How you remember Orson Welles may depend on your age. My first memories of him are the infamous Paul Masson commercials, where he proclaimed, "We will sell no wine before its time." I saw only a large man with a magical, rich voice, a wine glass in his hand. What I could not see were the decades of frustrated creative forays that trailed behind Orson Welles in a broad wake.
His talents were possibly too varied to be successfully channeled. He was a writer, director, actor, radio and television personality, and a skilled magician. He reached the height of national and international fame in 1938 with the October 30 broadcast of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds. His quick intelligence is obvious when you realize how carefully he timed the "news" of the alien invasion. Knowing that at the beginning of the broadcast he had to go head-to-head against the popular Edgar Bergen sketch on The Chase and Sanborn Hour, he scripted the initial report of alien invasion from Grover's Mill to come after Bergen was off the air and radio listeners were likely to be switching stations.
RKO president George J. Schaefer made Welles a magnificent offer: complete creative control for Welles, who was then a radio and theater talent, not a film director. The result, of course, was Citizen Kane. The enemy Welles made was William Randolph Hearst, who did his best to sabotage the film's release, even though the character of Kane wasn't wholly based on Hearst; other magnates such as Howard Hughes and Joseph Pulitzer also served as models.
We have two books with Orson Welles' signature. Both are volumes of Russian plays.
I love the one from the RKO research library, stamped "Not To Be Taken Away." How very like Orson Welles to take it away (the stamp be damned) and sign his name to it. He didn't date it, so there's no way to know at what point in his tempestuous relationship with RKO that he walked out of their library with this book.
Irony, Hubris, Trivia:
His second wife was Rita Hayworth. Their daughter, Rebecca Welles, is buried in Tacoma, Washington. She also died on October 10, nineteen years after her father.
His first wife, Virginia Nicholson, later married Charles Lederer, nephew of Hearst's mistress Marion Davies.
After years of failed projects and having to say things such as "We will sell no wine before its time" in television commercials, Orson Welles was voted by the British Film Institute in 2002 as the greatest film director ever.