Orson Welles Week: The Book(s) of Orson

From wunderkind to auteur to pop culture curiosity, Orson Welles traveled fame’s full arc. It is a credit to his genius that, despite a marriage to Rita Heyworth and a dismal work-for-hire life that included cheap wine ads, we remember Welles primarily for his work as a director.

Today, Welles appears on the frontlists of many mega-publishers and, once again, in the glossy magazines. But the scholarly and small press world kept his rep alive during the master’s last years and following his death in 1985. That commitment continues today.

orson welles interviewsOrson Welles: Interviews, by Mark W. Estrin
University of Mississippi Press

Whatever the forum, regardless of era, Orson Welles was an interviewer’s dream. This collection features the riveting raconteur at his best in broadcast and print exchanges conducted between 1938—the year of Welles’s War of the Worlds scandal—and 1989.

Throughout, Welles fields questions on topics from filmmaking to religion to history. With his trademark frankness, he never shirks painful queries about his own long list of regrets. There’s dazzling erudition. There’s bold opinions. There’s Welles wishing he had played Don Corleone in The Godfather. Whichever Welles is your favorite, and Lord knows the man kept a great many personas going, he’s in here.

McBrideSample.inddWhatever Happened to Orson Welles?, by Joseph McBride
University Press of Kentucky

Critics and film fans alike long held up Welles as a prime example of squandered promise.

Film historian and critic Joseph McBride explodes this hoary notion with an in-depth study of Welles’s maverick career as an independent filmmaker in an era before that term became sacred to cinephiles. A Welles confidante as well as a collaborator, McBride combines biography, personal reflection, and scholarly analysis to drag Welles from shadowy myth into a truth illuminated by Klieg lights.

orson welles cigar pipeThe Cigar That Fell in Love with a Pipe, by David Camus and Nick Abadzis

Turning to our comrades-in-arms in the small press community, we come to this graphic novel of Orson Welles and the world’s most fantastic stogie. Welles lights up the final creations of Conchita Marquez, Cuba’s finest cigar roller, and embarks on a journey into love and temptation as he realizes Marquez’s spirit inhabits the last cigar in the box, and that he really wants to smoke that cigar. A possessed tobacco pipe and an angry Rita Hayworth also figure into the action. It’s all strange and charming and further proof that the always bigger-than-life Welles was destined to become a character in fiction.

orson welles walking shadowsWalking Shadows: Orson Welles, William Randolph Hearst, and Citizen Kane, by John Evangelist Walsh
University of Wisconsin Press

Welles’s first professional job in the movie director’s chair was the amusingly-titled silent comedy Too Much Johnson, a film based on a stage play of the same name. Citizen Kane was the first Welles film to find an audience or a release, not that press magnate William Randolph Hearst let either happen without a fight. Hearst, incensed that Welles had borrowed from his life in shall we say an unflattering manner, used all of his considerable power to suppress the film, and soon two massive egos were locked in mortal combat over the future of arguably the most important American movie ever made.

naremore coverThe Magic World of Orson Welles, by James Naremore
University of Illinois Press

We covered this essential Welles study yesterday.