Letters from ORSON WELLES
Thanks to Sir Bygber Brown for posting the letters Orson Welles wrote that are currently for sale at www.abebooks.com
You can visit the site to see more details about buying the letters, but since they are selling for $2,000 and up, I don't imagine many people can afford them! However, because they are all quite interesting, I thought I'd post some excerpts from them below.
Several of the letters are written to Leonard Lyons, an early champion of Orson Welles, whose career as a journalist was nearly wrecked by William Randolph Hearst in 1941 - (see the Time Magazine article, below). After being blackballed by Mr. Hearst, Lyons became the entertainment writer for The New York Post (pre-Rupert Murdoch, of course) and Welles became his good friend, writing frequent letters to him, giving him inside information, in hopes of getting news about his projects before American producers and readers.
In this first letter (circa 1960), Welles talks about his plan to follow bullfighters in Spain, especially Antonio Ordonez, the great matador and friend of Welles, whose farm outside Ronda is where Welles ashes were eventually interred. Ordonez also provided the germ for the idea that became Welles's script for The Sacred Beasts. That screenplay, in turn, morphed into The Other Side of The Wind. In this letter, Welles also mentions a play he's written, Brittle Glory, which I've never heard any mention of. Could it still exist somewhere among Welles's many papers?
Here’s our news: Paola, Beatrice and Rebecca are in the Austrian Alps. As soon as I’m done with this dreadful picture (probably THE TARTARS), we’re joining up for a few weeks in Spain. We’ll be following Ordonez (the bull fighter), which means the south for the first ten days of September. I was in Valencia for the feria and for a few more of Antonio’s dates after that. After Spain--? Probably London. Somebody sent me a really good play from America called “The Guide” and I expect to be producing it in London either before or just after the pantomime season. Also, there’s a play of my own called “Brittle Glory.” If I can cast it right, I’ll be doing that, too. For the past few months I’ve been in a light but lingering sulk over your repeated references to Olivier’s “Rhinoceros.” (no mention of your obedient servant.) Well, now you can fix all that: (Leo) Kerz has offered me the job of directing his N.Y. production (which eventually featured Zero Mostel, Eli Wallach and Morris Carnovsky and was directed by Joseph Anthony), and in mentioning that I’ve turned it down you can right a great wrong, and finally associate me with this play!
Much love to all of you always,
Welles was understandable upset that he wasn't given much credit for directing Eugene Ionesco's RHINOCEROS. But check out the program for Orson Welles' staging of the production of RHINOCEROS when it moved to the Strand Theater, London, after opening at the Royal Court Theater:
The cast list alone is astonishing. Besides Sir Laurence Oliver, Welles directed Maggie Smith - later to appear in Oliver's version of OTHELLO, along with a host of interesting British actors, who would later become well know in hit films, such as Michael Gough (BATMAN, DRACULA), Miles Malleson (Michael Powell's THE THIEF OF BAGDAD and Terence Fisher's THE BRIDES OF DRACULA), Michael Bates (Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE), Peter Sallis (TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA), etc, etc. And strangely enough, notice how many actors in the Orson Welles production of RHINOCEROS also appeared in DRACULA movies! They include Lord Olivier (Van Helsing), Michael Gough (Arthur Holmwood), Miles Malleson, Peter Sallis and of course, Welles himself in his own famous Mercury Theater on the air radio production. Plus, Christopher Lee, who Welles directed in MOBY DICK, had a flat on Cadogan Square, only a few minutes away from The Royal Court Theater (as did Boris Karloff, who lived next door to Christopher Lee on Cadogan Square, and would soon play a vampire for the first time in Mario Bava's BLACK SABBATH!)
Now, here is why Orson Welles was such a good friend to Leonard Lyons. In those dark days of 1941, when the negative of CITIZEN KANE might easily have burned up in a bonfire, like the witches at Salem, Mr. Lyons stood up against the mighty Hearst machine and basically told them to "Go Fuck yourself," after the Hearst-owned King syndicate decided to cancel a rich deal Lyons had just signed with them.
From TIME MAGAZINE - June 30, 1941
Hearst's King Features Syndicate was hard at work on a glowing ad for Leonard Lyons, whose column it had sold to 25 papers (circulation: 4,000,000). The ad: 1) an ebullient article on Lyons by William Saroyan ("one of the few columns of our time which has both form and style"); 2) a letter from New York University's English Department saying that Lyons' column is recommended reading in the Advanced Writing Class; 3) a statement by Carl Sandburg (via Saroyan): "Imagine how much richer American history would have been, had there been a Leonard Lyons in Lincoln's time"; 4) the assertion that Lyons has "500 newsbeats a year."
But the fine promotion was never sent out, and last week Columnist Lyons switched syndicates from King Features to McNaught. The trouble originated with Publisher Hearst, summering in northern California. He was getting madder & madder at Lyons. Lyons had made friendly mention no less than 41 times since Jan. 1 of Orson Welles, producer of the movie Citizen Kane, allegedly based on Hearst's strange career. That was tactless at least of Columnist Lyons.
Hearst wired King Features to cut Lyons' column out of all Hearst papers. But only the Boston American and the San Francisco Examiner had carried it.
Thereupon Hearst wired harsh words to King Features. Lyons availed himself of a 60-day cancellation clause, signed with McNaught Syndicate. The change did not dampen his cheerful animation. McNaught Syndicate's Charles McAdam (a Lyons booster from way back) was confident he could add a lot more Lyons customers.
Self-styled ''news columnist," 34-year-old, long-nosed Leonard Lyons is in a class by himself. A teetotaler, he probably works harder, more soberly and methodically than any gossip columnist living. Until his start in columning (1934), he swears he had never been in a nightclub. Now, six nights a week, he goes to 14 Manhattan nightspots. Methodically he leaves home at 11, returns like clockwork at 4:30 to write his column, always makes his 7 a.m. deadline. Punctually at 3 p.m. he goes to his office, where he is available to tipsters until seven.
No less methodically he went into columning by design, not accident. He asked editors how to do it. They told him to start on some small-town paper, work his way into Manhattan. Instead he deluged other Manhattan columnists with his contributions. The New York Post hired him full time.
Proud of having been sued only once—by a vaudeville actor who died of acute alcoholism while suing Lyons for calling him a heavy drinker—Lyons admits getting about 60% of his gossip from nightclubs, the rest from outside sources. Considering the number of non-Broadway anecdotes in his column, the nightclub percentage seems high. But Columnist Lyons points out that a lot of people stop at nightclubs: he met Mrs. Roosevelt in one, Alfred Landon in another, Soviet Ambassador Oumansky in the Stork Club.
Here's another letter Welles wrote to Leonard Lyons, telling him that he expected to finish Don Quixote in the summer of 1967!
November 8, 1966
CHIMES has been absolutely sensational. This in sharp contrast to the very negative approach in America – that is, with one shining exception! That was a marvelous fanfare of trumpets and much appreciated, believe me. I think I told you about finishing DON QUIXOTE this summer. I’m also producing 'THE SURVIVORS by Irwin Shaw and Peter Viertel. You may remember this play some years ago in New York. Brooks Atkinson liked it better than STREETCAR, but he was alone, and the all-star cast were all playing the wrong parts, so it wasn’t a hit – this time we're going to try to make it one. I'm acting but not directing – this is one of the series of features I’m going to produce with my Spanish associates during the next couple of years.
I was supposed to be in Paris for the opening of (Chimes At Midnight), of course. I had a good hope of being able to make it, but bad weather here in Spain kept me shooting exactly a day longer than expected, which meant an arrival in France the morning after. I’ve just finished something called THE IMMORTAL STORY with Jeanne Moreau (my script and my direction) and am commuting to Paris pretty much on a weekly basis to take care of the cutting, dubbing, and mixing.
Here's a letter Welles wrote to the novelist Carl Carmer, who had written to Welles in 1936, before Welles was world famous, asking him for an interview, thinking he was related to a figure in 19th Century publishing named Samuel R. Wells. Welles writes back explaining to Carmer that he's not the man he's looking for, but adds a bit of colorful history about his own Surname:
319 W. 14th Street
New York, NY
December 8, 1936
George Orson is a whimsey of my mothers and a compliment to a couple of old bachelors named George Ade and Orson Wells. This last named is no relation - and (he) might know more than I about your nineteenth century publishing firm. I warn you though, he’s an eccentric and might tell you anything. Thinks I borrowed five dollars from him, and since my last social encounter with the gentleman was at the Christening ceremony, when all I should think I must have needed was a shot from the bottle and a quick rubdown, I can’t say I remember the transaction. Anyway I’m not giving him his five dollars, and if you won't mention my name you can reach him at the Chicago Athletic Club - (according to those that want to). The point is, I have that which Samuel R. - and Godfather Orson lack - a little "e" after the first two "Ls". It’s a pity, too. I should have loved an interview with the author of "Stars Fall On Alabama" and "Listen for a Lonesome Drum."
I am – regretably –