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Thursday, July 01, 2010




Favorites List --- Orson Welles --- Part Two


A lunch companion told me the other day about his son sitting through Citizen Kane recently at a community college film class. As expected, the pic was an ordeal, the group of nineteen year olds bludgeoned into submission by a pompous introduction assuring they'd resent a film Welles hoped might entertain them. Has there ever been a show so badly used by academia as Citizen Kane? You'd think it never ran to paying customers who came voluntarily. Telling an audience they're about to see The Greatest Picture Ever Made is fastest route to getting your wings clipped; let them enjoy Kane first and then try spoiling it. I'd venture patrons liked Kane best when it was winding through late 1941 neighborhoods combo billed with westerns and ding-dong comedies. Those folks didn't have to bear up under intimidating weight of a reputation CK could better have done without. The below 1943 theatre ad for Mrs. Miniver includes an interesting poll result from Radio City Music Hall in which customers were asked to pick their ten best films of all time. Citizen Kane made the list with 28% of respondents choosing it. This public found and embraced Kane for themselves, long before a critical and academic establishment imposed it upon them.





Orson Welles had three daughters. One controls some of his films and roused controversy over her said-to-be misguided stewardship. Another wrote a bittersweet account of a mostly inattentive father. Being Orson Welles' child would amount to hardship for anyone, I should think. Minus inherited genius, what would you have? Any life experienced would seem utterly commonplace beside his. I was with a film instructor friend when we came across In My Father's Shadow: A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles by Chris Welles Feder on a book store shelf. I just don't think I can read another book about him, my friend said, and indeed, you wonder just how many more the market can sustain. Even writing about Welles here, I'm nagged by probability that everything I say has been covered elsewhere, and better ... yet here I've gone and ordered a second-hand copy of the Feder book for $2.55 (those used Amazon prices being hard to resist), plus a David Thomson book I'd overlooked called Rosebud. So how much is enough on the subject of Orson Welles? As long as they keep excavating lost and unfinished films of his, we'll never see an end to it. Just lately there's a You Tube find(s) called Orson Welles' Sketchbook, a barely known something he did for British television in the mid-fifties. Altogether new to me were five episodes of OW spinning tales and inventing new ones, as though he'd managed a few hour's furlough from the beyond to regale us all again.


























I've read Vanity Fair's article about The Magnificent Ambersons several times in hopes that it would end differently, perhaps with an announcement of that fabled print in South America turning up and enabling us to see the film complete at last. I'm one of those who thinks it still exists ... that is, the 132 minute work print that was shipped to Welles while he was working on It's All True in Brazil. RKO sent word in the forties for this to be junked, but South America being honeycombed with collectors, I'd just bet one of them smuggled it off to a zone of safety. If war criminals could be concealed so readily down there, why not a lone 35mm nitrate print? Collectors are particularly adept at hiding stuff. That's the kind of hairpins we are. Imagine a noirish Pan-American search for the missing Ambersons: A world-weary but intensely engaging and romantic film collector (played by myself, of course) embarks upon a danger filled quest for film's most elusive treasure, his path littered with spent bodies of those who've tried and failed before him. Could said complete Ambersons turn up after all these years? Judging by what has surfaced in recent past (a near intact Metropolis below the equator), why not?











If only Orson Welles had stayed home and finished The Magnificent Ambersons instead of taking that State Department requested trip to South America! To read accounts of what happened to Ambersons after he left is to grieve anew for a masterpiece that was lost. I don't use that word inadvisedly, for The Magnificent Ambersons is for me the Number One most-desirable of all missing films. What's left, at least in the first hour, is fully the equal of Citizen Kane and then some. What a shame RKO ignored David Selznick's suggestion that they deposit a complete print with The Museum Of Modern Art ... and how well it speaks of DOS that he pursued them on this point. Poor Robert Wise spent most of old age defending the fact he'd cut it. Welles used to refer to a Freddie Fleck helming added scenes after the studio wrested control from Amberson's director. Freddie Fleck ... what an ideal name to evoke imagery of a hack hireling busily vandalizing a great man's canvas. I can just picture Freddie years later (he died in 1961) telling anyone who'd listen that he directed scenes in The Magnificent Ambersons, but then I wonder ... would Freddie have even remembered doing so? There's been much fuss over the film's shameful distribution and the fact it played on double features with Mexican Spitfire Sees A Ghost ... like Freddie Fleck all over again. The two sound like profanities when mentioned in the same breath with The Magnificent Ambersons. Now if Freddie had directed Mexican Spitfire Sees A Ghost, we'd have no problem. As it is, the idea of Ambersons sharing a bill with Lupe Valez seems blasphemous, but hold on ... didn't most features ride double in first-run Los Angeles (and elsewhere) bookings? The ones I've checked during wartime did, especially those from RKO. Ambersons was certainly the top billed. Had its companion not been Mexican Spitfire, then I'd guess a Saint or Falcon would do ... maybe something with Fibber McGee and Molly? Few "A" attractions were too proud not to carry a passenger in rear seats, The Magnificent Ambersons being no different from any other RKO release in that respect.




































I'm still waiting to see certain Welles films. Someone slipped me a contraband Chimes at Midnight, but the DVD wouldn't play, so I chalked that up to punishment for having accepted a bootlegged copy. Fragments from uncompleted projects turn up here and there. The Other Side Of The Wind continues to tantalize in glimpses, even as the bulk of it lays fallow in a contested vault: A world-weary but intensely engaging and romantic film collector (me again) embarks upon a dangerous journey into Europe and the Middle East to rescue Orson Welles' almost finished masterwork, the impenetrable vault concealing it being no obstacle to this intrepid champion of film preservation. But could even such a titan locate Don Quixote, Othello with its original sound, Making Othello, plus innumerable projects Welles did for television? Through varied miracles, Mr. Arkadin and Welles' intended Touch Of Evil have been reclaimed. I regret not liking the latter more. For me, TOE is a very unpleasant sit, notwithstanding remarkable directorial tricks OW brings to bear. It's heresy to prefer his more subdued villainy in otherwise workmanlike Man In The Shadow that preceded Touch Of Evil, but frankly I do. Maybe Touch Of Evil remains somewhere ahead of me (as was alleged vis-à-vis 1958 patronage), and I've yet to grow into it. That may be the case as well with a lot of what Orson Welles left behind. Will we have caught up with his vision by the time all these missing projects are finally reconstructed and accounted for?
Check out Greenbriar Archives for a Touch Of Evil re-cap: Parts One and Two.

31 Comments:

Blogger J. Theakston said...

That last shot of Stewart/Cagney/Welles is great. I'm guessing this is Universal, circa 1957. Cagney's in costume for MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES and Stewart for NIGHT PASSAGE.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Imagine a noirish Pan-American search for the missing Ambersons: A world-weary but intensely engaging and romantic film collector (played by myself, of course) embarks upon a danger filled quest for film's most elusive treasure, his path littered with spent bodies of those who've tried and failed before him.

My God, what a movie this would make...why can't somebody work on something like this instead of remaking old movies over and over and over and over and...

11:00 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I'd only known Freddie Fleck as a director of arcane Paramount shorts filmed on Long Island (Fred Allen's THE INSTALLMENT COLLECTOR, 1929). I never knew he was an assistant director (gotta check those Falcon credits more closely). You learn things on Greenbriar!

11:47 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Jack, that's my conclusion as well. There's no back caption on the still to confirm those pics being made concurrently with T.O.E., but costumes, especially Cagney's, make it pretty clear they were working on Thousand Faces and Night Passage.

Ivan, we need to get that noir made! --- just as soon as one of us cracks that vault (is it in France?) to rescue Orson's movie ...

11:52 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hey Scott, maybe it's time for a full-scale rediscovery and celebration of Freddie Fleck! (my keyboard just typed his name in lower case, and I'm not sure that was by accident ...).

11:57 AM  
Anonymous Kevin K. said...

I had different reactions to "Kane" over the years. The first, I admit, was boredom (I was only 12). The second time, I felt sorry for Charles Foster Kane. The third time, I hated him. It wasn't until its 50th anniversary theatrical re-release I saw it as simply an extraordrinarly well-made movie from the 1940s. The best of the decade, to be sure, but not the intimidating piece of art that, over time, it was made out to be. "Kane"'s popularity even in its own day proves its accessibility to a wide audience.

And until I saw that newspaper ad, I had no idea "terrfic" was a violent word.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I think Kane held up until well into the 80s; I remember film society screenings where all were mesmerized by his technique. Then, the Steadicam was invented, and anybody could make a camera movie around like Welles did, and tell a story through the first person POV of the camera-as-character. Somewhere between The Shining, Raising Arizona and Goodfellas, Kane lost its uniqueness stylistically.

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

A great movie is one you can sit through over and over again, just for that one scene. In the case of KANE, it's the scene where Kane trashes his wife's bedroom. I'll never tire of watching that.

Possibly the most impressive film I've seen in a rep house in the past five years is Orson's IMMORTAL STORY with Jeanne Moreau. I caught that at the PFA some time back and much of it is embedded, apparently permanently, in my usually forgetful brain. Maybe McLaren's PAS DE DEUX ranks up there, at least for relatively recent personal discoveries.

McBride has a great little paperback where he documents all/most of Orson's "achievements" as an actor. It's fascinating. There are some European obscurities that I'd like to see at some point, or at least see all the parts featuring Orson and his fake noses, wigs, etc.

11:57 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Kevin, I agree that Kane has proven its accessibility to a wide audience and that no one should feel intimidated by it, so it's all the more regrettable when introductions bring all the weight of that reputation down upon the film. I remember thinking how entertaining CK was the first time I saw it and that outlook hasn't changed.

Michael ... had not considered Kane's losing its uniqueness during the eighties. Would all of Welles seem conventional to modern audiences coming to him for the first time?

Chris, I like the McBride books on Welles. McBride is one who thinks Welles was unfairly ID'ed as a failure in post-Kane life, and has done much to dispel that impression in his fine writings.

8:44 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Received a terrific (there's that "violent" word!) e-mail from Craig Reardon this morning, which I'll share in two parts:


Dear John,


Your two posts on Welles were fantastic to yet another someone, that'd be ME, who's a longtime fan. I always marvel at the photos you assemble, but the one of Welles in his Rochester regalia clowning with the great L & H is the pick of the litter, for me. Your text (in both posts) is great. You are one of the best writers on traditional film, and I think you're also terrific when upon occasion you cast a somewhat gimlet eye on Today's Masterworks (aargghh.) I'm with you for putting a more positive spin on Welles latter years as much as any other part of his life. He kept at it. I think he betrayed an air of melancholia in some reviews, especially a particular one I have in mind where he's seated and there's some kind of....no, I can't do it, not without the thing itself before me as reference. I think it was taped or filmed in England during the last five (let's guess) years of his life.


Brace yourself for my usual: yes, I did see Welles in life. I worked on a taping of the Merv Griffin show where he was featured. I distinctly remember coming in the side door to the TAV Theater (owned by Griffin, and now g-o-n-e) on Vine Street, from the sunlit parking lot, and as my eyes adjusted to the dark wings of the stage where the shows were taped, I checked the chalkboard where they'd scribble the names of the guests for that day's taping. And up there I saw Sid Caesar...hey, great!...and, who was next....Orson...WELLES. Wow...stunned. I couldn't believe my good fortune. However, unfortunately in my good fortune, Mr. Welles preferred to skip the makeup room, having come adorned, and remained in the Special Guest dressing room that Merv provided for a particular guest at each taping. (How this sat with the other guests who all had to congregate in a typical "green room" down the hall, I don't know! And I also don't know where the term "green room" got started...do you?) I do remember that the young man whose job it was to shepherd the 'talent' to and fro, a kind of gopher job, did NOT like Welles. If you recall, Richard Fleischer's book recounts a sad side anecdote about a young man who came by the "Compulsion" set, a big fan, and was laid open by Welles over some insignificant thing, and actually reduced to tears. Reading something like that hurts a bit, because Welles at his best exudes the best of humanity. I guess if you're going to get the best, you're also going to get the worst. Another person I knew, probably a hairstylist or makeup artist, had worked on an ill-advised TV 'adaptation' of "It's a Wonderful Life" with the George Bailey part taken by, ahem, Marlo Thomas. Welles played the Mr. Potter role. Anyway, this person---alas----also said Welles was a pain in the ass. Of course, I wasn't there to see whatever it was Welles did to generate these opinions.

8:46 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two and conclusion of Craig Reardon's e-mail:


My dad used to take clients to a famous restaurant in the late '70s, early '80s called Ma Maison. (Clients, I might add, of "Ma Bell"----the monolithic, pre-break-up Phone Company, for which my dad worked for 35 years.) This was famously where Orson Welles showed up quite often, maybe even daily, to have lunch....on Patrick Terrail, the owner! Maybe he felt it was worth it to have the Great Orson dine there. Dad saw him on at least two occasions.


I only glimpsed him in the two following contexts: first, when he was about to walk out onstage, following Sid Caesar (who I did meet and make up for his appearance, and liked), I got myself to the doorway to observe him, and saw him making his way down the not-very-wide corridor to the connecting short hallway to the stage. I was surprised by two things, not (after all) being a Hollywood 'insider', and not having any idea what shape Welles was in at that point in time, the early '80s: one was how TALL he was. I was not surprised to observe how WIDE he was, also. That was of course well known. The second thing was that he used a cane. I was not aware he'd gotten to that point.


It was de rigueur to go out onstage at least once, during a commercial break (which played out in real time, during which they'd duck the onstage lights), to check the people on stage to see if they needed the makeup artist's main commodity, post makeup chair: powder. And Welles inquired of me if he needed any...powder, that is. He probably did, but like a dummy I'd gone out there with only Massa Griffin's powder puff. So I fudged and said that no, he looked A-O.K. Which he accepted. Ditto Caesar (the same fib.) And to be fair to myself, they really did, although they were a bit 'glowy'. But on talk shows, who gives a hoot? It was disconcerting to have ANY remark addressed to me by the legendary Orson Welles, even one so prosaic and mechanical. I remember distinctly thinking of the irony of social intercourse. Here I was actually in the great man's presence, and I was simply unable----forbidden, really----to express even the least bit of what I felt about him, which was that he was one of the greatest American artists who ever lived, of course. Frustrating and maddening. That's life, though. It's sometimes frustrating and maddening...isn't it? (Or should I say, when isn't it?)


PS I also met John Houseman when I was interviewing people for a book I hoped to assemble of reminiscences of Bernard Herrmann. Fascinating guy in his own right, and much more, oh, I don't know, 'bohemian' and relaxed in person than the slightly uptight character he typically portrayed on screen, from "The Paper Chase" 'till his demise.

8:51 AM  
Blogger paul etcheverry said...

Thanks for your posts. Orson also did a guest shot on the very funny Marty Feldman Comedy Machine show - and appeared to enjoy it immensely.

9:15 AM  
Anonymous mido505 said...

Another great post - don't worry, we'll never run out of Welles material; for instance, we've barely scratched the surface on his years in Italy and Spain, and the extremely creatively fertile period when Welles was married to Paola Maori. Much of the best and most interesting work on Welles currently being done is in Spanish and Italian, as scholars and artists in those countries examine Welles's long exile there.

It has always been my belief, not much taken seriously at Wellesnet or elsewhere, that the notorious full work print of AMBERSONS was never lost in Brazil. I believe that print was hastily packed up and shipped back to Hollywood with the IT'S ALL TRUE footage when RKO pulled the plug. It is a myth that the IT'S ALL TRUE footage was junked; only the Technicolor negative for the CARNAVAL episode was junked. The rest ended up in the vaults, and Welles struggled to regain control of it until at least the late 40's. As author Catherine Benamou has detailed, very little of the extant footage, which is voluminous, has been examined and preserved. The AMBERSONS work print was 16mm, and I have found several references to Welles having shot some of IAT in 16mm, especially later when the money ran out, so it is very possible that the cans containing the AMBERSONS work print are collecting dust in the UCLA film archive. It's far fetched, but it makes sense (why pack up everything but AMBERSONS and ship it out of Brazil?), and is logical. Just a thought.

4:19 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Wow, Mido --- I'd never heard that the Ambersons workprint was 16mm. And there's a lot more "It's All True" footage that hasn't been gone through? To think an Ambersons print could be sitting on a shelf at UCLA is mind-boggling ... Does anyone else have any ideas about Mido's theories?

4:33 PM  
Anonymous mido505 said...

John:

FYI, here is a link to the UCLA holdings of IT'S ALL TRUE:
http://cinema.library.ucla.edu/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?v1=2&ti=1,2&Search_Arg=orson%20welles%20%22it%27s%20all%20true%22&Search_Code=GKEY^&SL=None&CNT=50&PID=Mo8BCnpYif4c1ak8-K34jupfDH&SEQ=20100203235525&SID=1

You will note, for instance, that as of 2009, when the listing was last updated, only 3,330 feet out of 41,011 feet of footage of the CARNAVAL episode have been preserved. The ratio is similar for the other episodes.

Note that little if any of the footage was junked until 1967, when Paramount aquired the RKO film library. Welles may have been notoriously careless with film, leaving cans in hotel rooms and airport lockers all over Europe, but RKO certainly wasn't. All that stuff was shipped back from Brazil, as RKO owned it, and would sensibly try to recoup some of its cost by using the footage in some fashion. It seems simple to surmise that a few cans of the AMBERSONS work print got tossed into the pile and sent to RKO. An inventory of the footage was done in 1952, and it is highly likely that Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball knew about the existance of the IAT footage during the time that Desilu owned RKO. As they were buddies with Welles, Benamou thinks it probable that Welles knew that IAT was at RKO despite his claiming that RKO had "burned it". Interestingly, when Welles was contacted about the rediscovery of IAT in the Paramount vaults, the first words out of his mouth were "have they found my AMBERSONS?"

8:24 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Re: Craig Reardon's parenthetical question about the origin of the term "green room." Here's the explanation I've always heard bandied about in theater circles. The waiting area for actors, being an extremely low priority for theater managers, was customarily painted a shade of green that was both particularly cheap and least likely to be needed for the auditorium, lobby or on-stage sets. (And another thing, FYI, not that you or Craig asked: the origin of "Break a leg" comes from the actor's superstition that it's bad luck to wish someone good luck when they don't need it.)

Another great set of posts, John!

9:59 PM  
Blogger Poptique said...

I've heard a few times from different sources that there is still quite a lot of unreviewed It's All True footage stacked up, and that the Ambersons work print could be sitting there with it...

John, have you ever seen the long interview Welles did for the BBC Arena series in the early 80s? It's fantastic and made a massive impression on me when they rescreened it 15 odd years ago. If I was going to Slapsticon instead of Comic Con this month I'd hand you a copy (Let me know if you'd like me to mail you one - least I could do).

Also, that picture of Welles with Stan & Ollie! Think that will probably keep a smile on my face for the rest of the day!

7:33 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Mido, this is really an interesting line of inquiry you've introduced. I just hope someone will follow up on it and maybe let us know if all this footage at UCLA has been examined. Are these 41,011 feet a combination of 35 and 16mm film? I noticed that the UCLA inventory (the link of which you provided) says the footage is nitrate, which would suggest it is all 35mm.

Your Green Room explanation much appreciated, Jim, and by the way, that's great stuff you're continuing to post at Cinedrome.

Poptique, I'd dearly love to see that Welles interview. E-mail me anytime at grbrpix@aol.com --- and Thanks!

9:39 AM  
Blogger The Great Bolo said...

Just occurred to me. In the top right photo, Orson is wearing what looks like the villain's costume from THE PURPLE MONSTER STRIKES.

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Kevin K. said...

I recently saw "Lady from Shanghai" for the first time. It had an interesting credit; I think it was "Production by Orson Welles" rather than written & directed by. The movie itself is first-rate, although Welles' Irish accent isn't entirely convincing. It sounded like he looped most of his dialogue while everyone else spoke live for the most part. The performances he got out of Everett Sloane and Gus Schilling are two of the best, most bizarre I've seen in any of his movies. He seems to be trying to hint at a sexual relationship between the two that isn't mentioned outright in the dialogue.

Also saw "The Third Man" recently, which proved Welles was a first-rate actor even with someone else at the helm. Just the shot of him standing in the doorway, doing nothing, with the light shining overhead, showed he could do more with a sly grin than most actors could with a page of dialogue.

And that photo of Welles with Laurel & Hardy is right up there with a earlier one you ran of Richard Barthelemess shooting the breeze with Albert Einstein.

3:08 PM  
Anonymous mido505 said...

John:

I was originally unclear as to whether Welles had shot any of IAT in 16mm, as I had mistakenly attributed references to Welles shooting with an Eyemo as proof of this, when in fact the Eyemo is a compact 35mm camera, great for shooting hand-held and on the fly, but having nothing to do with my surmise. However, Callow's Welles biography, HELLO AMERICANS, contains these two references: "On the final night, Welles 'suddenly became enthusiastic, grabbed a 16mm camera and moved onto the dance floor of the Republic Theater...photographing close-ups of the milling mob" (pg 65); and "Reg Armour of the finance department reported to Phil Reisman that...out of 67,000 feet of 35mm film, plus fifty-nine rolls of 16mm, only two reels could be used..." (pg 96). There is also a photo in that same book showing Welles framing a shot in Fortaleza using what appears to be a vintage Cine-Kodak 16mm camera.

Catherine Benamou herself told Roger Ryan, a marvelously informed member of Wellesnet that "much of footage [of IAT] exists as small mags of film (probably 10 minutes in length or less) stored together in larger film reel cases, making it difficult to catalog what's available and to prioritize footage for preservation."

That quotation, which sparked my theory, gives the impression that much of the IAT footage was still uninspected at the time, and that some of the footage could have been 16mm. Roger disagreed, believing that Benamou was referring to small mags of 35mm (and Eyemos take only 100 ft reels), but I did subsequently find the above references to 16mm, so there is still that possibility...

3:40 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Mido, I wonder what sort of cost would be involved in someone going through all the footage and inventorying each roll. Even the slightest possibility of Ambersons being there would seem to make the effort worthwhile.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When they ran KANE at UMass Boston in 1978, everyone jumped up and left as soon as they found out what "Rosebud" was.

4:36 PM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

I've always told people who have never seen "Kane" to imagine they were viewing it in 1941, and that they were about to see things movie audiences of the day had never experienced. In other words, focus on how revolutionary it was, rather than its inherent greatness (the latter quality can speak for itself).

1:20 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I've long thought the best way to show what's great about Kane is to show Darryl Zanuck's Wilson first. Two and a half hours of utterly conventional, stagey biopic filled with dialogue along the lines of "I wonder what President Wilson will do now that the Zimmerman telegram reveals Germany's intention toward war?" Kane will suddenly seem the hippest, smartest, zippiest thing you ever saw...

(By the way, John, that'd be a good subject for a post, a hugely expensive film which Zanuck hoped to ride to Oscar glory, but which proved to be the very definition of a white elephant.)

3:05 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Michael, I'd consider a post on "Wilson" but for the fact that there's not a really top quality version out there to see, at least so far. It would be great if Cinemax HD would run it, as they have a number of other Fox library titles.

Another note: Joe Dante e-mailed today and told me that in that group photo of Welles with Cagney and Stewart, OW is actually in costume for "Man In The Shadow" and NOT "Touch Of Evil." Thanks for clearing this one up, Joe.

3:15 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That's a very illuminating story about Houseman, Michael. Do you suppose they ever spoke again before Welles died? From what he said to you, it doesn't seem as though Houseman bore such ill will toward OW, at least at that point in his life.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous r.j. said...

Quickly -- and briefly -- I was turning a corner inside The Beverly Wilshire Hotel one day and Orson was approaching from the other end, looking like the Queen Mary coming - in to dock, within the space of what I remember was a pretty narrow corridor. It was quite something -- I'm 6'2" -- and this man, roughly the same height as myself, was as wide as he was tall, and had to support himself at that point with two canes (Spelled with a "C" by the way).

A perfectly horrible man I worked for in the late 70's/early 80's whom I prefer not to even remember, used to lunch with him almost daily at Ma Maison. This man was from Haiti, and said that Orson knew more about Haitian art than anyone he'd ever met.

Here's the kicker, John: The night after Orson died, I was living a few blocks from Ma Maison, and I decided to go over there and have a drink in his honor. When I arrived the place was almost empty, though still early, at dusk. When the bartender asked what my pleasure was, I said, "Whatever Orson was drinking." He said that toward the end Orson was drinking only Perrier with lime. I said that would be fine, but to slip of shot of vodka in it. He asked if he could join me, and I said of course, and we toasted Orson's memory. Now, as I'm sitting there, the place begins filling-up, with reporters, media people, so-forth, all wanting to know from the staff what Orson's last dinner was, did he have any final words, etc. And they're jamming the pay phones near the rear to call in their stories. Suddenly, the irony hits me like a bolt of lightning --- they're actually re-creating the scene from Welles' biggest hit -- the one he always preferred not to talk about! Life was truly imitating art that night, and I had a ringside seat!

Wouldn't he have loved the irony of that?

R.J.

11:49 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Fantastic Welles memories, RJ. I guess by the end, he had slowed down considerably on the drinking. Seems I read his doctors forbade it altogether once OW started having serious health issues.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous r.j. said...

John,

I love your current masthead for "Notorious".

Many years ago when my grandfather was a member of The Academy, they ran a special screening (for the members, and the industry) of "Chimes at Midnight" and I am exceedingly proud and pleased that I attended one of the very few public screenings of this great film that afternoon. I hope you get to see it -- it is everything you've heard and more. One of the really towering achievments of film history, and very possibly Welles' finest hour.

Orson said that Charlton Heston once approached him and told him that the part he was born to play was that of John Falstaff. Orson said the remark really broke his heart.

After reading your posts on Welles I remembered I had a copy I found on VHS somewhere of "Mr. Arakadin", still sealed. I had apparently paid all of 99c for it, at some discount video store. With great anticipation, I cracked it open, and prepared myself for a great, and rare evening. It really was a disapointment. A mish-mash mixture of "Citizen Kane" meets "The Lady From Shanghai" meets "The Third Man", it has little to recommend it -- except in the most "esoteric" sense, but the performance by Akim Tammiroff as a man who has been dreaming for years of a final meal consisting of goose liver was charming -- and practically the only comprehensible thing in the whole benighted production.

I too read that Esquire article, devouring the whole thing at one sitting. I hope that somewhere in South America lies a complete, uncut "Ambersons", but I'm frankly rather sceptical...

Thanks again for some really great stuff on Welles,(And that fantastic shot with L&H --do you think they had lunch together that day?)

R.J.

4:41 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

RJ, someone just gave me a "Chimes At Midnight" DVD and it's actually a nice quality transfer. I'm looking forward to sitting down to watch the movie.

As for Orson with Laurel and Hardy, I'd like to think they had a meal together, as I'm sure Welles had a great regard for the team's comedy and would have enjoyed breaking bread with them ...

7:34 AM  

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