Thank you, Glenn; I confess I’m looking more like Ardath Bey every day – I only wish I had the uncanny mesmeric power to go with the dusty, shriveled complexion. You should take my advice and lay off that gin, as I did twenty years ago. It gives you the horrors, don’t ya know, and reeks a bit too much of the Victorian for a proper Dionysian, as I’m sure you are. Stick with the vino – a bottle a day keeps the doctor away. Do they serve wine at the Ha Ra Club, or would I be thrown out for asking?
I certainly don’t mean to denigrate John Houseman’s obvious talents. He was a sympathetic producer, a talented collaborator, and I thoroughly enjoyed his late-career flowering as an actor. I caught every episode of THE PAPER CHASE on TV as a youngin’ specifically because of him; in the past year I have enjoyed Houseman performances in THE FOG, ROLLERBALL, AND GHOST STORY. But let’s be frank; Houseman’s post-Mercury career was hardly remarkable or distinguished; any number of now-forgotten talented producers could have done, and did, what he did. For example, Houseman did a nice job producing JULIUS CAESAR for Joseph L. Mankiewicz ; but Fred Kolmar did an equally nice job producing Mankiewicz’s, to my mind, superior THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (shot by Charles Lang, Welles’s cinematographer on LADY FROM SHANGHAI, and scored by Bernard Herrmann ); does anyone talk about Fred Kolmar anymore? Of course not, because he didn’t found a theater company with Orson Welles.
I have a theory that people like Houseman, and many of Welles’s theatrical collaborators, and Callow for that matter, turned on Welles at worst, and failed to understand him at best, because he was not “theater folk” in the way that they were. Despite what you may think about Welles and his politics, he was a fish out of water in those heady lefty days of the Federal theater project and the Mercury. They were all about the future, and collaboration, and equality, and the group. Welles was a throwback, an aristocratic actor-manager from the nineteenth century. He was a good aristocrat, with a well-developed sense of nobless-oblige, but like all aristocrats he had a healthy ego and a pronounced tyrannical streak. And theater was just a weigh station for Welles, although he probably did not know it at the time; he was there to learn, and then move on; they were there for the duration. Welles’s journey after the early glories that culminated in the glorious Citizen Kane may not have been glorious at all, but it was heroic, and heroism is an aristocratic quality sorely lacking in the lives of any of those folk who want to sit and reminisce about what a “slave driver” Welles was. Well, no “slave driver”, no MACBETH, no CRADLE WILL ROCK, no CAESAR, no CITIZEN KANE, and no beeographers knocking at the door of the old folks home asking about your memories of the “slave driver”.
Falstaff died alone, and Henry V garnered all the glory; who is remembered as the spirit of that age? Welles may have ended his life doing wine commercials, but he wasn’t diminished by them; he was, and is, and shall remain, a giant: Orson Welles, one of the greatest artists of our age.