Charles Higham interview on “The Films of Orson Welles”
Heres an interview with that self-proclaimed scholarly author, poet and noted authority on the work of Orson Welles, Mr. Charles Higham. It was published in The New York Times on September 19, 1970 as a rebuttal to Peter Bogdanovichs own article in The Times, Is It True What They Say about Orson? (see Wellesnet November 12th entry), which claimed that the scholarly work Higham did in his first book on Orson Welles was not all that scholarly.
As is made plain by Mr. Higham in his rebuttal, it looks like Mr. Bogdanovichs attack on Highams scholarly book may have indeed been motivated by the need to advertise his own forthcoming interview book with Orson Welles. Because as we now all know, This Is Orson Welles would need some advance publicity, since it was going to be published very soonin fact in 1992only a scant 22 years from the date of Mr. Bogdanovich's article attempting to generate some advance publicity for his book.
AND NOWTHE WAR OF THE WELLES
Q: Why, in your opinion, Mr. Higham, did Peter Bogdanovich attack your book, "The Films of Orson Welles," in The Times Art and Leisure Section of Aug. 30th as "a collection of half-truths, misrepresentations, mythical anecdotes, factual lapses, and conclusion based on false information?
MR. HIGGHAM: Simply, sir in order to advertise that Mr. Bogdanovichs forthcoming, and long delayed book on, with, and frequently recast by the same subject will be, by contrast, a collection of whole truths; correct representations, true anecdotes, factual accuracies, and conclusions based on the only true source of information, namely Orson Welles.
Q: Dirty pool?
MR. HIGGHAM: Quite so. But let us not embarrass ourselves by pursuing the tactics of competitive authors any further. We want the reading public to have a few illusions left!
Q. Why didn't you, as Mr. Bogdanovich accusingly says, either see Mr. Welles, or answer Mr. Welles request to read the book?
MR. HIGGHAM: For the very good reason that Mr. Welles refused all interviews and that Mr. Welles made no such request! Due to Mr. Bogdanovichs share-of-the-profit agreement with Mr. Welles, which invalidates his own book as a work of objective scholarship since the object of that scholarship is a partner in that endeavor, all other interviews were forbidden. When I appeared on Welles TV magic show set at the converted Los Angela County Museum Theater to interview Welles in person, Mr. Bogdanovich personally had meand the author of another Welles book, Howard Suber, of the UCLA Theater Arts Departmentremoved from it in a most humiliating fashion.
Q. Why did you rely on all those technicians and players? You know, obscure and unreliable people like Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Jeanne Moreau, Robert Wise and 68 others who worked with Welles?
MR. HIGGHAM: Because, unlike Mr. Bogdanovich, I did not despise them as unreliable. I still believe their accounts to be correct. When cutter Mark Robson says Welles ran out on The Magnificent Ambersons, when cameraman Stanley Cortez says, Welles did not return from the carnival in Rio to make post-preview changes, when cameraman Russell Metty says he offered financial helpers for Its All True, but Welles failed to turn up for a potential backers screening, when cutter Louis Lindsay years ago told me of Welles's impatient abandonment of much of the work on "Macbeth," when cutters Viola Lawrence ("The Lady From Shanghai") and Aaron Stell and Virgil Vogel ("Touch of Evil") provide similar information, Mr. Bogdanovich is saying, in effect, theyre all lying. Highams tapes are frauds. Only Welles is right.
Listen to Welles devotees like Norman Foster, removed from his superb "My Friend Bonita at 24 hours notice due to Welless impatience, or Floyd Crosby ("Welles may be a genius but he ran hit pictures like a nut) and you see not the reliable figure Mr. Bogdanovich presents, but a, yes, tragically destructive genius. And they supplied many of the facts Mr. Bogdanovich complains of.
Q: And what news sources did you use that he is so critical of? How could you rely on such feverish "fantasies as the death of Jacarea national hero of Brazilduring a fight between an octopus and a shark on the location of "It's All True"?
MR. HIGGHAM: Bless my soul! The majority of the sources were none other than the pages of The New York Times itself! The octopus-shark fight in fact made a very good paragraph in The Times. It was also reported in Time and in countless other papers north and south of Panama. The only one Mr. Bogdanovich can quote in opposition is Richard Wilson, who wasnt present, by his own admission, and obtained depositions from others. According to Wilson, Welles was around, waiting for the great Jacare to return from the sea. Bogdanovich says Welles was not there. Take your pick. I prefer The New York Times to Wilsonor Wellesany time.
Q. Why do you say Mr. Welles over-ran his budget on "The Lady From Shanghai"?
MR. HIGGHAM: Here we have Mr. Bogdanovich disagreeing with Mr. Welles himself! The reason I said so, is that Mr. Welles said so, in an interview with Hedda Hopper in her syndicated column for July 27, 1947.
Q. You insist that Welles has left pictures unfinishedthat he fears completion?
MR. HIGGHAM: Oh, yes! Don Quixote is unfinished after 15 years. Mr. Bogdanovich calls it a work-in-progress! Welles never finished a Mexican work, "My Friend Bonita, either. When I asked Jeanne Moreau about Welless other unfinished film, "The Deep," she said, he fears completion. Years ago he promised to send me air tickets to come from Paris to Rome to dub it. He never did. He's obviously scared to let it out. I still haven't done the track!" Welles has admitted his hatred of finishing movies, of seeing the finished work on the screen, in countless interviews. He even hid his face on the Dick Cavett show when they showed a scene from one of them. He told Derick Grigs in Sight and Sound ten years ago he couldn't face up to seeing any of his movies now because there was so much he wanted to change.
Q. Your contention is that fear of completion destroyed his career. Plus extravagance. At least, Mr. Bogdanovich claims thats what you're saying, and that you're ruining by your well-meant remarks Mr. Welles's chances of financing a new picture.
MR. HIGGHAM: Nonsense! He is currently shooting a picture in California and Utah with Mr. Bogdanovich among the cast members. Why bother to talk about Mr. Welless extravagance again? He wouldn't have had to cut comers on so many of his pictures if he hadn't lived so lavishly all the time! Think of that Beverly Hills Hotel cottage (rents from $85 to $135 a night) he recently leased while trying to raise finance for a low budget picture! And all those Bistro (Los Angeles) dinners with Mr. Bogdanovich himself. But why get personal? Extravagance is a delightful feature of Mr. Welles character as a genius, together with his immense girth and enchanting sense of humor.
As to his fear of completion, the account of that in my book is not what really scares people off. Neither wicked old RKO bosses nor wicked young Charles Higham have anything to do with the reluctance of people for more than 27 years to invest in Orson Welles. Their reluctance has to do with the unhappy fact that nearly all his pictures have failed to reap satisfactory rewards at the box office. That fact, in addition to stories of unreliability, combined long before my book appeared to damage his career here and elsewhere. Do you think, sir that potential movie backers prefer to read balance sheets or the works of scholarly authors? Or that anyone cares whether a financial successful director like David Lean is extravagant with time and money?
Q. Just one more thing. Why, Mr. Higham, did you write the book?
MR. HIGGHAM: To restore Mr. Welles' dwindling reputation as a director, and a great artist. Need I say more?