Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Lore of Orson Welles

Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Lore of Orson Welles

Article excerpt

From earliest childhood on, his life story reads like science-fiction, but his dazzling talent and incredible versatility are the stuff that legends are made of

Official records list Orson Welles' first film as "CITIZEN KANE". Actually, it marked his fourth effort as a filmmaker. In 1934 Welles and Virginia Nicholson (his first wife) filmed a fourminute filmlet, "THE HEARTS OF AGE", during a drama festival at Orson's alma mater, Todd School for Boys. In 1938 Welles, with John Houseman and Richard Wilson, filmed a halfhour movie that served as prologue and interlude for the stage comedy, "Too Much Johnson". And in 1939 Welles filmed an air crash in the Himalayas to introduce "The Green Goddess", a vaudeville presentation.

Most young men of 24 are still seeking goals in life and careers to follow. At that age, Orson Welles had already been a stage star in Ireland and America, an author of pulp magazine thrillers, publisher of a text on Shakespeare, producer of an all-black version of "Macbeth". He had put Caesar on stage in a Fascist uniform, had emerged as a great star of American radio, had scared a nation out of its wits, had put Shakespeare on records and had distinguished himself as a painter and pianist. And, a mere three years past his first chance to cast a vote, he electrified, stunned (and in some cases, angered) Hollywood by signing an RKO contract that gave him complete autonomy to make movies at a guaranteed annual salary of $150,000.

Through the years many of Orson Welles' closest friends have considered him clairvoyant. "If it exists, I sure as hell have it," Welles has agreed. "If it doesn't, I have the thing that's mistaken for it." At one time in his career Orson worked as a Kansas City fortune-teller at $2 a reading.

His all-time favorite director was a previous AFI Life Achievement Award winner, John Ford. Once asked to name the screen's three greatest directors, Welles had responded: "Ford, Ford and Ford." However, Welles has admired and respected other directors. Of Fellini, he said: "As gifted as anyone making pictures today." Of Stanley Kubrick, he said: "He appears to me to be a giant." But he was not a booster of lngmar Bergman, whom he once termed "more foreign than the Japanese" because Orson shared neither his interests nor his obsessions.

Another strong favorite of Orson Welles was the great cinematographer, Gregg Toland, ASC, who had photographed "CITIZEN KANE". During the filming Toland obviously enjoyed all of the challenges put forward by young Mr. Welles in his first creative efforts on a Hollywood sound stage. Toland once told Orson he could teach him everything he had to know about a movie camera during a single weekend - and he did it.

Orson Welles may have devoted a great deal of his life to Shakespeare and classical theatre, but privately he loves the comic strips. He was a great fan of "Terry and the Pirates" and he always felt that comic strips mirrored contemporary life.

Orson Welles has always been genuinely concerned about the safety of the world but only his close friends have taken him seriously on the subject. In other years he was always active politically in the United States. He was a" great admirer of Franklin D. Roosevelt and worked hard to help get FDR elected president. …

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