There have long been rumors of a lost cache of tapes containing private conversations between Orson Welles and his friend the director Henry Jaglom, recorded over regular lunches in the years before Welles died. The tapes, gathering dust in a garage, did indeed exist, and this book reveals for the first time what they contain.
Here is Welles as he has never been seen before: talking intimately, disclosing personal secrets, reflecting on the highs and lows of his astonishing career, the people he knew—FDR, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, Laurence Olivier, David Selznick, Rita Hayworth, and more—and the many disappointments of his last years. This is the great director unplugged, free to be irreverent and worse—sexist, homophobic, racist, or none of the above— because he was nothing if not a fabulator and provocateur. Ranging from politics to literature to the shortcomings of his friends and the many films he was still eager to launch, Welles is at once cynical and romantic, sentimental and raunchy, but never boring and always wickedly funny.
Edited by Peter Biskind, America’s foremost film historian, My Lunches with Orson reveals one of the giants of the twentieth century, a man struggling with reversals, bitter and angry, desperate for one last triumph, but crackling with wit and a restless intelligence. This is as close as we will get to the real Welles—if such a creature ever existed.
Peter Biskind is the acclaimed author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Down and Dirty Pictures, and Star, among other books. His work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, and Rolling Stone. He is the former executive editor of Premiere and the former editor in chief of American Film, and is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. He lives in upstate New York.
At lunch at Ma Maison, I encountered Orson standing with difficulty to embrace me after several months with great warmth (or what seems like great warmth, I have never been quite sure), and I am always moved, as I was today. And as always, amazingly for me, I was somewhat at a loss for what to say, and all I came up with was some general pleasantry/banality on the order of, “How is everything?” Orson answered me with, “Oh, I don’t know, do you?” And I, acknowledging that my question had been excessive in scope, reducedView Entire Excerpt
Introduction: How Henry Met Orson by Peter Biskind 1
Part One 1983 1.“Everybody should be bigoted.” 31 2.“Thalberg was Satan!” 46 3.“FDR used to say, ‘You and I are the two best actors in America.’ ” 58 4.“I fucked around on everyone.” 67 5.“Such a good Catholic that I wanted to kick her.” 75 6.“Nobody even glanced at Marilyn.” 81 7.“The Blue Angel is a big piece of shlock.” 87 8.“Kane is a comedy.” 96 9.“There’s no such thing as a friendly biographer.” 101 10.“The Cannes people are my slaves.” 116 11.“De Mille invented the fascist salute.” 124 12.“Comics are frightening people.” 130 13.“Avez-vous scurf?” 140 14.“Art Buchwald drove it up Ronnie’s ass and broke it off.” 150
Part Two 1984–1985 15.“It was my one moment of being a traffic-stopping superstar.” 159 16.“God save me from my friends.” 168 17.“I can make a case for all the points of view.” 175 18.Charles “Laughton couldn’t bear the fact he was a homosexual.” 189 19.“Gary Cooper turns me right into a girl!” 200 20.“Jack, it’s Orson fucking Welles.” 208 21.“Once in our lives, we had a national theater.” 220 22.“I smell director.” 230 23.“I’ve felt that cold deathly wind from the tomb.” 238 24.“Jo Cotten kicked Hedda Hopper in the ass.” 252 25.“You either admire my work or not.” 259 26.“I’m in terrible financial trouble.” 264 27.“Fool the old fellow with the scythe.” 281
Epilogue: Orson’s Last Laugh by Henry Jaglom 287Appendix 291New or Unfinished Projects 291Partial Cast of Characters 293Acknowledgments 301Notes 303