Tony: I liked Callow's scholarship in The Road to Xanadu, in particular the section describing the trip around the World that Welles took with his father, but Callow's general attitude toward his subject suggested to me that Welles from his earliest days was responsible for his own faillure, an inevitable failure. If Welles could not be given much credit for CITIZEN KANE, which is what I took from the book, I fail to see where the road from Xanadu could lead anywhere but down.
The synopsis does look intriguing, but this line rankles: "Finally, in 1947, he left America for Europe where for the best part of twenty years he lived in self-imposed exile . . . ." That idea may not be Mr. Callow's or his intention, but if it is anywhere near his conclusion, what would Welles have done otherwise?
CITIZEN KANE was nearly destroyed before he could show his picture to the critics. Welles' THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS was torn apart and nailed together again, then left on the lower half of double bills. His mission to South America at the behest of the State Department was betrayed. He was boycotted by the Hearst papers for having made CITIZEN KANE. Various investigations into his personal relationships and political activities were carried on by J. Edgar Hoover. Not only did he run into trouble staging the Broadway production of Native Son, and its subsequent national road show schedule, but his intervention in the significant Isaac Woodward beating incident got THE STRANGER banned in the South, and standing up for Latinos in "The Sleepy Lagoon Case" did him no good in Hollywood, nor in California generally. The rejection of Around the World in 80 Days, his collaboration with Cole Porter -- far ahead of its time as a concept for Musical Theater -- all but ended his top of the line Broadway career. And MACBETH, made in 21 days for pocket change, was taken away from him, and his brilliant innovations shorn from the result.
He spent the majority of the years 1941-1947 in the United States, fighting artistically, socially and politically against the forces which have now regained control of the country. No doubt, on the Eve of Joe McCarthy, Welles wisely headed for Europe, but not into "self-imposed exile." He was driven from this country as surely as Paul Robson. Otherwise, he would have ended up like Everett Sloan, John Garfield or dozens of other lesser talents, whose careers were marred, ended or left unfulfilled.
No doubt Orson Welles had a difficult temprement, but he was heart and soul for having America live up to her promise and her ideals. Most of his work was toward those ends, often at his own expense. Is the general line, then, that the story of Welles' life is the creation of a European?
I shall read the book with interest, but the first volume of Callow's biography put such a curse on the childhood and youth of Orson Welles that it will be a wonder if much positive can be said about his critically and politically battered young manhood.
But thanks, Tony, for bringing this publishing date to our attention.