Curmudgeon, genius - take your choice. Whichever, Orson Welles was a fascinating conversationalist, opinionated on almost every subject - rude, funny, shocking, illuminating. He was never at a loss for words and thank goodness many of them were kept on tape. The tapes contain conversations between Welles and his friend, director Henry Jaglom. Hidden for a number of years the tapes hold conversations held almost weekly between the two men at the upscale Hollywood restaurant Ma Maison. Not to worry - even though Welles knew his words were being taped he didn’t hold back a syllable as he revealed his wit, intelligence, bitterness and anger. He has a word for the famous he hated and those he loved who let him down, and all the while his words sparkle.
Welles speaks of the men he hated (Spencer Tracy because he was Irish; Woody Allen because he used his films as therapy.) He doesn’t overlook the women he bedded, dated or his opinion of their acting ability. (He dated Lena Horne and when Hedda Hopper told him to stop Welles told her “to go boil her head.” He thought Joan Fontaine a bad actor - “she’s got four readings and two expressions, and that’s it.”)
Once revered for his talent (1941's “Citizen Kane), by 1980 he could not find work. His words are a reminder of how Hollywood idolizes you when your star is in the ascendency, forgets you when you’re down. They’re also a reminder of just how rare an individual he was, whose talent astounds and whose breadth of knowledge amazes.
Reading these conversations is very much like sitting at table with the man himself. So enjoy!
- Gail Cooke