If the logic of the story, as we've concluded, is essentially correct, given what happened to Welles' father, it would make sense that Eugene was wiped out in the consolidation of the auto companies during the 1920's, or by the Great Depression in the Early 1930's. The four characters might well all be sitting around the old dump of a mansion, now a boarding house cum poor house, recriminating with each other.
[An alterntate possibility, drawn from the schematic pattern of the story, is that Lucy could have died tragically, perhaps in child birth, and be present only in memory. That would be Welles playing "The Good Die Young Card," which late middle-aged George and the elderly Fanny and Eugene would be forced to reflect upon.]
An ending of this sort would give focus to the conclusion, bring it nearly up to date (as of 1942), and make it relevant for audiences of Welles' day, many of whom had been laid low by the Depression.
I think it important to emphasize that part of the unreality of the present ending to THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS is that George is supposed to have had a complete transformation, but in the cold eye of human experience, he probably could not have entirely conquered his immaturity, would never have fully grown up. George might have become a little more practical, accepting and understanding his fate a better, but I think that George, whether because of guilt or jealousy, could suddenly have become a really great guy.
Character doesn't work so neatly.
Any new ending must deal with that fact, or the disastrous sentimentality of the present conclusion would creep back into the film, and ruin it still.
To revert a way, adding a sidebar to Roger's beautifully sensitive tragic reading of the film, I would like to pose a wildly intuitive answer to the question which Tashman presented us with:
"Welles gives a new tilt to the scene [in the boiler room]--and it seems that he did so around that one line--wherein Moorehead suddenly ratchets it up into something that would fit comfortably in the worlds of Kazan or Lumet. And my question is: How much does this breakdown ["I wouldn't care if it burned me," etc.] carry into the original ending[?] . . . .
First of all, Gordon, I would not count on Simon Callow giving us the insight we need to the scene in question. I'm ever hopeful, but his commentary in the Criterion Arkadin box, which I've seen and listened to, due to the kindness of one of our colleagues, is redolent of the condescension found in his The Road to Xanadu. He notes that actors [like Robert Arden -- Van Stratten] almost always spoke worshipfully about the experience of being directed by Welles, but later, expressed varying degrees of reproach that they were dropped, unless or until Welles needed their services again.
One might think that experienced actors would be somewhat inured to that sad fact of theatrical life, but though it may have been true of an impecunious Welles in his later projects, he appears to have been gladly generous toward members of his original Mercury Players and to other early discoveries. People like Agnes Moorehead, Joseph Cotten and Ray Collins [excepting notably John Houseman] were professional and personal friends of Welles their whole lives. We'll have to see what Callow has to say about Welles directing Moorehead's performance in THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. Will he consider Welles' direction brilliant? or condemn it as the cold act of a spoiled, desperate sadist?
Now, on to my wild and foolish insight:
Remember that during the 1920's and 1930's while Welles was growing up and learning his technique as a stage director, the arts and the general consciousness of the American Middle Class were awash with psychology and psychiatry. Nowhere was this phenomenon more true than in the Theater and in the Movies. Plays began to dramatize the theories of Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler and Carl Jung. A singular example in the Theater was Strange Interlude, for which Eugene O'Neil utilized masks to convey psychological states.
[Both the younger Adler and Jung emigrated or traveled to the United States in the 1930's.]
Film directors in Europe (G.W. Pabst, for instance) quickly saw the natural wedding of psychological imagery with the Movies, in surrealism and expressionism. Hitchcock and Anatole Litvak brought these practices to America in the late 1930's and early 1940's. [Erich Von Stroheim was already here, way ahead of them, in a film like GREED (1925)!]
By the year of 1925, when Welles was ten, the American counterpart of Freud, Adler and Jung was one of the prolific Menninger family. In that year Dr. Karl Menninger opened the first of a number of clinics for the mentally ill across the Middlewest, which concentrated on the the thesis, What a society does to children, the children will do to it and to themselves. He wrote a series of highly influential, greatly discussed books.
Little read now, I gather, but among these books was Man against Himself, a 1938 study by Dr. Menninger of self-destructiveness in its various forms, causes and consequences. One widely excerpted section dealt with the startling idea that the way in which suicides carried out their acts reflected the origins of their depression, and the nature of their despair.
[Three years later, in 1941, Dr. Menninger opened perhaps his most famous clinic in Topeka, Kansas.]
One of many examples which Menninger presented in Man against Himself, and often noted in magazines, newspapers and books of popularization from the day, was that of a man (if I remember correctly) who felt so rejected as a child, so lacking in the reception of love and acceptance, so conscious of the emotionally frigid state in which he felt he lived, that he embraced a red hot stove and held on to it until he collapsed, after suffering third degree burns over much of his body. He subsequently died.
Though it is sheer speculation on my part, given Welles' family background, the example of his great aunt, the sad course of his mentally ill older brother's life, and his need to find new sources of motivation for his characters on stage and screen, I would bet a lot that Orson Welles was acquainted with Karl Menninger's work, may have absorbed Menninger's theories, perhaps even an application of the above example.
Whether he did or not, the clinical example presents a psychologically and dramatically sound motivation for Fanny Minifer's development, her emotional collapse, and her eventual self-reconstruction of her own ego. Should something of that process prove sound (and dramatically, I'm sure it would), Fanny might have emerged the dominant character in Welles' version of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS' last scene, twenty years on.
Just food for thought.