This is a brief review of the novel "The Killing of RFK", by Donald Freed. This book, published in 1975, was almost certainly based on a screenplay called "The Assassin", co-written by Freed with Orson Welles and Oja Kodar, a collaboration mentioned in the Munich Museum's booklet "The Unknown Orson Welles", sold in conjunction with their New York Welles festival last year.
The basic gist of the novel's premise is this: that Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of shooting Robert F. Kennedy to death in 1968, was a "Manchurian Candidate", programmed by a criminal network to act as a lunatic decoy while hired marksmen shot Kennedy from close range. The main evidence to support this theory is a coroner's report indicating that RFK was shot at close range, one to two inches at the most, while virtually all witnesses to the shooting contend that Sirhan was at least 6-7 feet away from Kennedy at the time of the shooting.
The criminal network itself consisted of, among other things, New Orleans Mob bosses, a Yugoslavian terrorist/fascist organization known as "The Ustaci", and out-of-control elements of the U.S. intelligence establishment, including ex-CIA officials who had been fired by John F. Kennedy in 1961 following the "Bay of Pigs" fiasco. Richard Nixon is never mentioned as part of the conspiracy, but an implication-of-sorts is made during a scene where the coordinator of the assassination team, a William A. Must, is given a report indicating that RFK is the only democratic candidate capable of defeating Nixon in the 1968 presidential election.
Orson Welles himself most likely would have played Must, and if so, it would have been one of the slimiest, most reptilian characters of his career, comparable to Harry Lime. In fact, there is an interesting scene where Must gazes down from his hotel suite on people waiting in line to vote, observing them as if they were bugs, like Harry Lime's "dots". Oja Kodar would have undoubtedly played Helen, a behavioural psychologist whose father is being held captive by the Ustaci. She is blackmailed by Must into brainwashing Sirhan "Clockwork-Orange" style, using a combination of film, drugs, sex, and hypnosis. Sirhan, known here as "Saladin", after the legendary Arab chief who repelled the first wave of European crusaders during the Middle Ages, is then set up as an Oswald-like patsy.
Did Orson Welles really subscribe to such a dark and grim view of recent American history? It's difficult to know, since Welles is not credited with co-authoring the book, and is not listed in the acknowledgements. It is however, very likely that he did co-author the screenplay on which the book, listed as fiction, is probably based, and the book does contain many flourishes and allusions that might be described as "Wellesian". The book is also concerned with the subject of Civil Rights, which were set back considerably by the assassinations of both Martin Luthor King and Robert F, Kennedy. Civil Rights was also a subject that was very important to Welles throughout his career. It would be very interesting to read the screenplay if it still exists or at least hear the full story as to why the screenplay was never made into a film. Or was it?
On the front cover of the paperback edition it says, "Soon to be a Major Motion Picture", and although neither Welles nor Kodar is cited in the acknowledgements section, it does say that a certain person "was" important in the making of the book "and the motion picture of the same name", which implies that the film may have in fact, been made. Two other film were made from Donald Freed's work: "Executive Action" from 1973, which like Oliver Stone's film, deals with possible scenarios surrounding JFK's assassination, and "Secret Honor", a 1984 film by Robert Altman, which dealt with the hidden reasons behind Nixon's resignation. "The Assassin" would have been a missing link between those two films, which were both made quickly and cheaply. "The Assassin" could have been made cheaply and quickly by Welles too, as it would have required nothing but real locations and a fairly small cast. Do we dare hope...?