseguy, Joey Cusumano. Both Spilotro and Cusumano were alleged to have been on-set during production of The Cotton Club and Spilotro is alleged to have gotten into some form of physical confrontation with one of the associate producers, according to The Ant’s Las Vegas Police file. Spilotro, small, power-obsessed and developing into quite the loose cannon unchecked by his Chicago mob superiors all alone in the desert, was brutally slain in June 1986 for his insubordinate behavior, stomped and strangled to death with his younger brother and protégé Michael in an Illinois basement. Cusumano, 79, was convicted of racketeering in 1987 stemming from his activity working under Tony the Ant and survived an attempt on his life, sustaining multiple gunshot wounds to his right arm and shoulder as he was returning home to his suburban Las Vegas home months after he was released from prison in 1990. Following a troubled production of ballooning costs and a deluge of script rewrites, The Cotton Club was finally released to theatres on Christmas Eve 1984 to positive reviews, but disappointing profits. The near $60-million dollar gangster movie-musical hybrid brought in roughly $25 million in box-office receipts. Richard Gere replaced Stallone as the film’s lead character, jazz trumpeter-turned-movie star “Dixie Dwyer.” Coppola’s nephew, Nicolas Cage was cast as a character based on Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, Bob Hoskins played Cotton Club-owner Owney Madden, James Remar played Jewish mobster Dutch Schultz and Lawrence Fishburne portrayed a character named “Bumpy Rhoades” based on African-American numbers kingpin Ellsworth (Bumpy) Johnson, a role he would reprise in his 1997 film Hoodlum. Slipping away from the Cotton Club fiasco unscathed, Evans continued producing movies in Hollywood for another two decades. He retired in 2003, his final project being the hit romantic comedy How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days starring Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson ($50 million budget, $180 Million return). His 1994 biography, The Kid Stays In The Picture, was made into a hit 2002 documentary that he narrated.

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