Saturday, October 17, 2020

Weekend Post

Orson Welles was a larger-than-life figure.  Brilliant director, actor, producer, filmmaker, personality.   He directed and starred in CITIZEN KANE among other movies.   He was a genius and often times impossible.   He also drank, smoked endless cigars, and ate multiple Pink's chili dogs night after night after night.  Not coincidentally, he probably weighed 350 pounds at one time.  

He also could be very witty and charming.  Here is a 1985 appearance on THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW, a syndicated talk show.   He tells great stories, performs a magic trick, talks about his 70th birthday.  But there's more to the story.

Six hours after taping this show he was dead.  

Here is the final appearance ever of Orson Welles.



34 comments :

Lemuel said...

He was magnificent in CATCH 22.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to add, as the narrator for the NIGHT GALLERY episode "Silent Snow, Secret Snow". His words blend into the music soundtrack like word-jazz.

Glenn said...

The voice of Unicron.

me said...

The link is omitted, Ken.

J Lee said...

IIRC, Wells became the voice of Eastern Airline's "The Wings of Man" commercials around 1969 or so, and from there for the final 15 years of his life he was ubiquitous on TV in ads, as a way to try and raise funds for his never-completed projects.

Michael said...

Among other things, he narrated a documentary on the Warner Bros. cartoon creators, and it's a reminder of the many forms that creativity can take. And I'm hard-pressed to think of a more creative and talented person, overall, in Hollywood. No wonder the system didn't work for him.

Troy McClure said...

me

If you're viewing the site on your phone, you need to click on "view web version" to see the video.

blinky said...

Imagine the burden of creatively peaking on your first movie. His entire career was reduced to not living up to Citizen Kane.

blinky said...

Side note: I hope one of the games today is decided by a blown call on Balls and Strikes. If it is then next year there will be automated calls, guaranteed.
To paraphrase Horton: A strike is a strike, no matter how called.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Yes. He also told us that Paul Masson "...will sell no wine before it's time."

There is also a story that he was one of the early choices to play Darth Vader in "Star Wars." (Don't know how true it is, however.)

M.B.

thirteen said...

I remember Merv Griffin saying that, just before that final appearance, Orson told him that he could ask him anything. Usually Orson ruled out personal stuff and Kane stuff, but not that night.

Sean said...

His chauffeur, "Shorty"... I just kept waiting for the punchline. But no, he was a real person. The hunchbacked, dwarven, former second story man DROVE Orson Welles around Hollywood and then was a heck of a nice guy to boot.

But this is the trouble I have always had with Orson Welles: you never know what's the setup for a punchline, what's actually real, what's charming B.S., what's tongue in cheek, what's gracious, etc. He possessed such a talent for storytelling and charm in conversation that you can't pin down the honest reports and separate them from those made up from whole cloth. The overall effect fascinates and then you can't, or at least I can't, help but distrust that very fascination.

His interview with Dick Cavett where he regales the audience with his meeting Hitler, General George Marshall and Churchill is very interesting as well.





Sean

D McEwan said...

When Orson died, they published his address in his obit. Turned out he lived ONE block north of my best friend. We never knew Orson was a neighbor, because he was just not the sort of guy ever to be seen our mowing his front lawn in a tank top.

He was a fabulous raconteur. Whether what he was saying was true, partly true, or outright fantasizing hardly matters. He was an entertainer. I can not recommend highly enough This is Orson Welles by Peter Bogdanovich and My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles by Peter Biskind. Both are full-book transcriptions of Welles in conversation, and boy oh boy, could he converse.

And anyone who thinks Welles "peaked" on Citizen Kane has clearly never seen Chimes At Midnight.

VP81955 said...

Welles was so much more than movies. His best medium may have been radio, and I don't merely mean 1938's "The War Of The Worlds." He did so many fine productions with the Mercury/Campbell Players, voiced the Shadow for a stretch, and even filled in for an ailing Jack Benny for a few weeks during World War II (Welles' comedic skills were often undervalued). And I haven't even brought up his stage work (acting, writing, producing) in the late 1930s. He was amazing; I admire the man, and still do 35 years after he left us.

That said, the skills that made Welles such a memorable Falstaff carried over into real life. He could fling the bull with the best of them, as Henry Jaglom found out when taping the man over lunch at the legendary Ma Maison. Orson adored Carole Lombard -- didn't everybody? -- and called her brighter than any director she worked with in movies. However, Welles alleged Lombard's death in a 1942 plane crash was set up by the Nazis. Forgive me for saying this, Orson, but that's something Donald Trump might claim (and was refuted in "Fireball," Robert Metzen's superb book on the tragedy). You're better than that.

Nevertheless, the Jaglom book is worth a read. Welles was nothing if not opinionated, and his comments can both make you smile and draw your ire, sometimes simultaneously. Orson's thoughts about Lombard and others he knew in the business (notably a wonderful anecdote about Noel Coward and notorious racist Adolphe Menjou) are fascinating, and I encapsulated them in two 2013 entries of my blog...

https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/610122.html
https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/621146.html

Francis Dollarhyde said...

Big Orson Welles fan here. The guy made plenty of great films after CITIZEN KANE (TOUCH OF EVIL anyone?) and he was capable of having more conventionally successful career had he fallen in with the studio system. (THE STRANGER was Welles' concession to making a more commercial product, and it's a very exciting and efficient piece of work.) But he just wanted to do his own thing...

Also, earlier this year I listened to a 7-part podcast in which Peter Bogdanovich is interviewed about his life and career. After striking up a friendship with Orson Welles, in the 1970s Bogdanovich let Welles move into the Bel Air mansion in which he was living Cybill Shepherd. Welles proceeded to take over an entire wing of the house. It almost sounds like the makings of a sitcom, a couple has to put up with a corpulent Orson Welles living with/mooching off them. (THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR but with Orson Welles rather than Will Smith as the troublesome freeloader.) One time, Bogdanovich had four quarts of ice-cream in his freezer but when he went to retrieve the ice-cream for dessert he discovered Welles had eaten almost all of it. Another time, Welles put a cigar into the pocket of his robe, not realising the cigar was still lit. His robe caught fire, Welles took it off and tried to throw it into the bathtub, but he missed and the robe set fire to the bathroom carpet.

Speaking of sitcoms, there's a great clip of Orson Welles guest-hosting THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW in 1982, in which he interviews Andy Kaufman and praises TAXI as one of the shows "that has kept television from being a criminal felony." Kaufman seems bowled over by Welles' genuine appreciation of TAXI and Kaufman's performance as Latka:

https://youtu.be/xrGlWAFy1LU

Ralph C. said...

Welles unfortunately spent a lot of his life chasing the money to keep creating in “a very expensive paint box”, the movies. I will recommend Barbara Leaming’s “Orson Welles: A Biography” to anyone wanting a well-written, well-documented and even-handed book about the man.

Andy Cowan said...

Hi Ken, I was a talent coordinator during the '80s at The Merv Griffin Show & pre-interviewed Welles eight times over those years up to this final appearance of his. It's among the anecdotes in my book, (shameless plug) Banging My Head Against the Wall: A Comedy Writer's Guide to Seeing Stars, for which you kindly offered up a blurb. As imposing as he could be, he was one of the few guests who would answer my question with: "What do you think?" As in the book, I think I'm trying not to sound intimidated talking to Orson Welles, that's what I think!"

David Simpson said...

In 1982 the BBC arts programme Arena broadcast a massive two-part interview with Orson Welles. You can see part one at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jFqW6b1hfFY and part two at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=brVah-r65pI Nearly three hours long in total.

Andrew said...

My introduction to Orson Welles, when I was a kid, was as the narrator of The Late Great Planet Earth. Not his greatest film. All I remember from it now was a woman drinking blood. I'd love to know how he became involved in that movie. Did he owe someone a favor?

gottacook said...

Orson Welles lent his voice to the trailer for Star Trek - The Motion Picture in the fall of 1979. In retrospect it was more satisfactory than the movie turned out to be, despite lacking any of Jerry Goldsmith's score.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Et7Cji7y1uY

(I saw the trailer in front of, of all things, the Golan-Globus version of Isaac Bashevis Singer's The Magician of Lublin starring Alan Arkin.)

KB said...

Today there's no way a guest would come out on a talk show and spend ten minutes doing a magic trick.

Wally said...

Welles and Paul Masson https://groovyhistory.com/orson-welles-paul-masson-drunk

Dave H said...

There also footage on youtube of Welles interviewing Andy Kaufman. Two interesting characters. Funny what you will find on youtube. Look up dick cavett interviews. He picked great guests and would put them together. He would have Janis Joplin sitting with Raquel welch and Margot Kidder and Douglas Fairbanks jr. He interviewed everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Roman Polanski to Dick Van Dyke and Carol Burnett.

D McEwan said...

"Francis Dollarhyde said...
Big Orson Welles fan here. The guy made plenty of great films after CITIZEN KANE (TOUCH OF EVIL anyone?) and he was capable of having more conventionally successful career had he fallen in with the studio system. (THE STRANGER was Welles' concession to making a more commercial product, and it's a very exciting and efficient piece of work.)"


Welles called The Stranger his "worst movie." It makes one think he never sat through Mr. Arkardin, which is just a bloody awful bore, whereas The Stranger is, as you point out, a pretty good movie. Oh, you want to strangle Loretta Young's idiot character, who won't believe her husband is a Nazi murderer unless he gasses Jewish kids in front of her, but apart from her, it's a very enjoyable movie.

It was Welles directly trying to make a Hitchcock movie, as he was very competitive with Hitch, as is clear in his book-length interviews. Clearly he was jealous that Hitch's movies' financial success left Hitch able to shoot what he felt like and not spend most of his time whoring for the cash to shoot a few more days of a movie. Plus they shared actors, like Joe Cotton, and they shared Bernard Herrmann.

But Hitch would have shot The Stranger from the point-of-view of Loretta Young's character, a Suspicion where the husband DOES turn out to be a murderer.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

Pretty sure Paramount used some of John Williams' BLACK SUNDAY score for the STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE trailer.

BTW, Orson Welles also narrated the trailer for REVENGE OF THE NERDS (!).

Francis Dollarhyde said...

It was BUGS BUNNY: SUPERSTAR (1975) that Orson Welles provided narration for. It's got good cartoons and some interesting documentary footage, but as history it's pretty slanted in favour of Bob Clampett (who only agreed to loan his archive material to the filmmakers if he got to select the cartoons featured, have final cut approval, and provide showboat hosting). The sound quality of Welles' narration is unfortunately muffled. But overall the film is well worth checking out if you're into classic animation.

mike schlesinger said...

Tiny correction: The Griffin appearance was the last thing he did, but not the last one seen. That would be an episode of "Moonlighting" that he filmed before but aired after. IIRC, they dedicated the episode to him.

D McEwan said...

"Francis Dollarhyde said...
It was BUGS BUNNY: SUPERSTAR (1975) that Orson Welles provided narration for. It's got good cartoons and some interesting documentary footage, but as history it's pretty slanted in favour of Bob Clampett (who only agreed to loan his archive material to the filmmakers if he got to select the cartoons featured, have final cut approval, and provide showboat hosting."


Bob Clampett. Daws Butler was a dear, dear friend of mine his last decade. One day I mentioned to him that my brother was interviewing for a job with Clampett. Daws's eyes narrowed and he said, "Tell your brother to watch his back." Since I had NEVER heard Daws speak ill of anyone before, I asked him, "What's wrong with Bob Clampett?"

Daws replied, "Oh he's fine, if you like pathological LIARS!" Daws then spent about half an hour telling me mind-boggling stories of Clampett's perfidy, dishonesty, and confidence scheming. You can find Stan Freberg's version of some of these stories (For Freberg was of like mind about Clampett) in Freberg's memoirs. They're unbelievable.

One Orson Welles appearance that always amuses me is his top-of-the-film and end-of-the-film cameos in the extremely hilarious movie Start the Revolution Without Me, a movie he claims, IN THE MOVIE ITSELF, that he is not in. "It's a color film, which I am not in."

Troy McClure said...

Best tweet of the week

"Kirstie Alley likes Trump as President because he's not a politician.

I understand totally, because I'll only ride in a car if the person driving it doesn't have a license and let someone operate on me if they didn't go to med school."

Peter said...

To my great shame, when I was a kid up through about age 18, I knew Welles only from Merv Griffin. Snotty little me found him pretentious and bloviating, proving how insipid youth can be. It was only in college that I first saw Citizen Kane and immediately recognized his genius. By that time, of course, I had read about the Halloween panic from War of the Worlds, so I was somewhat more attuned to his creativity. Still later, I loved his performances in The Third Man, as Othello, and as Falstaff in the Chimes at Midnight.

On the same note, I was only introduced to Truman Capote through these same afternoon variety/talk shows. Just as fatuously, I dismissed him as well. Then, around age 21 and in law school, I came across In Cold Blood in a Salvation Army thrift store. Again I was astonished--bedazzled and enraptured. And again shamed. I wish I could say those episodes taught me to withhold judgment or to refuse to judge at all. But I had to go through years of lessons like that before I somewhat came to my senses.

blinky said...

This a future forward comment to the Kirstie Alley post.
It is obvious she is loony. Who uses "shall" in a sentence any more? That sounds like a Scientology thing as in: Thou shall go forth into the world and be loony.

Dana King said...

That was delightful. Thank you.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I'm probably the only commenter who was introduced to Welles through the Mercury Theater recording of "Julius Caesar." Eleven big 78s -- I can still hear them crashing onto the turntable. (Available now on CD.) I fell in love with that voice. He played Cassius and Mark Antony AND narrated.

His best film performance IMO was Harry Lime (THE THIRD MAN). If he had taken a percentage instead of a fee, he would have been able to make movies for years without all the commercial work, etc.

OT: Ken, I just heard the Muscular Dystrophy telethon is returning next week with Kevin Hart. Not everyone is thrilled.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/10/19/protesting-muscular-dystrophy-association-telethon/

forcracks said...

It was BUGS BUNNY: SUPERSTAR (1975) for which Orson Welles provided the narration. It has some good cartoons and some interesting documentary footage, but as a story it's quite biased in favor of Bob Clampett (who only agreed to lend his footage to the filmmakers if he could select the cartoons in star, have final approval and provide a show accommodation). Unfortunately, the sound quality of Welles' narration is muffled. But overall, the movie is worth a visit if you like classic animation. crackred and forcrack