Joseph McBride’s new book explodes a myth: IT’S ALL TRUE was under budget
Joseph McBride's new book on Orson Welles features two chapters on the saga of the making, and unmaking of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. It's the most comprehensive coverage of this unfinished Welles masterpiece that has yet been seen.
In the book Mr. McBride also goes into some detail about the early problems Welles encountered when he went to Brazil to film IT'S ALL TRUE. Among the astounding revelations are a "smoking gun" phone call between RKO vice-president Reginald Amour and Phil Reisman, where it's plainly clear that Welles had not gone over budget on IT'S ALL TRUE, but was actually about $500,000. under the 1.2 million budget that RKO had allotted for the film.
Here are some of the factual memos from the RKO files that speak for themselves:
George Schaefer was under intense pressure from RKOs board in New York to cut the studio's mounting losses, so he wrote a heartfelt letter to Welles, noting how he had stood by him during the Hearst and industry efforts to suppress CITIZEN KANE. Now, with his own job on the line, George Schaefer asks Welles for a bit of cooperation and gratitude. To deliver his letter, he personally sent RKO executive Phil Reisman to Rio, who also had instructions to bring IT'S ALL TRUE to a quick conclusion, even if it meant shutting the production down. A few days before Reisman left for Rio, RKO Vice-President Reginald Armour called him in New York to discuss the situation.
REGINALD ARMOUR & PHIL REISMAN (Transcript of phone call):
April 27, 1942
REGINALD ARMOUR: Youre elected for Rio, brother.
PHIL REISMAN: ...I want to find out from the legal department about Welless contractwhat rights he has... Do you have the breakdown of the actual cost to datewhat the Mexican part of the picture (My Friend Bonito) has cost to date? Has there been any budget set?
REGINALD ARMOUR: Noit will be about $1.2 million altogetherbut we dont want to talk to him about thatwe dont want him to know.
PHIL REISMAN: Someone must have told himbecause when I was down there he was telling everyone the picture would cost a million dollars. Its going to be a documentary filmand well never get it back. George is sending me down there with the right to shut the God damn thing off if I want toand bring him home and take the loss right now.
With RKOs board about to take drastic action, Schaefer gives Welles the hard facts in his letter, making it clear he wants Welles to finish work on the film and sent the crew home.
GEORGE SCHAEFER TO ORSON WELLES (excerpt):
April 29, 1942
Let me remind you, you are making a picture for our company and are not down in South America as a representative of the Government or as an Ambassador of Goodwill. That, while secondary, is something you naturally were supposed to do and it expected from any good American
I am now again put into the painful position where I have to write you a letter which I never, in Gods world, thought I would have to write wherein I am begging you to fulfill in an honorable way your obligations and not put such a terrific load on my shoulders
I made my decision to stand by you and I saw it through. I have never asked anything in return but in common decency I should expect that I would at least have your loyalty and gratitude. To the extent I have received it with respect to the Brazilian enterprise up to the present time, I would say it has been merely lip service.
it would be painful to share with you the closing of the show and your instructions to return
While not telling Welles he was pulling the plug on "The Four Men on a Raft" episode, Schaefer made that sentiment quite clear to production manager, Lynn Shores.
GEORGE SCHAEFER TO LYNN SHORES:
May 2, 1942
ABANDON 'FOUR MEN ON RAFT' FILM. CONTINUE TO COMPLETION CARNIVAL. MAKE NO COMMITMENTS. REISMAN COMING TO ACT FOR COMPANY.
############################# After Phil Reisman had arrived in Brazil with orders from George Schaefer to either wrap up or shut down the picture, Schaefer sent Reisman a letter that still left the door open for Welles to finish work on FOUR MEN IN A RAFT.
GEORGE SCHAEFER TO PHIL REISMAN (excerpt):
May 18, 1942
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 IN RAFT, delivering at same time a schedule of shooting days permitting him to finish within maximum cost of $30,000 I would much prefer to write off our loss than continue Unless you satisfied he means business, you are authorized to call project off immediately. ###############################
On May 19th the tragic drowning of Jacare, the leader of the Jangadieros occurred in Rio harbor, which cast a further pall over the already chaotic production. A report on his death appeared a few weeks later in Time magazine and appears to have been the source for Charles Highams distorted account of the incident in his 1970 book, The Films of Orson Welles.
TIME MAGAZINE - June 8, 1942
A Report on the death of Jacare
Workers mourned a decomposing head and two half-devoured armsthe dubious remains of a national hero. Manoel Olimpio Meira, called "Jacare" (Alligator) after his natal village, became the modern hero of Brazil's jangadeiros, half-starved "sharecropping" fishermen, last autumn when he and three mates sailed their flimsy jangada (sailing raft) Sao Pedro on a 61-day, 1,650-mile trip to Rio de Janeiro to tell President Vargas the fishermen's troubles. From Getulio Vargas they won full union rightsand pensions. Their story so kindled Cinema Director Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) that he flew Jacare and his mates to Rio again, to enact their feat for his camera. Jacare took to his new task with simple dignity. He had always idolized a legendary jangadeiro called "Dragon of the Seas" who kidnapped slaves, hid them safely from posses in the hinterland. If the Dragon could free slaves from slavery, figured Jacare, he could free the jangadeiros from exploitation. And the film's publicity would help. Last fortnight, the luck ran out. During the filming of a shark-octopus battle, Jacare was spilled from the tricky jangada. Though he managed to swim away, he was caught in a treacherous current and, like his fisher-father before him, swallowed by the sea.
But last week, when a 440-lb. shark caught off Barra da Tijuca was opened, there rolled out a human head, two human arms. Jacare's own comrades, examining the teeth, were doubtful it was Jacare, though expert criminologists, judging from the skull formation and skin color, were sure it was from Jacare's region. In any case, it was another poor jangadeiro. Deeply moved, Orson Welles revised his script, now dedicated throughout to "An American Hero." Inspired by Jacare's feat, four messenger boys of the Telegrafo Nacional planned to walk the same distance from Fortaleza to Rio to ask President Vargas for a better wage. But what would have pleased Jacare most was that the first pension won for the jangadeiros by his efforts goes to his wife and nine children.
This letter from a Brazilian citizen was written to Welles shortly after the death of Jacare.
ANTONIO FERRARA TO ORSON WELLES (excerpt):
May 23, 1942
I am one of those who does not believe in inexorable destiny, in place of clearest and most evident facts. That is a false way of looking at things. I believe in the destiny of man established by man himself. Anything can happen in this life, and therefore I am not astounded when plans are altered and lamentable things occur. Jacare outlined his own destiny of struggle and sacrifice against exploitation and misery. Your perfect comprehension of the drama of the fishermen of the north, as published in The Globe with reference to Jacare, impressed me sufficiently and sincerely enough to result in this letter. I thought the idea of a film with Jacare as the principal figure wonderful, since the fishermen of the north have terrible and crude necessities, and "Citizen Kane" can demonstrate in a film whatever they want all to know. Those traitors and hypocrites of the axis do not by any means represent the opinion of the Brazilian. We all feel terrible over the loss of Jacare, but we feel proud in seeing that the Brazilian race has magnificent expressions of grandeur and sacrifice, even among it's humblest sons. Hoping this letter has nothing which can merit dislike of a jangadiero.
As George Schaefer's position as head of RKO (as well as Welles chief supporter) became extremely precarious, Herbert Drake, the press representative for Mercury productions, sent this plan to Welles for the Mercury's ongoing public relations efforts to combat the negative attacks that were appearing in the trade press. Most of these reports, were coming, incredibly enough, from RKO's own soon to be head of production, Charles Koerner.
HERBERT DRAKE TO ORSON WELLES (excerpt):
June 1, 1942
You have got to come home right away - hugely - and not sneak in on a plane. You must return with trumpets and banners because the campaign really needs a good hot fillip of the old Welles personality. I have been planting pretty solid stuff locally and nationally and I think we have made par for the course. There have been two other Welles pictures to keep alive, and the RKO anti-Welles battle to fight. It has never been so virulent. The juggling act done by your press office here has been nothing short of extraordinary. I'm as nervous as a cat, and being without information all the time has made things really tough. But a real bang-up arrival can take the newspapers' attention off Kirkoff and Ann Sheridan and focus the limelight on you.
There is a widespread, nurtured campaign to prove you have been spending too much time and wasting too much money in Brazil; that "Ambersons" is no good, and "Fear", ditto. This has gone so far as a personal visit by Koerner to the Hollywood Reporter. As I wrote Wilson, Billy Wilkerson informed his staff that he was quoting Schaefer when he said "Koerner told Wilkerson that RKO would on no condition ever allow you to work in the studio again".
I have shown Ambersons on two occasions to the picture papers, once when it was two hours twenty minutes long and once at one hour thirty three minutes - the final version. They liked it both times, from "Beautiful" (Life) to "Better then Kane" (UP). So, you need a splash arrival.
It will be tough to get Nelson Rockefeller's cooperation, since the whole intent of the Coordinator's office is to avoid anything that looks like publicity. Nothing you can say and nothing I can say can impress anyone with the importance of the expedition, as opposed to the film itself. I can always sell them the idea that your pictures will be magnificent, but they have been hearing about neighborly expeditions for some years now, and Disney's Saludos Amigos took the cream off the idea. However, if someone in Washington will come out with a Thank You statement to you, you will return a conquering hero.