IF THEY EVER MAKE THE BRIAN Evans Story, about an ambitious young actor-singer who goes to prison, it will no doubt contain this scene:
First convict: “Whattaya in for?”
Second convict: “Murder One.”
The first: “Whattaya in for?”
Third convict: “Armed assault.”
The first, again: “Whattaya in for?”
Brian Evans: “Impersonating Casey Kasem.”
It sounds this side of ridiculous, but it happened—and with serious consequences. In 1991, Evans, then 21, went to prison after impersonating, and charging plane tickets to, Casey Kasem, the veteran deejay who each week does the Top 40 countdown on his syndicated radio show. After his 10-month stretch, Evans returned to work and, earlier this year, landed a role as Keanu, Kimmy’s boyfriend, on ABC’s Full House. The job ended, he says, after he talked about the Kasem caper with Howard Stern. But producer Don Van Atta says, “His was not the kind of character you make permanent. Brian Evans got that impression, but when we heard it we just shook our heads.” Not content to let it rest, he’s now rehashed the whole mess—Kasem, Stern, Full House—in Dreamer, an autobiography of sorts due next month from S.P.I. Books. Evans, 24, calls his book a showbiz primer “to tell kids that you don’t make it” straight off in Hollywood. More likely it will tell them all about the very strange brain of Brian Evans. “He’s manipulative,” says Dreamer publisher Ian Shapolsky, “charming, relentlessly persuasive.” He is also a talented mimic.
His faux Kasem days began while doing stand-up comedy in his hometown of Haverhill, Mass. “It always got the crowd,” he says. “If I bombed for 10 minutes, I could do Casey at the 11th, and everyone would think I was great.” In 1989, after he moved to Los Angeles and started getting minor acting jobs, Evans met Kasem at a charity fundraiser. He did his impersonation; Kasem was impressed, and the two, Evans claims, became friendly. (Kasem refused to discuss Evans for this story.) When Kasem held a circus-themed fund-raiser at his home, he asked Evans to serve as ringmaster. He even loaned Evans one of his sweaters, so that he could be the deejay on Halloween.
But one afternoon, Evans took the impersonation too far: he called an L.A. travel agency and, as Kasem, purchased three plane tickets to Boston for himself and two friends, charging the expense to “Dreamer,” which he implied was a Kasem company. Then they drove from Boston to Maine, he says, “because it would be cool to have Maine lobster in Maine.” Maine was so cool, in fact, that the group repeated their trip a week later, again charging the tickets to Dreamer. The travel agency, concerned about the unpaid $2,900 bill, contacted Kasem. The deejay remembered the imitator and, in June 1991, Evans was convicted on a felony theft charge and sentenced to six months’ probation.
The story might have ended there, if it weren’t for the Baltimore Orioles game. Evans had been invited to sing the national anthem. Though his parole officer warned him not to leave California, he went anyway. Three days later he was sentenced to a year in state prison.
Depending on your perspective, Evans had ended up in jail either despite, or because of, an almost monomaniacal focus on his career—virtually from birth. At age 2, says his mother, Helen Evans, a registered nurse, her only son would turn her hairbrush into a microphone. At 8, he joined the band onstage at a local benefit. “When he sang,” says Helen, whose marriage to William Evans, a union president, had ended two years earlier, “I realized he was good!” At 11, he snuck onto a plane bound for L.A.; the police escorted him home. After he tried the same thing a year later, Helen decided to leave Haverhill and moved to Hollywood. “I never had the opportunity to make my dreams come true,” she says. “I wanted him to feel like he got the chance.”
Young Brian quickly landed a part in a McDonald’s commercial and made friends with a few in the up-and-coming set, including Jeremy Miller from Growing Pains and Peter Billingsley, who had starred in A Christmas Story. He used them to meet others in the business, compiling a mailing list and sending out updates on his career.
Even in jail, Evans kept up the correspondence. “I was the only inmate getting Variety and The Hollywood Reporter,” he says. But prison gave him time to think—and about more than his brilliant career. “I think I had narcissistic personality disorder,” he says now. “I never listened. I talked.” He even wrote several letters of apology to Kasem. (His alter ego did not write back.)
Released in July 1992, Evans apparently became an ideal ex-con. “He never had any violations,” says Lance Curtis, his probation officer. Friends spoke then of a changed Evans. “He’s doing all he can to rectify the past,” said Billingsley. “He’s getting by on substance now, not on conversation and perception.”
But Evans’s willingness to publicly revive the Kasem case with Howard Stern and now, in Dreamer, has others wondering. Actor Jon Voight, who became friendly with Evans when both worked for a charity, Housing Now, says, “He should just put this behind him.”
Yet Evans remains blissfully impervious to criticism. Although he would not allow his publisher to run a snapshot showing him with Kasem (and withheld the same photo from this story), he is happy to share his past and doesn’t imagine that it will in any way harm his future. “I’m not going to stay in a closet,” he insists. “There will be a time when Casey has to decide whether he wants to do the show or not that week, because I’m going to have a song in the Top 40.”
DANELLE MORTON in Los Angeles