The Memos Part IX: Dr. Bernstein to Orson Welles – ‘RKO will not renew your contract under any circumstances’
By LAWRENCE FRENCH
Details on the previews of the re-edited version of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS that were held in May are incomplete, but it appears Welles was no longer being advised on all the changes that the studio was making, even by his own manager, Jack Moss, who was working with Robert Wise in making the studio imposed changes.
May 4, 1942: A 93-minute re-cut version of AMBERSONS is previewed in Inglewood. The boarding house ending is still included in the film.
May 6, 1942: Orson Welles turns 27
May 12, 1942: A 87-minute re-cut version of AMBERSONS is previewed in Long Beach with the new "happy" ending scene shot by Freddie Fleck.
May 19, 1942: Jack Moss shoots the final re-takes for AMBERSONS.
With THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS now completely out of his control, Welles's problems in Brazil were also continuing to worsen, causing Welles former guardian, Dr. Bernstein, to write and warn him that his days at RKO appeared to be numbered. After lunching with Charlie Chaplin, Bernstein also makes the suggestion that Welles should consider joining Chaplin at United Artists.
MAURICE BERNSTEIN TO ORSON WELLES (excerpts):
May 14, 1942
You have made me happy beyond words. I felt like embracing the janitor, the garage man, the garbage collector, the whole world, except the Japs and Hitler! Today, Monday, I’m back at the office and still happy. Let the old flat smelly feet come in for treatment, what do I care about their feet—I got your call today and their feet will not smell so badly.
So you hear no more from "a certain party"? Please don't stir up the embers. When the fire dies out, it shows there was little fuel.
Charlie Chaplin, like everyone else thinks you have no appreciation of the value of money! Ever hear that before? He thinks you are a great artist, though still young in your conception of human emotion. He had much to say about KANE which he was crazy about, with only the above reservation, of emotional value. He believes in you 100%. I do wish that you could form some sort of alliance with him. You would complement each other. You need mature minds in your associations, not mere "bulk". The trouble with your associates has been that you have no respect for them. Most of them have need of you either financially or to help them climb. They therefore all flatter you, try to read your mind, and agree with you without giving you an honest opinion. All except Jack Houseman. He is the one person I am sorry you broke with.
My last letter had more truth then fiction when I said I wished I could trust the people who claim to be your friends, and look after your affairs. I know your relations with Schaefer were friendlier before you established the "new order." This is why I wish you could form an alliance with Chaplin…
There has been much talk about the "United Artist" in you, but then there is always much talk about you—some bad, but most of the time good. Today, I was at your studio and got an earful. First, that RKO is frantic about your expenses, both personal and in making the picture in South America. One million feet of color film when only 12,000 can be used. And in addition, your mixing of the blacks and whites cannot be accepted by Iowa, Missouri, not to mention all the people the other side of the Mason/Dixon line. You probably know the feeling of RKO better then I on all these things. But your doings are certainly stirring them up. I understand that JOURNEY will be released before AMBERSONS.
Charles Koerner said to Billy Wilkerson (from The Hollywood Reporter), that "you can take it from me that RKO will not renew Orson Welles's contract after the current deal under any circumstances." This was told to the Wilkerson staff for their guidance. You should therefore make plans now for the future. I wish you would take my advice and have Arnold look after things here. I know that you do not like to face reality when it comes to business, and so your affairs are generally in a muddle. I wish too that you would have a little confidence in me. I guided you in a way that I have never regretted—and you STILL need a guardian! The proof of this is that you have little to show even after all your tremendous success. You are now a man, and I am talking to you man to man. I am alarmed when I think of the mercenary people who surround you—Moss, his lawyer, and others who have sucked you dry! AMBERSONS was shown last night, May 14, to a group from the press. I was barred from the showing, but was informed afterwards. I wonder. Anyway, reports today are that everyone was most enthusiastic about it. Moss, I am told, did a masterly job of "editing" it, and really made a great picture out of it.
Did you get my birthday cable? It was all we could send—just love. So far I have not received your promised compliance with my request (for money) and I am hanging on to the last link now, so don't wait too long. It may break and I'll sink!
PS: Did you notice how much it costs me to write to you?
I have to go without my meager lunch to mail this.
On May 14, George Schaefer received a budget report on IT'S ALL TRUE indicating that $527,00 had already been spent, and an estimated $595,000 would be needed to complete the production. Schaefer, then made the decision to shut down the production, which he wired to Phil Reisman, who was once again back in Brazil. However, Schaefer did allow for the possibility of Welles continuing on, even with the shooting of FOUR MEN ON A RAFT, which Schaefer had previously told Lynn Shores to abandon. Welles apparently had convinced Reisman that he should be allowed to continue, since the production went on rehearsing and shooting in black and white until new color film stock arrived on May 29, when the filming of the Urca casino sequence could be completed.
GEORGE SCHAEFER TO PHIL REISMAN (excerpts):
May 18, 1942
After careful thought and considering all the circumstances I have decided the best thing to do is discontinue all work and arrange for Welles and troupe to return.
I would much prefer to do the best we can with film so far received and write off our loss than continue. Be assured this comes only after most careful deliberation and with full recognition of our responsibility to coordinator, but on the other hand I have responsibility to company and stockholders...
Under certain conditions I would be willing to let Welles continue, namely that he deliver to you immediately a complete story outline covering material to date and his plans from this point on including shooting for FOUR MEN ON A RAFT, delivering at same time a schedule of shooting days and permitting him to finish within a maximum cost of $30,000… Unless you satisfied he means business, you are authorized to call project off immediately.