If it's food on my table or Orson Welles's latest movie, it's going to be the former. And yes: I was being a bit 'hard-nosed' when I wrote that, to make a point: everyone in Hollywood knew that Welles had been a genius and made the greatest film ever in 1940, but by 1975, things had changed. As Welles hinself said, he did much better under the old Hollywood studio system that he ever would under the independents: when a studio released 50 pictures a year, there was room for an Orson Welles picture (though none of the majors ever paid for one). But with the independents, it was a different game: everything rides on the box-office, more then than now, since today canny DVD marketing can turn a box-office loser into a Blockbuster...blockbuster. Also, by 1975, several key things had happened: the hat trick of Higham, Kael and Housman had severely crippled Welles's reputation, ironically just at the time of his return. In 1970, Welles returned to America, largely because of the scandal in the Italian rags of his affair with Ojar Kodar; also in 1970, Higham published his infamous first book about Welles, in which he first propounded the dimestore psychological theory that Welles had a "Fear of Completion". With examples such as Ambersons, It's All True, Don Quixote and The Deep to back him up, Higham's idea held some weight, especially when Welles had trouble finishing, and then finally couldn't finish "The Other side of the Wind". Welles told Bogdanovich that he lost at least one financier for TOSOTW because of Higham, and Welles wrote a hearbreaking letter to an exec of Astrophore Films in 1977 stating clearly that his career had suffered a mortal blow after the non-release of TOSOTW. Welles knew what was going on in people's minds; as he said "That crazy Welles". Another irony is that Welles felt he had been carrying that weight of his reputation for many years, and in the late sixties, he felt it had finally started to wear itself out. But Charles Higham gave it a new life in 1970.Then, in 1971, Kael published her intro to the Citizen Kane book, wherein she attacked the strongest achievement of Welles's career: Citizen Kane. Being a writer, Kael thought writers had unfairly been ignored in Hollywood, had not been given their fair due. She set out to correct this, and she started out with Kane: Welles didn't really write it, Mankowitz did. Welles had never been attacked this way, but there was more: John Houseman pulished his book featuring Welles in 1972, and he described how Welles was a weak writer, and not only that: Welles was a crazy man to work with. After all, their relationship ended when Welles threw a flaming can of burning fuel at Housman in a restaurant.
Well, let's sum up: Higham, Kael and Houseman: Welles had a fear of finishing projects, so if you invested in him, he might abandon it. He wasn't as talented as people thought, and his biggest success was authored by someone else. And he was a crazy man, with a crazy temper; as Higham described, in Brazil Welles had gotten drunk and thrown all the furnture out his hotel window. and he threw that flaming can right at nice Jack Houseman.
So it's 1975, and I'm an executive, and I've worked for years to get there. Am I going to phone up Orson Welles and offer him 5 million dollars to do a film- a film which has a low probability of making money, since Welles only had one mildy profitable film ever, and that was back in 1946? Do I want to repeat what happened to George Schaeffer in 1942, and lose my career in order to support Welles?
I think not. No, I'm going to go to the AFI dinner tonight and toast the man , but I'm not going to risk my reputation and livlihood so that he can make another flop. This is called "survival" and apparently every studio and every major star in Hollywood took this position from 1970 to 1985, except for the few brave souls who helped out on TOSOTW.
I know you know all this, Todd: I'm just trying to make my point: Welles's career stopped for many reasons, but you can't just blame the people in the business: they were in the movie "business". As Chuck Heston said (in reference to Welles's rudeness to studio execs): "You have to be nice to those guys: they give you the money. If you don't get the money, you don't get to make a movie". And you also have to make money.
No, I think the villains in this piece are not the studio bosses or the big stars; the villains in this piece are capitalism, opportunistic writers, and of course, Welles himself. As Heston also noted: "Welles was the most charming man in the world, but he never treated the studio heads with any respect." I also remember reading about the night Welles fired the entire cast and crew of TOSOTW because he was angry about something; of course, he had to hire them all back the next day. And there's Robert Arden's story about how he first met Welles, when Welles bit his head off when Arden merely said "Hello"; seconds later, Welles apologized sincerely and eloquently. Check out how Welles spoke to his crew and actors on the set of Mr. Arkadin in the extras to the new DVD set: Welles was one scary guy when he was in a bad mood, and the most charming man in the world when he was right with the world.
A friend and I (both who are devout liberals) once did a thought experiment: who would we rather have for a neighbour: Ronald Reagan (whose policies and values we hated) or Orson Welles ( whose films and values we loved).
We both chose Reagan: There's no doubt he would always be pleasant and help you in a time of need. Neither of those could you rely on Welles for.
But Welles was the genius. :;):