Here's another reason to dislike Charles Higham's work as a writer - Orson Welles anguished letter to Peter Bogdanovich in 1970, where Welles comments about the the Higham book, THE FILMS OF ORSON WELLES. (which, at least did have some great pictures from Welles' films).
However, the Higham book was filled with errors, omissions and outright lies. Higham's account of Jacare's death in Rio harbor, for example, is a far-fetched canard, told as follows: "an octopus and a shark suddenly burst out of the water, locked in a death struggle" causing Jacare's raft to overturn, and "as the great creatures sank in a bloody foam, reports ran, Jacare was sucked into the vortex and vanished. Six days later, the shark was caught. Inside it, half digested, were portions of octopus and the head and arms of Jacare." This fictitious story was completely discredited by associate producer Richard Wilson, (who was with Welles in Rio at the time) in a stinging reply he wrote after Higham's chapter on IT'S ALL TRUE was excerpted in the Spring, 1970 issue of SIGHT and SOUND. Rather amazingly, Higham's absurd story was actually believed by Newsweek magazine's book critic, Raymond Sokolov, who repeated it as if it were verified fact in his August 3, 1970 review of the book. Both Higham's book and the Newsweek review of it caused Welles the loss of some initial financing on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, as he makes clear in this letter he wrote to Peter Bogdanovich. Welles eloquently refutes many of Higham's false statement's, and urged Bogdanovich to probe Richard Wilson's files on IT'S ALL TRUE to get the real facts on record for their interview book, THIS IS ORSON WELLES.
I think you've already met Dick Wilson. If you spend time with him, as I hope you will, you're going to find that he's invaluable. He was not only my right hand during those years but in South America deserves the title of executive producer. You'll find him very fair minded, the very opposite of a yes-man. Trust him. I'll Tell you in a minute why this matters.
I'm coming back to screenland… Why? To look for some acting jobs, that's why. And what, you'll ask, has happened to my picture? Well, let's say (as I've had to say so often before all through the years) that there has been a temporary delay due to lack of funds.
I'm writing this to beseech your thoroughness in the matter of research. Certainly, I've nothing to reproach you for in this department, but regarding South America there are new and pressing reasons for the most exhaustive fact finding on your part.
You will be talking to the witnesses in the case—bear down on them, get all the testimony you can.
I haven't bough the Higham book (THE FILMS OF ORSON WELLES) but managed to sneak a few pages of free reading in Brentano's (bookstore) the other day. That's as far as I'm going: no use eating up what's left of my liver… He thinks I hate to finish my movies because I equate completion with death. I should think he'd realize that not finishing a job is not really to do it at all—which isn't suicide but murder. If he had his facts straight he'd see who's been guilty of that. I guess that's why he refused to take me up on my offer to check his material for purely factual inaccuracies; it would have robbed him of the source of some pretty ripe theorizing. On the other hand, it might have helped to get me off a hook which—after 25 years or so—is really starting to hurt. As for Dick, there's something stubborn—almost mulish—in his regard for the facts. And he has the facts—all of them—on paper. It’s going to be a bore for you, but do please cast a long, cool, non-partisan eye on all that documentation. Get the truth about IT'S ALL TRUE, and then put it down, just as you find it.
The South America episode is the one key disaster in my story, so of course, you'll want to get it straight. For my part, I need to get it straight—as a simple matter of survival. This is newly urgent for me, because, once again, the legend that grew up out of that affair has lost me the chance to make a picture.
As I've mentioned, that lovely money out in the middle-west suddenly dried up. Mr. Higham seems to have spooked them. A quote from it in tagging the review in Newsweek sent them scampering. Once again I am the man who "irresponsibly" dropped everything to whoop it up in the carnival in Rio, and, having started a picture down there, capriciously refused to finish it. No use trying to explain that I didn't flit down to South American for the fun of it…
I don't know of any more fun than making a movie, and the most fun of all comes in the cutting room when the shooting is over. How can it be thought that I'd deny myself so much of that joy with AMBERSONS? I felt than as I do now that it could have been a far better film than KANE. How can anyone seriously believe that I would jeopardize something I loved so much for the dubious project of shooting a documentary on the carnival in Rio? Jesus, I didn't like carnivals anyway—I associated them with fancy dress, which bores me silly, and the touristic banalities of the New Orleans Mardi Gras. You know why I went? I went because it was put to me in the very strongest terms by Jock (John Hay Whitney) and Nelson (Rockefeller) that this would represent a sorely needed contribution to inter-American affairs. This sounds today quite unbelievably silly, but in the first year of our entering the war the defense of this hemisphere seemed crucially important. I was told that the value of this project would lie not in the film itself but in the fact of making it. It was put to me that my contribution as a kind of Ambassador extraordinary would be truly meaningful. Normally, I had doubts about this, but (President) Roosevelt himself helped to persuade me that I really had no choice.
Why else would I have agreed to make a film for no salary at all? Any appetite I may have felt for high-life could have been satisfied with a few fly8ing weekends to New York. By preference I would have heard the chimes at midnight in Billingsley's Club Room and in Dickie Wells up in Harlem. But I was getting all the kicks I needed at the moviola. Dick's file will show you that I only agreed to the Brazilian junket on the firm guarantee that the moviolas and all the film (of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS) would immediately follow me. What happened instead? The film never came. A takeover in RKO brought in new bosses committed, by the simple logic of their position, to enmity. I quickly lost the last vestiges of control over AMBERSONS, and friends at home collapsed in panic. Who can blame them? Even if I'd stayed I would have had to make compromises on the editing, but these would have been mine and not the fruit of confused and often semi-hysterical committees. If I had been there myself I would have found my own solutions and saved the picture in a form which would have carried the stamp of my own effort.
The point is that the tragedy of South America didn't end with the mangling of AMBERSONS by RKO. No, it cost me a hell of a lot more that the two years I spent making the picture. It cost me many, many other pictures which I never made; and many years in which I couldn't work at all.
For the new men who came to power in RKO it was all too easy to make this giant, this scriptless documentary in South American look like a crazy waste of money. And to justify their positions, it was very much in their interest to do so. A truly merciless campaign was launched, and by the time I came back to America my image as a capricious and unstable wastrel was permanently fixed in the industry's mind. You know all this, of course, but the documentation may surprise you. The extent of that campaign and its virulence is hard to exaggerate.
When I'd left, the worst that can be said for me was that I was some kind of artist. When I came back I was some kind of lunatic. No story was too wild—the silliest inventions were believed. The friendliest opinion was this: "Sure, he's talented, but you can't trust him. He throws money around like a madman; when he gets bored he walks away. He's irresponsible."
The legend was established, founded on the firm rock of popular conviction. Soon it was so large and life-like people couldn't see the reality which it obscured. Nobody cared about the facts; the fiction was so vastly more amusing.
I have carried that legend on my shoulders for more than a quarter of a century. Just lately, for the first time—and for no very obvious reason—it did seem to have expired finally of old age. Not quite old myself (Welles was 55 when he wrote this), I have been looking forward to as much use as the years will leave me to rather eagerly function as a movie-maker.
Then came that book (Charles Higham's THE FILMS OF ORSON WELLES)… The very well-intentioned review of it in Newsweek would seem to be what's cost me the financing for this new picture, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. When the money people read that in the world's first news magazine, they can scarcely be reproached for second thoughts in the matter of gambling on a Welles movie.
So now the legend walks again, Peter, and I've no choice but to go back to hustling those cameo jobs in other people's films...
You have on-the-spot witnesses to consult and Dick has the documents. When you get to this chapter I'm hoping that you'll find the hard facts in this matter and will make it honestly possible to do a little job of disinfecting…
This time, it's not just that I'd like to have the record straight—I'd like to go to work again…
All the best,