Orson Welles’ Almanac: The Battle of Stalingrad
In retrospect, one of the amazing things about Orson Welles' Almanac, was the historic times in which they were written. World War II was still being waged, and although by early 1945 things were looking much better for the Allies, it was still far from certain if the war would actually come to an end.
At the same time, no other war has ever come close to providing Hollywood with such a wealth of material, in terms of heroic stories, action packed events, and sheer cinematic possibilities. Reading Welles columns from this vital time, when WW II was still an ongoing battle, provide many possibilities for adaption. Welles's column below, about the secret plans for building Stalingrad into a "fortress city," (which Welles claims were altered after Hitler's speech at Nuremberg, so famously filmed by Leni Riefenstahl in Triumph of the Will), would seem to be a story ripe for adaptation to the screen. Certainly one just as good as Jean-Jacques Annaud's, Enemy at the Gates, with Jude Law, could be made from from this column.
ORSON WELLES’ ALMANAC
By Orson Welles – January 31, 1945
January 31, eleven years ago, we went off the gold standard. Franz Schubert was born 148 years ago, and Talullah Bankhead was born not so many years ago today.
Some of the smart money is saying that the coming meeting between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin isn't going to solve any serious differences of opinion or move the world any closer to a decent or durable peace. But the smart money told us once that Britain wouldn't hold, and Britain held. The smart money told us again that the Germans would get to Moscow in six weeks, but now it looks as though the Russians might get to Berlin in six days. The smart money, it turns out, its betting on the wrong century.
I visited our State Department the other day—that former citadel of cynicism—and there they told me that hopes were high for this next meeting and they looked like they meant it.
They meant it at the British Embassy, too, where they told me the same things, and they meant it at the Soviet Embassy where they told me the same thing again. There's no reason for despair, they all said; there's every reason for hope.
It's too late for any nation to give up because it's made a mistake, or sit down and sulk because another nation is doing something it doesn't like. The next meeting won't solve all the puzzles of international politics, but its purpose is great and at least three great men that I know of are going to try to realize that purpose.
Here's an important story of the war. It's our good luck to be able to put it in print for the first time.
Back in 1935 it was decided to build a city where no city had been before. The plans were put before the man for whom the city was to be named. Stalin was looking at these plans while Hitler was making his Nuremberg speech. You'll remember that was quite a speech. We now have proof that it made a considerable impression on the Soviet leader. Because of it he changed the plans for the city.
These new plans called for the building of a colossal rat trap—a huge city with a standard civilian facade, but concealing tremendous armaments; they were rushed to completion. Buildings were reinforced with extra steel and concrete, they were bedded on solid rock and equipped to house anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. Staid looking factories and respectable department stores had slots in their walls walls for long range artillery, and for mortars and rifles. The bridges and bridge approaches along the Volga were equipped with mining devices. Parks and playgroups in the suburbs were made into death traps for an unwary enemy whose identity, even in 1935 Russians knew well.
But all was purposely made peaceful looking, enticing to an unsuspecting attacker.
That's how the plans were changed and the city was built. No one outside of Russia knew about it—least of all Hitler. Hitler attacked, the city held, and the tide of the war changed.
Baby Care Department: If the baby cries during the night, see to it that the child is changed. If your wife refuses to do this, take a sleeping tablet.