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What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?

What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career

Joseph McBride
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?
    Book Description:

    At the age of twenty-five, Orson Welles (1915--1985) directed, co-wrote, and starred in Citizen Kane, widely regarded as the greatest film ever made. But Welles was such a revolutionary filmmaker that he found himself at odds with the Hollywood studio system. His work was so far ahead of its time that he never regained the wide popular following he had once enjoyed as a young actor-director on the radio. What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career challenges the conventional wisdom that Welles's career after Kane was a long decline and that he spent his final years doing little but eating and making commercials while squandering his earlier promise. In this intimate and often surprising personal portrait, Joseph McBride shows instead how Welles never stopped directing radical, adventurous films and was always breaking new artistic ground as a filmmaker. McBride is the first author to provide a comprehensive examination of the films of Welles's artistically rich yet little-known later period in the United States (1970--1985), when McBride knew and worked with him. McBride reports on Welles's daringly experimental film projects, including the legendary 1970--1976 unfinished film The Other Side of the Wind, Welles's satire of Hollywood during the "Easy Rider era"; McBride gives a unique insider perspective on Welles from the viewpoint of a young film critic playing a spoof of himself in a cast headed by John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich. To put Welles's widely misunderstood later years into context, What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? reexamines the filmmaker's entire life and career. McBride offers many fresh insights into the collapse of Welles's Hollywood career in the 1940s, his subsequent political blacklisting, and his long period of European exile. An enlightening and entertaining look at Welles's brilliant and enigmatic career as a filmmaker, What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? serves as a major reinterpretation of Welles's life and work. McBride clears away the myths that have long obscured Welles's later years and have caused him to be falsely regarded as a tragic failure. McBride's revealing portrait of this great artist will change the terms of how Orson Welles is understood as a man, an actor, a political figure, and a filmmaker.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4595-2
    Subjects: History, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. ix-1)

    When I was twenty-three and finishing my first book on Orson Welles, I had the good fortune not only of meeting the legendary and elusive filmmaker but also, even more improbably, becoming a character in an Orson Welles movie.

    My fascination with Welles had begun four years earlier when I sawCitizen Kanein a film class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It was the afternoon of September 22, 1966, shortly after the beginning of my second year at college. Thecoup de foudreof seeingKane—one of those rare experiences that can truly be called life-changing—made...

    (pp. 3-27)

    “God, how they’ll love me when I’m dead!” Welles was fond of saying in his later years, with a mixture of bitterness and ironic detachment. But that’s a half-truth at best. More than two decades after Welles’s death, his career is, in a very real sense, still flourishing. But it is a disturbing irony that Welles is more “bankable” now than when he was living.

    Of course, this is nothing new in the arts. When the pesky presence of the living artist is out of the way, it’s easier to appreciate and market his work. Vincent van Gogh may have...

    (pp. 29-79)

    InF for Fake, Welles wryly tells the story of a fictitious painter of fake Picassos. Challenged by Picasso about his transgression, the painter asks what is his crime, “Committing masterpieces?” It’s hard not to regard this mot as a commentary by Welles on his own checkered career in the Hollywood marketplace. During the early 1940s, he gave RKO two of the greatest films ever made, only to have the first almost burned by the other Hollywood studios to appease the Hearst empire (in a sad irony, the negative ofCitizen Kanewas destroyed in a studio vault fire in...

  6. Chapter Three ORSON WELLES AT LARGE
    (pp. 81-135)

    With his directing career in ruins, Welles, still only twenty-seven in 1942, probably thought more seriously about the possibility of quitting movie-making than at any other time in his life. It seemed the decision was being made for him. He was (temporarily) blackballed in Hollywood as a director, but he was still in demand as an actor.Jane Eyre, opposite Joan Fontaine in 1944, was his first starring venture for another film director (British emigré Robert Stevenson); Welles claimed he also served as an uncredited producer on that intelligently mounted adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel by Aldous Huxley, Stevenson,...

  7. Chapter Four ʺTWILIGHT IN THE SMOGʺ
    (pp. 137-161)

    On July 4, 1970, the young cinematographer Gary Graver, who had been working on low-budget exploitation movies, read a brief item that had appeared two days earlier in Army Archerd’sDaily Varietygossip column: “Orson Welles, looking very well, visiting friends here and in San Fran, says he soon returns to film his yarn, ‘The Other Side of the Wind,’ in Italy and Yugoslavia.” What happened next transformed both Welles’s and Graver’s lives and enabled Welles to continue pursuing his art for his remaining fifteen years.

    Welles spent part of the summer of 1970 in New York playing an old...

    (pp. 163-221)

    Looking back over Welles’s career, his longtime associate Richard Wilson remembered the mood that prevailed when shooting began onIt’s All Truein the early 1940s: “All the struggles and the frustrations and missed opportunities that we associate with Orson now—none of that had happened yet. And nobody would have believed it would. After all—in those days, working with Orson, anything seemed possible.” That spirit was renewed for a time with the launching ofThe Other Side of the Wind. On the day in 1970 when that adventure began, whatever worries I had about Welles’s future and his...

  9. Chapter Six ʺNO WINE BEFORE ITS TIMEʺ
    (pp. 223-305)

    Welles would became impatient in later years when people tried to take him on what he called a “stroll down memory lane,” with its implication that his past was far more glorious than his present. When the respectful young director Rob Reiner tried to quiz him aboutCitizen KaneonThe Merv Griffin Show, Welles brusquely changed the subject. Even when Gary Graver would ask how he did certain shots inKane, Welles resisted, changing the subject to their current project: “We’re doingthisone now.” So when the AFI began planning the “Working with Welles” seminar in 1978, I...

    (pp. 307-309)
    Joseph McBride
    (pp. 310-330)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 331-346)