It sounds like Arthur Anderson's book doesn't go into much more depth than the introduction he wrote for The Smithsonian Radio collection of Orson Welles shows.
I wonder if his memory of seeing the headline of Welles death in the airport was actually written by Mr. Anderson, or by some ghost writer who probably felt it would be a good idea to "punch-up" Anderson's memories with the standard Welles story of the genius whose talent was never fully realized. It doesn't sound like the same person who wrote this foreword, to me:
RECALLING ORSON WELLES
By ARTHUR ANDERSON
“Go home, dear boy.”
It was November 1937, close to two o’clock in the morning. The Mercury Theatre actors had been wearily rehearsing over and over some fine points in the new modern-dress production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, ignoring Actors’ Equity overtime rules in order to satisfy Orson Welles, their 22-year-old director. I was the youngest member of the Mercury, and when Orson by chance noticed me, yawning in one of the theatre’s orchestra seats, he at once dismissed me until the following day. Whatever truth there may be in descriptions of George Orson Welles as self-absorbed, autocratic, skittish, undependable and unreasonable, it is also true that he showed only kindness to me.
My first encounter with Orson (I called him “Mr. Welles” in those days, as children were taught to address adults) had been in 1936 on Peter Absolute, aired Sunday afternoons on NBC’s Red Network. I had the title role of a little orphan boy in the days of the Erie Canal. Orson played Rex Dakolar, an English actor with a waspish temper who despised the hardships of touring in the American provinces. He was excellent, and very amusing. I was thirteen years old.
A year later Orson was directing me in Second Hurricane by Aaron Copland, described as “a play-opera for high school children,” which had its world premiere in April, 1937 at the Henry Street Settlement on the lower East Side. Young Lehman Engel conducted. I sang and acted the role of Gip. However our director, having set the basic staging for Second Hurricane, disappeared before its opening night to return to the demands of a bigger project, The Cradle Will Rock, and the direction was left to Hiram (Chubby) Sherman, his assistant. Second Hurricane was later broadcast in a one-hour version on the CBS network on May 9th, directed by Earle McGill.
When Mercury opened its first Broadway production, Julius Caesar, on Friday, November 12th I was cast as Lucius, servant to Brutus, played by Orson, and included was a song “Orpheus.” words by Shakespeare, borrowed by Orson from Henry VIII, and music by Marc Biltzstein. I accompanied myself on a ukulele, masked to look like a lute.
Taken from the original play script for the Mercury production of JULIUS CAESAR:
Lucius begins to sing. In production, this is usually the song from Henry VIII, Act III, Scene I. The lights begin to dim, so that by the end of the song, the stage is in darkness.
Orpheus with his lute made trees,
And the mountain-tops that freeze,
Bow themselves, when he did sing.
Da dum de de dum.
To his music plants and flowers
Ever sprung; as sun and showers
There had made a lasting spring.
Da dum de de dum.
Everything that heard him play,
Even the billows of the sea,
Hung their heads and then lay by.
Da dum de de dum.
In sweet music is such art:
Killing care and grief of heart
Fall asleep, or, hearing, die.
Da dum de de dum.
The bugle, snare drum and French horn take over, reaching a crescendo as the lights come up to reveal the body of Cassius surrounded by his men. Brutus enters, sword in hand, and stands over Cassius.
When the Mercury later did Julius Caesar on radio the part of Lucius was cut after dress rehearsal, as the show was running over.
Though there was a glitch in my career the following March involving my experimenting with a match on the theatre’s fire sprinkler system, flooding the stage and causing the only intermission in any of Orson’s productions up to that time, he did not hold that against me. He and his partner John Houseman may even have been secretly delighted, as the incident made every New York paper, garnering extra publicity for the show. In any case, when the CBS network contracted with Orson for nine one-hour dramatizations (later extended) to be called The Mercury Theatre On The Air, I was called for the second broadcast. July 18th. It was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
Orson was the narrator and doubled as the villainous Long John Silver, while I did the narration as young Jim Hawkins from the time the good ship Hispaniola set sail from Bristol. It was a wonderful part—the best I’d had on radio, Orson’s direction, the good acting of the rest of the Mercury company including Ray Collins. Alfred Shirley, Eustace Wyatt and Agnes Moorehead, sound effects expertly done by Ora Nichols, Ray Kremer and Jim Rogan and a full orchestra led by Bernard Herrmann made Treasure Island a thrilling show.
We broadcast from Studio 1, then the network’s largest New York studio, on the 22nd floor of CBS headquarters at 485 Madison Avenue. Since Orson performed in the Mercury radio plays, and always in the lead, he directed from a podium in the studio rather than from the control room. I remember him wearing earphones, his pipe in hand, urging the actors on with cheerleader-like gestures.
Studio 1 was the same studio where on weekdays I sometimes played troubled children on Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories (”… sponsored by Spry, the all-vegetable shortening. True names are never used in Spry’s real-life stories”). For three years I had also been there on Saturday mornings, playing wise counselors, wicked giants or enchanted frogs on Nila Mack’s children’s show Let’s Pretend. My run on that program eventually totaled 18 years, until it went off the air in 1954.
Though I wasn’t called for the headline-making War of the Worlds on October 30 (there were no teenage boys in it), Orson did use me in three other broadcasts: as Billy The Post Boy in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Clarence in Life with Father and The Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol.
I did not see Mr. Welles again until fifteen years later. By then in virtual exile in England due to income tax troubles, he was allowed to return to this country to play the title role in King Lear, directed by Peter Brook, on the CBS Omnibus television series, on October 18, 1953. I snagged a job as an extra, as I wanted the satisfaction of working with him once more.
Orson sat on the edge of the stage in a ballroom where we were rehearsing. I approached him and said, “Hello, Orson. Do you remember me?”
“Please help me,” he said. “I’m so tired.”
“Arthur Anderson. I was your Lucius in Julius Caesar”
“Of course, dear boy. How good to see you.”
When I reported for the next rehearsal, I had been upgraded to the role of First Knight, and given lines taken away from another actor, who I am sure cordially hated my guts.
Orson Welles and the microphone were made for each other. He had a rich, flexible and resonant voice, nowhere used to greater dramatic effect than on radio. Whatever his successes and failures, he lived his life intensely, and every one of his productions was an adventure. I was lucky to be included in a few of them.
When Orson Welles great friend Joseph Cotten died in 1994, Arthur Anderson wrote this letter to The New York Times to note their omission of Cotten’s early radio career in their obituary, which is the time when Joseph Cotten first met Orson Welles.
COTTEN BEFORE WELLES
February 16, 1994
To the Editor:
Your obituary of the actor Joseph Cotten (Feb. 7) omitted his early New York radio career. This was how Mr. Cotten met Orson Welles. They were two among many actors in the 1930’s who found this new means of income when they could not get enough stage work. “Cavalcade of America” and “The Goldbergs” were two of Mr. Cotten’s many radio shows.
In 1937 he was making too much money to be eligible when Mr. Welles wanted him to work in his Federal Theater production of “Doctor Faustus.” So Mr. Welles changed the program billing to read “Joseph Wooll.” I was a child actor at the time, and later worked with both of them in Mr. Welles’s brilliant modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”
New York, Feb. 8, 1994