Had an interesting experience this week: in the car, to and from work, I listened to a 5 part CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) program from 1942, entitled: "Nazi Eyes On Canada" (released on cassette in 2000). The programs were designed to help raise money for a war bond drive, and the stories were dramatic presentations of what could happen if the Nazis won the war, and took over Canada (and the States) as colonies. Lorne Green (Bonanza) was the host and, in one program, I believe an actor. The first four programs are pretty good, but a little bland. Some Hollywood actors came up to guest star in programs, for instance Vincent Price, Helen Hayes, Judith Evelyn and others. And saved for the last program was the biggest guest star : Orson Welles. From the get go, Welles establishes himself as a master of narration: he is so different from the others, it's like night and day. For example, he focusses on every word, and gives it emotion, and at the end of narration sections, he suddenly decreases volume down to nothing so one strains to hear: this focusses concentration, increases suspense, and has a poetical dimension. He is endlessly creative.
After that, I began listening to My Orson Welles Library: "Wakefield" by Hawthorne, and "The Red Room" by H.G. Welles. The change in voice from 1942 to 1985 is inevitable but welcome: the warmth of Welles' autumnal voice is like rich, aged honey (no voice before it's time): it pours from the speakers (the car is an excellent place to listen to Welles: he surrounds one: its a very sensuous experience, as these tapes are beautifully recorded; it really is as though he were sitting next to you). And, as in '42, Welles pays closes attention to every single syllable: he was, really, a virtuoso of narration. In addition, it seems as though he selected these stories (as conjectured in my first post, above), therefore he loves them very much. This clearly is not a hack situation which he is rushing through; this is a late project which reminds me of Jaglom's "Someone to Love"; it's the same spirit, but I believe his voice is slightly stronger here, as he doesn't have to project in a theatre: he's up close and intimate to a microphone. A lifetime of experience is concentrated on every word, and what words! Listening to "Hawthorne", which is a very beautiful and strange story, there is (and this is not hyperbole) more meaning in one sentence than there is in many whole movies and books of today. And to have a great reader put everything he's got into each word, is really an astounding experience; as Dietrich said of Welles "After talking with him, I feel like a plant that's been watered", and I feel the same after listening to Welles read. It's a shame he didn't do more; now I yearn to find out more about the Japanese project: was it released? Is it still in print? Might anybody have the stories missing off the Dove edition, such as the Dinesen, the Hemingway, the Twain and the Welles?
In 1985, he couldn't make "Cradle" or "Lear", but he did make these readings of several great works of literature, and clearly, it was a labour of love.
P.S. I got mine in an auction, but apparently you can order them through Amazon.com.