Richard Frances's play Obediently Yours, Orson Welles was published by Oberon Books earlier this year in a volume entitled Hollywood Legends: 'Live' on stage.
Besides the Welles show, it features two additional plays, one on Marlene Dietrich, the other about James Dean, along with an introduction by Simon Callow. Dr. France has graciously given his permission for Wellesnet to post his preface to the play here. In addition, Glenn Anders has alerted us to an audio interview with Richard France you can listen to Here. It includes comments about Richard France's two books on Welles, The Theatre of Orson Welles (sadly, still out of print) and Orson Welles on Shakespeare.
INTRODUCTION TO OBEDIENTLY YOURS, ORSON WELLES
By Richard France
Orson Welles was rightfully contemptuous of academics, refusing all the honorary degrees that he was offered and heaping scorn on those of his “learned “bee-ographers” who dared to base our writings about his life and accomplishments on anything other than the charming fairy-tales that he had so skillfully crafted over the years.
Frankly, it’s hard to fault him on either count. These, after all, were the same fairy-tales that sustained him long after the “pigeons” (as he called potential investors) stopped returning his phone calls. And had he lived long enough to witness the birth of nano-technology, there can be no doubt that he, too, would have recognized it as the only known substance on the face of this earth smaller than the mind of an academic.
I was living on a small farm in southern Maine at the time, annotating the third and final play-script – the enormous crazy-quilt known as “Five Kings” -- for “Orson Welles on Shakespeare,” when I received an offer from the University of Southern California to spend a year as visiting associate professor with their (so-called) Theatre Division, now even more pretentiously known as its School of Theatre. “Stay put,” I was told, especially by the very few academics whom I respected. “That place is known on campus as USC’s own little gulag..”
I’d been eking out a living by doing voice-overs in Boston, a two-hour drive from my home. And while debt-free, there were no wind-falls awaiting me in Maine. So, the opportunity to triple my average income for a year, plus a $2500 stipend to pay for the visuals and to index the “Welles on Shakespeare” book, plus a subsidized apartment above the smog line in Laurel Canyon proved irresistible. I was also able to convince myself that since we’d be parting company in such short order, even the vilest and most insecure of my colleagues would realize that I was no threat to them. Silly me !
Some years earlier, the Asian-American company, East West Players, had produced “Station J,” my epic about the evacuation and internment of our Japanese population during World War Two. So, when I alerted my good friend, Mako that I’d be in Los Angeles, he invited me to return to East West as his dramaturg. In addition, a number of my voice-over clients in Boston apprised me of a recording studio in L.A. where, through a process known as phone-patching, we could continue working together.
Did I say triple my income? Mako introduced me to an L. A. agent, and I was soon recording promos and commercials for clients out there, as well. From the outset, it was agreed to that none of these outside activities were to interfere with my primary responsibility, which was to my students. Even so, I soon found myself in the cross-hairs of a particularly venomous assistant professor.
“I don’t see how Dr. France can continue doing everything he’s doing,” she hissed at one of our faculty meetings, prompting two of the deadest of the department’s dead-wood to bob their hollowed-out heads in agreement.
“Eventually, something has to suffer.”
“Such as?” I asked.
“We hope it won’t be your classes, Richard,” the older, and even dumber, of the two dead-woods chimed in.
My assurances that I would never allow that to happen, and it never did, seemed to put the matter at rest. Or so I imagined. In fact, the poison has only just begun to spread. When the time came, and my student evaluations far surpassed my “bitch noir,” she merely dismissed these results as “gender distinction,” and intensified her campaign to discredit me.
Early in the second semester, I was in my office, with the door open, when one of my graduate students, an acting major from South Africa, appeared, crying hysterically. “My mother!” she blurted out. “She’s dead!” All I could think of was trying to comfort her as I guided her to a chair. We sat across from each other, holding hands, as she revealed what happened. Not only was her mother’s death completely unexpected, by the time word of it reached my student it was too late for her to return to South Africa for the funeral.
The following week, I found myself in the provost’s office, charged with sexually harassing the student whom I had simply tried to comfort. Also present was my dean, the very person who had persuaded me to spend that year at USC, looking even more sanctimonious than usual. “What would you have done” I asked him, making no attempt to disguise my anger, “let her fall on the floor?” (He didn’t know it at the time but his days at USC were also numbered.)
Confronting one’s accuser is (supposedly) a corner-stone of American justice. It wasn’t my student, that I was sure of. But when I asked who then (as if I couldn’t guess), I was denied that information on the grounds that I might also get it into my head to harass my accuser. And given my angry reaction to the disgusting charges I was facing, both my dean and the provost considered this a real possibility.