‘My lunches with Orson’

During the last three years of Welles’ life the lunches he and Henry Jaglom had long shared were recorded. “After Welles died, Jaglom put the tapes in a shoebox, another unfinished Welles project relegated to a closet.” This book finally brings these conversations into the light.

Godot didn’t show up for Welles either, but the waiting is fascinating, and in these casual, robust exchanges, we see a Welles both playful and morose, driven and defeated, optimistic and hopeless, seeking both patronage and independence, bursting with creative brio, yet tempered by the slow realization that things will not come to bear. And if these musings from the last, lamentable years don’t conclusively answer our Why, they compose a sad, lovely portrait, rich with pathos, of our artist in winter.

The review is beautifully done with many quotes from these conversations. In this one, Welles has (at last) been promised financing for one of his dangling projects, provided he can sign an A-list actor:

OW: No dark, funny-looking guys. I want an Irish leading man like Jack [Nicholson], or at least an all-American WASP.

HJ: Why?

OW: It’s the president of the United States. Were you born yesterday?

HJ: That’s all changed. Everyone said a Catholic couldn’t get elected president, then Kennedy got elected. Everyone said a divorced guy couldn’t get elected, and then Reagan did.

OW: That will never change. Never. You can’t do a story like this and have some Italian play that role: ‘Cazzo, you gotta respect-a the president, and that’s-a me.’

HJ: That’s disgusting.

OW: Oh, you want Dusty Hoffman? ‘Oy, vey, don’t be such a putz, kill ‘em.’

HJ: You’ve got a very fifties, fucked-up idea of what looks American.

OW: You’re my bleeding heart. I was more left than you’ll ever be.

HJ: What about Paul Newman?

OW: Paul Newman would work.

HJ: Newman’s Jewish.

OW: He’s not ethnic. I don’t care if they’re Jewish; I don’t care if they’re Italian, but they can’t be ethnic. Hoffman is ethnic, Pacino is ethnic.

HJ: So no Jews, no Italians…

OW: No. This has to be a guy from the heartland of America. Or we don’t have a movie.

HJ: The one who was totally willing to do it was De Niro, without even reading the script, and you just—

OW: Don’t try to sell me on De Niro. I don’t care how great you think he is.

HJ: He’s too ethnic also?

OW: Not just ethnic, though that’s part of it. More it’s that the great things he does on the screen…none of them look to me like the qualities of a candidate. You’re writing off an awful lot of the country with him. My candidate is a fellow who’s got to carry Kansas. I really don’t see De Niro carrying Kansas.

And no, it didn’t get made. As Steve Danziger says, “The pity is that Welles couldn’t make his living as a conversationalist.”


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