ORSON WELLES'S VOICE
Jake Hannaford was a vagabond.
He worked for Hollywood but he
took his cameras around the world...
When he didn't find himself in
the tropical jungles, the icy
tundra's, or a country where
it was hunting season, the place
where he felt most “at home”
was in Spain... He died
last summer on his birthday,
July second -- It's much too early
to guess what history will decide
Most of Hannaford's admirers are
certain he did not intend to drive
his car off that bridge.
"A corny ending" they say, "J.J.
Hannaford would never be guilty
There are other opinions...
---From the opening narration of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND
July 2, 1961 was the day Ernest Hemingway put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. Orson Welles modeled much of the director Jake Hannaford on Hemingway, to the point of having him die on the tenth anniversary of Hemingway's suicide, which is also Jake's Birthday. John Huston who played Jake Hannaford, talks about both Welles and Hemingway in these fascinating excerpts from a 1981 interview in Rolling Stone by Peter S. Greenberg:
PETER S. GREENBERG: There are those in the movie business who look on Orson Welles as one of the great wasted talents. Why is that?
JOHN HUSTON: Well, it’s a combination of things. In the first place, he offended the establishment in two ways. He started off with Citizen Kane—which was conceived to be an insult to William Randolph Hearst. The industry was indebted to Hearst, and out of some extremely false sense of loyalty, mixed in with their own gains to be had materially, they went about detracting Orson, even while he was making it and immediately after it. And then Orson had the arrogance and downright insolence to have made the movie a great success. It was enormously popular. Right off the bat, in other words, he violated two cardinal rules. First, you’re not supposed to go against the establishment. And if you do go against the establishment, you're supposed to suffer.
I remember the trade papers, after the opening of Citizen Kane. Orson simply ran a recapitulation of the things that had been said against him, against the picture and so on. So he really made them eat dirt, as they damn well should have. Then he made a very serious error as a poker player, which he is not. He was down in South America to do a picture and he got caught up in the gala festival in Rio, the carnival. And I forget how much film he shot, but it was a lot. And in the middle of it, they told him to come home. He didn't. He stayed down there and shot and shot until they wouldn't send him any more negative. This gave him a reputation for irresponsibility. When he did finally come back, he was again in deep disgrace. What happened is quite understandable to me, because Orson is an artist. He was acting in the service of history. But the studio couldn't have been less interested in history…
Q: Or Art.
JOHN HUSTON: Or art. Either one. They wouldn't have sent a second unit out to see Washington cross the Delaware. Orson is not a man who can bow down to idiots. And Hollywood is full of them. Orson has a big ego. But I've always found him to be completely logical. And I think he's a joy. I also look on Orson as an amateur. I mean that in the very best sense of the word. He loves pictures and plays and all things theatrical, but there is something else that needs accounting for. So many of his things go unfinished. I don't know why. That is one question I can't answer. Even the one that we did together, The Other Side of the Wind. I haven't seen a foot of it myself, and I don't know why it hasn't been released. Now there's always a reason. But it's happened too often with Orson for it to be entirely accidental.
Q: Do you think he might have been afraid of failure after Citizen Kane?
JOHN HUSTON: No.
Q: Or perhaps he was afraid of success again?
JOHN HUSTON: I don’t know. I’m sure Orson doesn't. He'd be the last to know. If he knew he'd try and do something about it.
Q: Welles based Jake Hannaford, the character you play on Ernest Hemingway and you were friends with Hemingway and spent time with him in Cuba. Were you surprised when he put a gun to his head and shot himself?
JOHN HUSTON: No, I wasn’t. It was exactly what I would have expected him to do under the circumstances. And I say that with profound admiration for both him and the act.
JOHN HUSTON: Oh, yes. He was on his way out mentally, and he had tried once before. He was very canny about it. He had these flashes of sanity. Once they were taking him to the Mayo Clinic on a chartered plane and he tried to jump out of the plane. They subdued him. Then he talked his way out of Mayo and got home. And if you saw the pictures of him near the end, you could see it in his face. The smiling one—the flesh was gone—that was somebody else.
Q: You say "with profound admiration for the act under those circumstances." Do you think you would consider doing something like that?
JOHN HUSTON: I wouldn’t dream of doing anything else. If I didn't, it would be out of cowardice and nothing else. I mean Hemingway wouldn’t have done it had it been cancer. But he was on his way to imbecility. That is a hell of a thing to have around. I’m intrigued by the way suicide is approached by different cultures. In some places it’s the thing to do. But the bourgeois of the United States legislates against it. In this society, death is a kind of a shameful thing and is to be concealed even after the spirit has left.
Q: Have you ever been at a point in your life when you’ve contemplated suicide?
JOHN HUSTON: Only theoretically.
Q: Then you talked yourself out of it?
JOHN HUSTON: I don’t mean that I came that close to it. No, I wonder if I would if…
Q: If what?
JOHN HUSTON: Well, if I had a flash like Hemingway, for instance. Because I like to live. But in a situation like Hemingway’s, I hope I would pull the trigger. I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t.
Q: Hemingway’s writing was difficult to translate into film, wasn’t it?
JOHN HUSTON: Yes. Stories didn't come easily with him. Incidents did. And he had a wonderful way of being able to bring an incident to life. He was more of a short-story writer. He didn't conceive novels in the grand sense, but in significant detail—not just factual, but details that reflect an attitude. I think some of his best writing was in Death in the Afternoon. Sometimes he’s marvelously funny in it. The old lady, if you remember, and some of those little short stories were departures and vignettes. Do you remember the Italian surgeon who came with the wounded and wanted to give more food to the soldiers? Well, Hemingway had to have witnessed some of that.
Q: You were influenced by Hemingway’s work?
JOHN HUSTON: Well, like all young men of that time, I was certainly influenced by his writing. It hit me right when I was trying to write. And I had one or two other rather huge literary experiences, the biggest being James Joyce. And then along came Hemingway, who was circuitously a product of Joyce's, too. I don't think Hemingway would have been exactly what he was if Joyce had never written, which doesn't take anything away from Hemingway, God knows. I was very influenced by his writing and by his thinking. I think he was perhaps a more important influence, just in his thinking. His values, his reassessment of the things that make life go, were probably more important than his writing. Although at times he wrote very well, magnificently.
In this brilliant script excerpt from The Other Side of the Wind, Brooks Otterlake who is writing a book on Jake Hannaford's career, recalls the suicide of both Jake's father and his grandfather, the great Irish Shakespearian actor, Junius Hannaford:
(to Juliette Riche)
Tonight is for the freaks and snoops,
lady – If you’ll excuse us, please...
Why don’t you go in and see the movie,
lady – like every body else?
They wait for her to go. She does.
“And like the baseless fabric of this
vision, shall dissolve...”
Did you know they had dissolves
in Shakespeare? (playing it up
a little for the benefit of the camera)
Sure he does: he knows everything in
Shakespeare: “The Hannaford family curse -”
And he knows everything about the
Hannafords... that’s MY curse...
We all know about old Grandad, Junius
the first – “The great Irish tragedian
in the tinseled toga -”
The Shakespeare comes from him, all right.
Handed down, with a few other things –
“Booze and the Bard” – Right? As for
the booze part of it – Well, if he hasn’t
quite made it as a rummy – nobody can say
he hasn’t tried!
I’m seeing little pink directors at this
But Junius – Ah, “there was a most
distinguished souse”...Another line of yours.
That’s what’s so nice about Brooksie –
I don’t have to repeat myself, he
does it for me...
(continuing to quote)
“...A noble Roma shanty Irishman;
Sure, even when he cut his wrists and
killed himself...” (looking around)
We’ve lost our camera haven’t we?
You’re losing me.
“Like Seneca, old Junius bled to death
in a bathtub – one of the few times he ever
sat in one. But Junius JUNIOR -” (that’s
YOUR daddy) “he even made it into High
Society – a pioneer among the micks,
blazing the trail for the Kellys and the
Kennedys... Piss elegant. He chose the
A human tape-recorder
That’s me, Skipper.
I didn’t know you had the chandelier.
I’ve got everything. In the old Hollywood
Hotel it was... They found him, one Sunday
morning, hanging from it. After which you had
to go to work for a living... As a prop man
Yeah... you got it all.
I’m the authority.
Is there – behind the complacency of that statement – an overtone of old affection still remaining? If so, it rings a little false in JAKES’S ears... Somehow his young friend has staked out a claim of OWNERSHIP...
So... what do we do next?
We never know now, do we?
JAKE is in a sort of reverie... This has commenced earlier and comes from thoughts far removed from family anecdotes...
CHARLES HIGGAM: Mr. Hannaford, in the body of your film work, how significantly would you relate to the trauma of your father's suicide?