The Irish Film Institute presents an ORSON WELLES retrospective: November 1 to 18 in Dublin where Orson Welles began his career as an actor
Many thanks to Paul Condon of Dublin, Ireland for alerting us to the retrospective of Orson Welles films that will be screening in Dublin this month under the auspices of The Irish Film Institute.
Chimes at Midnight is one of only three Welles' movies that will not be shown, the others being Othello and Filming Othello.
This is unfortunate since Welles directed a stage version of Chimes at Midnight at the Gaiety Theater in Dublin in 1960.
Of course, anyone who has read any of the numerous Orson Welles biographies will also know that Welles made his professional acting debut in Dublin at the Gate Theatre, in October of 1931.
To celebrate the Irish Film Institutes Welles retrospective, here is what the great Irish actor Michael MacLiammoir recounts about his first meeting with Orson Welles in his book All For Hecuba; An Irish Theatrical Autobiography, published by Methuen in 1946.
It should also be noted that Michael MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards, the two founders of Dublin's Gate Theater remained friends with Welles throughout his life and were featured in Orson Welles's last completed essay film, Filming Othello.
...We ransacked our lists for nights for the (part of the) Duke (in JEW SUSS) and could find no one. And it was not, I think, until I was painting the last pieces for The Melians, and the plans for the following production had been all but changed, that Hilton walked into the scene dock one day and said, 'Somebody strange has arrived from America; come and see what you think of it.' 'What,' I asked, 'is it?' 'Tall, young, fat: says he's been with the Guild Theatre in New York. Don't believe a word of it, but he's interesting. I want him to give me an audition. Says he's been in Connemara with a donkey, and I don't see what that's got to do with me. Come and have a look at him.'
We found, as he had hinted, a very tall young man with a chubby face, full powerful lips, and disconcerting Chinese eyes. His hands were enormous and very beautifully shaped, like so many American hands; they were coloured like champagne and moved with a sort of controlled abandon never seen in a European. The voice, with its brazen transatlantic sonority, was already that of a preacher, a leader, a man of power; it bloomed and boomed its way through the dusty air of the scene dock as though it would crush down the little Georgian walls and rip up the floor; he moved in a leisurely manner from foot to foot and surveyed us with magnificent patience as though here was our chance to do something beautiful at last-yes, sir-and were we going to take it? Well, well, just too bad for us if we let the moment slip. And all this did not come from mere youth, though the chubby tea-rose cheeks were as satin-like as though the razor had never known them -that was the big moment waiting for the razor-but from some ageless and superb inner confidence that no one could blow out. It was unquenchable. That was his secret. He knew that he was precisely what he himself would have chosen to be had God consulted him on the subject at his birth; he fully appreciated and approved what had been bestowed, and realized that he couldn't have done the job better himself, in fact he would not have changed a single item. Whether we and the world felt the same-well, that was for us to decide.
'I've just told Mr. Edwards some of the things I've done, Mr. MacLiammoir,' he said, 'but I haven't told him everything; there wouldn't be time. I've acted with the Guild. I've written a couple of plays. I've toured the States as a sword-swallowing female impersonator. I've flared through Hollywood like a firecracker. I've lived in a little tomato-coloured house on the Great Wall of China on two dollars a week. I've wafted my way with a jackass through Connemara. I've eaten dates all over the burning desert and crooned Delaware squaws asleep with Serbian rhapsodies. But I haven't told you everything. No; there wouldn't be time."
And he threw back his head and laughed, a frenzy of laughter that involved a display of small white teeth, a buckling up of the eyes into two oblique slits, a perplexed knitting of the sparse darkly coloured brows, and a totally unexpected darting forth of a big pale tongue. The tongue vanished almost at once and he frowned.
'Don't you want to see what I can do?' he asked.
I emerged from the jungle whence he had dragged me and said, 'Why not?'
I'd rather see it than hear about it,' said Hilton.
Well, gimme a book then. Anything you want, I don't mind: James Joyce or Florence Barclay, what the hell, I want to act for you. I can't keep things in my head. They'd go bad there.' Hilton performed a conjuring trick. He pulled from his pocket a copy of Jew Suiss.
'Read the Duke,' he said, 'look, this speech here. And this one,' and he marked the book in two places.
'Oh, I don't want to read the Duke, I want to read the Jew. Let me read the Jew! Let me read little Naomi. I don't want to read the Duke!'
'Read the Duke,' said Hilton with unforeseen calm; to see him deal with this American prodigy reminded me of those drunken men who can only be sobered by the sudden spectacle of another man in the throes of D.T.’s at which moment they become steadfast as Florence Nightingale: 'Read the Duke. Come on.' And he led him to the stage.
There followed one of the strangest sights I have witnessed in my life. The young man, looking larger, taller, softer and broader in the face than ever, bounded on to the stage with our poor little book in his hand. He confronted us with glaring eyes and seemed, as far as we could judge from our seats at the back of the two-and four pennies, in a towering rage. A chair was hurled through the air, and he struck an attitude suggestive of sated repose. Then he thought better of that and a small table followed the chair. A violent cloud of dust, like a miniature sandstorm, and an accompanying desiccated rustle of paper and twigs informed me that some branches of plum blossom were sharing the same fate. A few books and a harmless necessary cushion or two concluded the holocaust, and after a brief prayer of gratitude that the valuable clock used in Act Three was in the prop room and that I myself was out of reach for the moment-my partner I was sure could take care of himself-I began to wonder what was to be left of our theatre before it was ready for this young man to play in it.
'I hope to God the act drop's safe,' I whispered to Hilton, but he was shaking with silent guffaws and throwing out his hands with broad Italianate gestures as if to encourage our new friend to further frenzies. At last the storm died down and the stranger advanced to the front of the stage, a lurid silhouette against the wreckage.
'Is this all the light you can give me?' he said in a voice like a regretful oboe.
We hadn't given him any at all yet, so that was settled, and he began. It was an astonishing performance, wrong from beginning to end but with all the qualities of fine acting tearing their way through chaos of inexperience. His diction was practically perfect, his personality, in spite of his fantastic circus antics, was real and varied; his sense of passion, of evil, of drunkenness, of tyranny, of a sort of demoniac authority was arresting; a preposterous energy pulsated through everything he did. One wanted to bellow with laughter, yet the laughter died on one's lips. One wanted to say, 'Now, now, really you know,' but something stopped the words from coming. And that was because he was real to himself, because it was something more to him than a show, more than the mere inflated exhibitionism one might have suspected from his previous talk, something much more.
'Thanks, that's all right,' Hilton shouted; 'come down and talk.'
And the young man unfolded himself from the floor and came to meet us with a grin that showed suddenly how very young he was.
'Terrible, wasn't it?' he said.
'Yes, bloody awful,' Hilton answered. 'But you can play the part.'
A short pause followed, during which the stranger's face softened, but be made no other sign.
'That is,' the other went on, 'if you'll make me a promise. Don't obey me blindly, but listen to me. More important still, listen to yourself. I can help you in how to play this part, but you must see and hear what's good about yourself and what's lousy.'
'But I know that already.'
'Then act on it. How old are you?' 'I'm eighteen,' he said so defiantly that we knew there was something wrong. A mystic voice, like Joan of Arc's, had probably whispered to him that an actor, like a lady, should never be quite accurate about his age, and it struck me incredibly that he could not have been older than eighteen and must therefore be younger.
'Do you want any money?'
'I only want what'll buy me a seat on a trolley-car. Gimme… and he named a sum so absurdly low that we thought he must be joking. But he wasn't. Like many born romantics he had a mind fundamentally honest and clear-sighted: he knew that with all his talent he had had no experience, he would for a while be learning, not performing: why should he be paid for being taught the first letters of an alphabet whose entire meaning he grasped with such brilliant chaos?
'You're an extraordinary young man,' Hilton said.
'I know. So's Ireland an extraordinary country. I won't want more than that here if I can play the Duke.'
He laughed once more, and once more the jungle groomed and yawned about us. When that was over Hilton said, 'What's your name?'
'Oh, didn't I tell you? Orson Welles.'