Tony: You are right. Aren't we having fun? The problem is that two of my correspondents here are under a severe handicap because one admits that he has never opened the book, Rosebud, and the other writes as if he had not read the actual text. Even when he has the book in front of him.
Roger: Thank you for confirming my memory that it was it was indeed Ann Baxter who recounted an incident (when she was no more than 19) that under circumstances of the day -- a 19 year-old being considered more of an innocent then than now -- might have been considered an "attempted rape."
[But unlike my memory, the spunky Miss Baxter kicked Welles out of her car. My memory also tells me that they had not been "out on the town," but that Welles had asked her to drive him somewhere. Am I wrong in that, too?]
Welles, contrary to what Todd Baesen wrote, had many, many problems with his leading ladies. This appears to have come about often in that he picked them for type, and treated them accordingly, as Thomson suggests several times in Rosebud, and is documented elsewhere. Thus, Dorothy Comingore was cast as Susan Alexander Kane in THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS because she, in his opinion and that of others, looked both "the image of a kitten" and "cheap." Ruth Warrick, on the other hand, was sought out for Emily Norton Kane for her bearing, as one who might have been the niece of a President of the United States. In fact, according to Miss Warrick, Welles told her that he had picked her on account of the fact that she not only "looked like a lady, but she was a lady." [This did not, according to Thomson, prevent him "bed(ing) her."] You can easily see a pattern here, which extended over into Welles' treatment of women in general. (He tended to marry, for instance, women who were "princesses," literally and figuratively.)
I could bring up a considerable number of other examples of this kind of "psychological type casting" which Welles employed, but unlike Baesen with his unfortunate blindspot, you would already know them.
I have long stipulated that when it came to Welles directing actors, men or women, he was always admired, partly because he made them feel important, and did what was necessary to get superb performances from them. Actors remember such things because great directing supplies what their often insular judgment and egotism in the moment cannot. And they have to explain why, even as they were being perhaps uncomfortably manipulated in a number of cases, they got wonderful reviews in one part and lousy reviews in another.
The hallowed Simon Callow remarks in that interview for The Complete Mr. Arkadin box that, in interviewing scores of actors with whom Welles worked, he noticed a curious pattern. Almost to a person, there were accounts of the excitement at being chosen by Welles for a role, the wonderful acting experiences, but then . . . nothing, a sense of regret that (aside from some of the original Mercury veterans), they were dropped.
As for Angie Dickinson sitting on Welles' lap when he was 57 and weighed over 350 pounds, we are speaking of something else entirely. Miss Dickinson, at the time, was a "hot number" girl friday of Sinatra and "the ratpack." She was employed by Welles' Magic Show to do what she was directed to do, to act as a PR come on for the show. Thomson writes: "On one of those occasions, Welles and Dickinson posed for a photograph that is touchingly comic and forlorn."
Have you seen the photograph(s)? You certainly agree, I hope, with Thomson's description. As anyone who has fought weight all his life (as I have), Welles in such a pose is displaying the exhaustion of carrying such bulk around, all the blood that must flow into that fat to keep it alive, the knowledge of how foolish he must look. Thomson is using this observation to suggest how, despite the best will in the world, and great creativity, heroic in the occasioal accomplishment, Welles was being sapped of the energy and tools to carry out his projects. Sexuality, in Thomson's view, was a clue to that decline.
That conclusion is hard to argue with, and very perceptive.
Peter: Between Baesen's lazy lack of bothering to read what he is critiquing, and your "hazy recollections," considerable mischief may be produced.
Simply state facts accurately, if that is what you purport, and we shall have no quarrels. Is "seduced" [Thomson's word] the same as "raped" [your word]? It is not so much in the denotation of the words but in the connotation where your problem lies. You may think that Thomson (I presume that you have read the book) is off the wall in his approach, but you should be called on demonizing Thomson's point without providing its context, that these were among the techniques young Orson Welles used to draw those wonderful performances he got out of his actors.
That's all I'm saying.
[Many directors, I trust you understand, were not (nor are they, in the present day), necessarily loath to use such methods. Off the top of my head, I can note Welles' supposed great hero, John Ford, who often picked an "it" at the beginning of a shoot, and had the rest of the cast harass and dump on the poor guy to cause him to get out of himself, to excel; or Oliver Stone, who kept telling Michael Douglas what a rotten actor he was, to help produce the Oscar-winning "Gordon Gekko" in WALL STREET.]
You no doubt would have agreed with Glen Garnett, in the Toronto Sun, when he called Dutch: "1) An excellent novel and 2) The best written memoir we are ever likely to have by someone who knew Ronald Reagan but 3) An extraordinarily inept and inexcusably lazy biography."
The response I would make to your criticism, which you would apply to both Dutch and Rosebud, is that Morris was picked to write an "official biography" of Ronald Reagan because he had received a Pulitzer Prize for one on Teddy Roosevelt. Turned out that the prize winning book was almost entirely about Roosevelt's life before he went into professional politics, and that Morris was really interested in the "man within," had no particular interest in how Ronald Reagan acted as President. Because he was given extraordinary access to Reagan as he governed, Morris set out to detect what made Reagan tick. This approach intrigued some, but disgruntled many others, who like yourself, I gather, only care about "just the facts, m'am."
The difference is that Thomson never met Welles, so far as I know, but given, the abandonment of him by his father, the solace he found in movies, as a shy, "stammering" teenager, Thomson desperately wanted to understand his hero, and to see him succeed. Welles was the kind of rosebud that Thomson never had. These imaginings made for him the touchstone for his career, which has produced 17 books, including the renowned Biographical Dictionary of Film, half a dozen biographies and studies of Hollywood, and a number of novels based like jazz riffs on movie themes, plus a distinguished career in teaching, concentrating for many years on . . . Orson Welles. All these activities have tended to use the imaginative technique that you and others here decry.
David Thomson is a biographer as "story teller," in the tradition of James Boswell, Lytton Strachey, or today's Christopher Hichens.
So it is not so much Baesen's lack of knowledge about Thomson's works, I object to, but the pride, passion, almost anger he trumpets in his ignorance of Thomson's actual works and motives. Distinguished as he is in many areas, gimlets aside, this is his blind spot, as I say.
Peter: What I'm telling you is that the man many know as Todd Baesen told me last night, over the second of his beloved Gin Gimlets, that he had never read Rosebud, one of the most remarked upon books about Welles, and he was proud of the fact. That is not "hearsay," counselor; that is my direct testimony. Given that fact, I am dumfounded when you proceed to declare that it doesn't matter. "Even if it were true it would be irrelevant to my perception of Thomson; I can read all of Faulkner's novels and decide he sucks; a highschool student could hear from his buddies that Faulkner sucks and decide he agrees without reading the books; there's a difference between the former and the latter."
Right, Baesen is the school boy here, and you are taking my part. Correct? You have read Rosebud, I take it. If so, mark that for all the blurbs, Library of Congress notations, and ISBN numbers, etc, the book is called Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles. No where in the text does Thomson describe what he's doing as biography.
Glad that we agree, Peter, that his novels are fascinating.
BTW, David Thomson is a rather serene, laid back man, who lives quietly with his wife and children in San Francisco, when he is not off on business trips to Hollywood, New York and London, where he writes for various papers and gives lectures, often about his decades of studying Orson Welles and his career. I've met him casually several times, most memorably, one evening at a book reading, when Baesen all but called Thomson (wrongly) a liar to his face, and refused to go over to greet him afterward. I tried to get Thomson to come across the street for a drink with us, but he had to pick up his children at a school function. His wife is also a distinguished photographer. He no doubt has, as do we all, his own personal secrets.
We may have to wait until next year to find some answers, when Thomson brings out the first volume of his autobiography: Just Tell the Story.
Meanwhile, I'll have to let you "stand by your comments" that Thomson is, as you put it rather crudely (perhaps, from being in too close intellectual proximity with Toddy Baesen), "a horse's A*ss."
Baesen: Tsk, tsk. Look at all the trouble you are causing. I think you slipped back to the Club after I went home.
Forgive me, fella, but you are making yourself look like a fool in public.
The simple solution for your confusions is to READ THE BOOK. Find a copy of Rosebud, read it thoroughly, and then you will be able to agree WITH or counter my assessment from a position of some standing. As Peter suggests, you will be able to depend upon "facts."
At the moment, you are standing in midair on a series of assertions drawn from tertiary sources, not one of which seems to have left you with much that is factual about Rosebud.
When you have actually read the book instead of expanding on prejudices third hand, as you have been doing here for years, Toddy, we can argue sensibly.
For instance: "So, show me where Dorothy Commingore, Anne Baxter, or any other actor who ever worked with Welles had a bad word to say about him as their director?" Hmm . . . in addition to what I've said above: George Colouris, Joan Fontaine -- there's quite a list if you want me to dig them out.
Anyway, I enjoyed your company last night at the City Club presentation of THE COME ON. I noticed how you were panting at the sight of Ann Baxter in that white two-piece bathing suit.
Down, Toddy, down!
Last edited by Glenn Anders
on Sun Aug 17, 2008 3:30 am, edited 1 time in total.