Orson Welles: A Biography

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9780140096200: Orson Welles: A Biography

Genius, artist, monstre sacre', Orson Welles had one of the most brilliant and tempestuous careers in show business. Here he confides his most intimate feelings and recollections of his extraordinary life. With remarkable detail and intimacy, Barbara Leaming reveals the private Welles: from child prodigy and young lion in Dublin and New York, to the succes de scandale of his The War of the Worlds broadcast; from his auspicious directing debut with the legendary Citizen Kane in his twenties, to the sabotage of his further directing career by the Hollywood studios; from his affairs, carousing, and stormy marriage to Rita Hayworth, to his association with Roosevelt and aspirations to the presidency. It is a picture with an all-star cast, including Olivier, Monroe, Dietrich, Garbo, Warren Beatty, Charlie Chaplin, Princess Margaret, and Prince Aly Khan.

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Review:

While it is a shame that Orson Welles, great filmmaker and master raconteur, never wrote a full account of his life, this book is the next best thing to a Welles autobiography. Barbara Leaming's main sources are the hundreds of hours of interviews she conducted with Welles in the three years before his death. Though clearly biased toward its subject, this book benefits considerably from Welles's wit and charm, which can be felt in Leaming's summaries of the director's experiences and in the generous number of quotations from Welles himself. At Leaming's urging, and to the reader's great pleasure, Welles recounts the whole of his fascinating life, discussing his relationship with his parents and guardians; his early promise as a musical and artistic prodigy; his brilliant successes in the theater while still a teenager; his foundation--with John Houseman--of the Mercury theater; the legendary radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds; the triumph of Citizen Kane; the successful efforts of RKO studios to alter and crush the films he made after Kane; his friendship with Franklin Roosevelt; his marriage to Rita Hayworth and countless other affairs (including a rhapsody on Dolores del Rio's custom-made underwear, if that's your cup of tea); his relationship with Oja Kodar; and his later film career in America and Europe. An entertaining read that unfolds like a good novel, Orson Welles offers a perspective on the maestro's life that deserves to be compared to more recent biographies of Welles by Frank Brady, Simon Callow, and David Thomson, all of which have prejudices of their own. --Raphael Shargel

From the Back Cover:

Here is a firsthand portrait of the flamboyant American genius who became a titanic figure in twentieth-century popular culture. Orson Welles revolutionized theatre, terrified a nation of radio listeners, and made cinematic history with Citizen Kane, regarded by many as the greatest American film ever made. Building on two years of uninhibited, in-depth interviews with Welles, and on painstaking research in archives and among Welles's contemporaries, Barbara Leaming tells the full story - from Welles's childhood to his glory days in New York and Hollywood, through the years of European exile to his haunting twilight and, in a new epilogue, his death. Publication of this book was, and is again, a major event.

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