We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?

A Portrait of an Independent Career

Joseph McBride

Publication Year: 2006

At the age of twenty-five, Orson Welles (1915–1985) directed, co-wrote, and starred in Citizen Kane, widely regarded as the greatest film ever made. But Welles was such a revolutionary filmmaker that he found himself at odds with the Hollywood studio system. His work was so far ahead of its time that he never regained the wide popular following he had once enjoyed as a young actor-director on the radio. What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career challenges the conventional wisdom that Welles’s career after Kane was a long decline and that he spent his final years doing little but eating and making commercials while squandering his earlier promise. In this intimate and often surprising personal portrait, Joseph McBride shows instead how Welles never stopped directing radical, adventurous films and was always breaking new artistic ground as a filmmaker. McBride is the first author to provide a comprehensive examination of the films of Welles's artistically rich yet little-known later period in the United States (1970–1985), when McBride knew and worked with him. McBride reports on Welles's daringly experimental film projects, including the legendary 1970–1976 unfinished film The Other Side of the Wind, Welles’s satire of Hollywood during the “Easy Rider era”; McBride gives a unique insider perspective on Welles from the viewpoint of a young film critic playing a spoof of himself in a cast headed by John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich. To put Welles’s widely misunderstood later years into context, What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? reexamines the filmmaker’s entire life and career. McBride offers many fresh insights into the collapse of Welles’s Hollywood career in the 1940s, his subsequent political blacklisting, and his long period of European exile. An enlightening and entertaining look at Welles's brilliant and enigmatic career as a filmmaker, What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? serves as a major reinterpretation of Welles’s life and work. McBride clears away the myths that have long obscured Welles’s later years and have caused him to be falsely regarded as a tragic failure. McBride’s revealing portrait of this great artist will change the terms of how Orson Welles is understood as a man, an actor, a political figure, and a filmmaker.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

pdf iconDownload PDF (330.7 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (92.2 KB)

read more

Introduction: "The High Priest of the Cinema"

pdf iconDownload PDF (849.4 KB)
pp. ix-xviii

When I was twenty-three and finishing my first book on Orson Welles, I had the good fortune not only of meeting the legendary and elusive film-maker but also, even more improbably, becoming a character in an Orson My fascination with Welles had begun four years earlier when I saw Citizen Kane in a film class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It ...

read more

1. "God, How They'll Love Me When I'm Dead!"

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.2 MB)
pp. 3-27

“God, how they’ll love me when I’m dead!” Welles was fond of saying in his later years, with a mixture of bitterness and ironic detachment. But that’s a half-truth at best. More than two decades after Welles’s death, his career is, in a very real sense, ...

read more

2. "Committing Masterpieces"

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.6 MB)
pp. 29-79

In F for Fake, Welles wryly tells the story of a fictitious painter of fake Picassos. Challenged by Picasso about his transgression, the painter asks what is his crime, “Committing masterpieces?” It’s hard not to regard this mot as a commentary by Welles on his own checkered career in the Hollywood marketplace. During the early 1940s, he gave RKO two of ...

read more

3. Orson Welles at Large

pdf iconDownload PDF (3.8 MB)
pp. 81-135

With his directing career in ruins, Welles, still only twenty-seven in 1942, probably thought more seriously about the possibility of quitting moviemaking than at any other time in his life. It seemed the decision was being made for him. He was ...

read more

4. "Twilight in the Smog"

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.7 MB)
pp. 137-161

On July 4, 1970, the young cinematographer Gary Graver, who had been working on low-budget exploitation movies, read a brief item that had appeared two days earlier in Army Archerd’s Daily Variety gossip column: “Orson Welles, looking ...

read more

5. "Your Friendly Neighborhood Grocery Store"

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.4 MB)
pp. 163-221

Looking back over Welles’s career, his longtime associate Richard Wilson remembered the mood that prevailed when shooting began on It’s All True in the early 1940s: “All the struggles and the frustrations and missed opportunities that we associate with Orson now—none of that had happened yet. And nobody...

read more

6. "No Wine Before Its Time"

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.7 MB)
pp. 223-305

Welles would became impatient in later years when people tried to take him on what he called a “stroll down memory lane,” with its implication that his past was far more glorious than his present. When the respectful young director Rob Reiner tried to quiz him ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (102.1 KB)
pp. 307-209

My foremost thanks are due to Gary Graver, Welles’s cinematographer and right-hand man for the last fifteen years of the director’s life, a good friend of mine these many years and a bounteous supporter of my re-search into his and Welles’s work together. Gary’s wife and partner in the Orson Welles Archive, Jillian Kesner, also provided unstinting help with ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (361.2 KB)
pp. 310-330


pdf iconDownload PDF (252.5 KB)
pp. 331-344

E-ISBN-13: 9780813171517
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813124100

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2006