‘The Two Jakes’ and the Two Bobs


IT HAS BEEN five years since the first attempt at making “The Two Jakes” collapsed under the debris of shattered friendships. Jack Nicholson, Robert Evans and Robert Towne--the star, producer and writer of “Chinatown”--were less than a week from shooting when a disagreement caused Paramount Pictures to pull the plug. The problem, according to Nicholson: Towne’s decision that Evans, who was to co-star as the other Jake, couldn’t handle the role.

Towne, he says, came to his house and said that Evans, who had an undistinguished acting career before becoming a studio executive, had to be replaced. “Robert said he thought Bobby was too nervous to play Jake Berman and that he believed Bobby knew it,” Nicholson says. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t think you’re right. Why don’t we just go ahead and start the movie, get Paramount on the hook, then decide?’ He said, no, his integrity wouldn’t allow him to do it that way. After that, we had Bobby come up and Bobby very definitely did not want to step down.” In addition, “the two Bobs” proposed that Nicholson take over as director and fire them both. “That was one thing I wasn’t prepared for,” he says.

The project had raised eyebrows the day it was announced that the trio’s deal made them partners in gross profits in exchange for deferring their normal fees. Although critics considered “Chinatown” a masterpiece of the detective genre, it was not a big box-office hit.


After the tense night at his house, Nicholson contacted John Huston to see if he would take over. “When we had our little contretemps, I put the (Huston) alternative in my bag in case it came up. It didn’t. In all honesty, we were partners, and if we couldn’t go forward together, it was over.”

After a flurry of meetings with Paramount executives, the sets were torn down, lawsuits were filed, and bills totaling from $3 million to $4 million were eventually settled. Towne went on to write and direct “Tequila Sunrise.” Evans began answering investigators’ questions about events surrounding the financing of his earlier film “The Cotton Club” and the murder of playboy/impresario Roy Radin, a major investor in the film.

Towne talks about the fiasco cautiously. He verified Nicholson’s account of the conversations, but says he had agreed before the production was stopped to continue with Evans as the other Jake. “One thing I will say to you is that I have never said on any occasion that something was an ‘affront to my integrity.’ I can’t imagine anybody being able to say that in this town with a straight face.”

Towne received sole screenwriting credit for the new film, but Nicholson acknowledges having made major “augmentations” to it. And though Evans shares the producer credit with veteran Harold Schneider, sources say Schneider handled the day-to-day chores. One thing everyone agrees on; as Nicholson puts it, “This is the end of J. J.”