Full two-part article at http://arizonaslittlehollywood.blogspot.com/
SEDONA MONTHLY: How did your family discover Sedona?
BEATRICE WELLES: We were visiting America from London, and my dad told us we should visit the Grand Canyon. Off [my mom and I] went. Of course, I believed everything my father said. This was in the ’70s, and the speed limit was 55. He told me if I went over 55 in Arizona, I would be put in jail. So here we are in this big car with no one on the roads, and I’m doing 55. It took us a month to do something that would probably take a week [laughs]. Somebody told us we had to see Jerome, but that there was nowhere to stay in Jerome, so we had to stay in a place called Sedona. We looked it up on a map and made a hotel reservation. It took me probably two hours to get down the canyon because I couldn’t see – it was a nightmare. We woke up to this amazing view. Nobody had told us. I was 20 – this was 1976. We toured the Southwest, but we kept on finding ourselves back in Sedona. We felt compelled to be here.
We went back to [Los Angeles] and showed my father 7,000 photographs. Sedona, Sedona, Sedona! We stayed in L.A. for about a month, and as we were packing to go back to London, my father said, Why don’t you pack for Sedona, find a house and we’ll live there. So that’s how it happened. It’s not surprising – that sort of thing happened a million times. He’d never seen Sedona, but he’d seen the photographs, and he saw that we were so happy. He wanted us to move to America anyway because he was working so much in the states. He thought Sedona would be a wonderful place, but it wound up not being a wonderful place because of the distance [between Sedona and L.A.]. He would get two days off, and it was two days to travel here. He was exhausted, but we all loved Sedona.
Where did you live while he was here?
We lived by the creek off Doodlebug Road until it flooded, and we were evacuated. It was such drama. After that, we moved to Sky Mountain Ranch to be as far away from the creek as possible. As much as we liked the creek, Sky Mountain was safer. We lived on Sycamore Road.
So what year did your family move to Sedona?
Early 1977, and then we moved away at the end of 1978. He really loved it – moving away had nothing to do with not liking Sedona. He didn’t get two or three weeks off. It would be two days, and it just didn’t work. We ended up going to Las Vegas, which we all hated. But it was 40 minutes by plane – he could do turnarounds if he had to. I only stayed there less than a year, and then I came rushing back here. When we first moved to Sedona, I was bored out of my mind. I came from London, and I was having a very heavy social life with lots to do. Every night there was an opening or a concert or something you wanted to go to. I was in Sedona writing letters to everybody and thinking I had never written so much in my life.
What did Orson do while he was in Sedona?
Nothing. When he came home, the doors closed, the bathrobe was put on, and it was nothing. He watched TV incessantly. It was the first time we had a remote. In England, he would sit in front of the TV and change channels over and over. And he worked. Even when he was home, he was writing – there would be a table full of papers and a typewriter. He was always working on something. He wasn’t on the phone; it was all creative. He couldn’t stop. He spent time with us, but he wasn’t into the outdoors.
During the period he lived here, there was a thin, locally produced magazine called Sedona Life, and he was listed on its masthead as a member of its board of advisors. How did he come to be involved in the publication?
It was my fault. I knew the woman who ran it, and I asked him to be involved as a favor to her. He didn’t do anything for it. He didn’t write for it. I was always asking him horrible favors for my friends, and he always said yes.
We know you’re an animal lover. Did your family have pets while you lived here?
My parents were huge animal lovers. My dad had Kiki. She was this tiny black teacup poodle. He invented a story that it belonged to a cutter, and he didn’t want it so my dad wound up with the poodle. Of course that isn’t true. He bought the poodle. He refused to admit it. So he and Kiki were inseparable. They went everywhere together. When he arrived home, Kiki was with him. It was bizarre, this large man with this tiny dog. He was mostly a dog person, but he liked cats, too. At the time, we had Kiki and my little Jack Russell terrier, who was 15 by then – she lived to be 22. And there was a Pekinese my mother had. Then there was the dog we got from the humane society here. At the time, it was outdoors where the dog park is now located. This dog was huge. I don’t know what he was – we got him as a puppy. He became so big we had to have a collar made for him. That was our ménage when we were here.
I have this great photo of my dad with a cigar in his mouth, and he’s holding Kiki. He hated to have his photo taken. He didn’t like how he looked, ever. Hence all the false noses while he was making movies. He was always hiding behind makeup. You could never take a picture at home. I have so few pictures because he hated it. But this one time, it was about Kiki.
Do you think of your father as an international globetrotter?
I’d say he was international, but that’s not even right because he was so American. He traveled frequently because he had to. I think you get very used to that way of life, and you like it. I know I do. I miss it terribly. It’s lovely to have a place to come home to, which we didn’t have really. We were living in hotels and rentals – we lived in rentals in Sedona. We had a house in Italy and Spain, but it was mostly hotels. He was a true American, though. He was born in the Midwest. People don’t think of him that way. They think he was English. He traveled to China when he was young. His father was an inventor – quite crazy – and his mother was a suffragist. She died when he was 9, which devastated him. She was the one who brought out his artistic side.
Do you have any great memories of your father in Sedona?
I have a very funny one. When we were in Sky Mountain, we had a pool. That was rare in Sedona, and it was lovely. We were surrounded by national forest, so you felt like you were swimming off a cliff. So I directed a melodrama here in town – it was a huge success. He came to opening night – to my horror – and he brought Burt Reynolds. I got so nervous that I lost my voice. Burt Reynolds was a megastar, and I didn’t know him. Anyway, after this thing, [dad] decided to take a swim. It was pitch dark. Suddenly we hear him roaring, screaming. My mother thought he was drowning. At the time, there was a security service in town. It was the days before alarm systems. A security guard would come check every two hours with a flashlight. So here comes this guy with a flashlight, flashing on my dad who was stark naked because he always went swimming naked. This poor security guard…I thought he was going to die.PART 2
Filmmaker Orson Welles lived in Sedona from 1977 through 1978 with his wife and daughter, Beatrice, who still lives there. Beatrice gives us a glimpse of what life was like with her father.
SEDONA MONTHLY: What was a typical day in Sedona for Orson Welles?
BEATRICE WELLES: Quiet but not quiet. He never slept. He slept when he was tired. He’d be up all night, and then he’d sleep a couple of hours in the afternoon. The typewriter never stopped. He tried to teach me about baseball, which didn’t work. My mom was the cook – everyone was an exceptional cook in my family except me. But I got all of my father’s [traits]. I knew nothing about Thanksgiving until I moved to America. So he had to tell me the story about Thanksgiving – I was 21 years old. So we had Thanksgiving in Sedona. I think my grandmother was here from Italy – she stayed for a few months. I remember my mother made a turkey stuffed with mini tamales. She got the recipe from Sunset Magazine.
Your father said he learned to make movies by watching Stagecoach dozens of times. Did you ever hear him talk about the film?
Yes! He always said Monument Valley was one of the most beautiful places in the world. When he sent us off on the trip that led us to Sedona, he said we had to see Monument Valley. He was in awe of Jack Ford; he saw Stagecoach 33 times. It is an amazing movie. I saw it four or five years ago on the big screen – I’d never seen it on the big screen. It’s extraordinary – it has everything. It’s ageless.
Did he ever express interest in making a Western?
Never that I knew of. He had so many projects – maybe there was a Western in the middle of one. I don’t know.
You mentioned Burt Reynolds. Did any other filmmakers or actors visit him in Sedona?
No, because he didn’t want them to [laughs]. That was the whole point. He had to deal with them in Hollywood, and he didn’t want them coming here. Of course, he was very close to Burt at that time.
Did he ever watch any of his older films on TV?
No. Once something was done, you moved on because you can’t change it. Especially movies. He was in love with movies, but he loved to do theater because he could change it every night. If there was something that wasn’t quite right, he could tweak it. He was a perfectionist, and I get that from him. It’s annoying because you’re never quite happy with what you do, and he never was. The only movie he ever said he loved and the one movie he wanted people to remember him by was Chimes of Midnight, which was the five Shakespeare plays he put together and made into a 90-minute movie. It was first on stage in Dublin and then it was made into a movie backed by Spaniards.
I was in the film. It was my one acting experience. I got rheumatic fever the moment it started, so it was all over. I had to get a double. It was his favorite movie. I remember watching it with him. But he never watched his other movies. God forbid one of his commercials came on. He would instantly change the TV. He never wanted to see himself. Everything that was past was past. It’s what saved him. He had a lot of hardships in his life. He had so much taken away from him – most of his movies. And he moved on.
That’s the side of me that’s hard. If I think about everything I’ve done [to preserve his legacy], I know I’m doing it for my father, but he probably doesn’t care. I’ve spent the last 20 years going through heartbreak – it’s all emotion and I’m the only one who cares about it. That’s logical; I’m the only one who would care. But there’s another side that makes me think he wouldn’t care, and maybe I should stop. But I can’t. I want to leave his films the way they should be left. It’s not about him but what he left and how he made it. They should be left that way.
I’m talking about Othello and all of his films I’ve tried to get my hands on. We stopped Touch of Evil from being screened at the Cannes film festival [in 1998]. They wouldn’t listen to us. We wanted to see what was being done to the movie. It was being restored – footage had been added. As the estate, we wanted to see it. They ignored us like we didn’t exist. We brought in a lawyer who told them the movie wasn’t approved by the estate, and the Cannes festival didn’t show it. I was very unpopular. Chuck Heston called me an idiot on TV. I didn’t want to stop a premier at the Cannes film festival, but we wanted to see what was going on. We wanted to see the script and the movie. Is that so much to ask?
So how much filming did you actually do for Chimes at Midnight?
I was 9. My British accent was dubbed by a boy. I played the part of Falstaff’s page. It was very traumatic. I was 9 years old, I had long hair, I was starting to think about being a girl, and suddenly I had to have my hair all chopped off, looking like a boy. Nobody understands how traumatic that was for me. I was quite feminine, and suddenly I had to have this horrible haircut, which was also bad because he told me during that time nobody had good haircuts, which is a very good point.
I worked on the film quite a lot. They would drag me out of bed. I was in bed for a year. Thank God for that – we had the right doctor. The only way to save your heart is by not moving. I had cortisone injections every day. So I would be put on a pillow for filming. There were parts where they couldn’t use a double. But my part became much smaller because I was sick. The worst of it was that my father hated birthdays, like me. He hated them because on his ninth birthday, his mother died. So my ninth birthday came along. Usually, it wasn’t a big thing for him. Christmas was. But on my ninth birthday, he bought me a horse. But I never got to ride the horse, because I was sick two days later. And we ended up selling the horse. It wasn’t practical.
What were his favorite movies from the late 1970s?
He was a great admirer of Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone – he thought the first Rocky was amazing.
Was there a movie theater in Sedona, and did you go see movies?
There was the Flicker Shack, but we didn’t see any movies. Again, coming home was sacred. In those days, there was no VHS, so it was just TV.––Interview by Erika Ayn Finch and Joe McNeill