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Orson, you're behaving like an asshole.
June 25, 2013 8:38 AM   Subscribe

In the early eighties, Orson Welles was a fixture at L.A.’s Ma Maison, where Wolfgang Puck was the chef before he moved on to Spago. Nearing 70, and 40-plus years removed from Citizen Kane, which he made when he was just 25, Welles was fat and famously difficult, no longer a viable star but still a sort of Hollywood royalty—a very certain sort. The younger director Henry Jaglom was one of many aspiring auteurs who admired him but possibly the only one who taped their conversations. These took place in 1983 over lunch at the restaurant.
posted by The Whelk (67 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
Recent Tank Riot podcast on Orson Welles.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:46 AM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just assumed from the title of the post that this was going to be about Orson Scott Card...
posted by Mad_Carew at 8:47 AM on June 25, 2013 [13 favorites]


Please tell me they had green peas for lunch.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:49 AM on June 25, 2013 [14 favorites]


Speaking of Welles being famously difficult...
posted by Paul Slade at 8:50 AM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always knew him as the guy who did the guest appearance on The Muppet Movie. My cinema-snooty parents were horrified.
posted by Melismata at 8:50 AM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Damn. Every time one of these links to an audio or video clip I think "dammit, isn't there a transcript? You can't mine a recording for value in real time!" And now I see a link about a recording and I want it to be a recording. I'd listen to Orson Welles extemporize on cleaning the bathtub; I don't want to just skip to the good bits because Orson Welles speaking for himself out of his own head is by definition the good bit.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:58 AM on June 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


Please tell me they had green peas for lunch.

Perhaps a french fry stuck in his beard.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:58 AM on June 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Fantastic.
posted by bongo_x at 8:59 AM on June 25, 2013


Measure them. MEASURE THEM!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:00 AM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh Henry Jaglom. If you like interminable, improbable improvisation, watch any of Jaglom's Rainbow Films. (Orson Welles graciously agreed to be Rainbow's Leo the Lion.)
posted by infinitewindow at 9:14 AM on June 25, 2013


I love this, especially the reference to Kenneth Tynan. His Letters are awesome.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:15 AM on June 25, 2013


Waiter: Gentlemen, bon appétit. How is everything?

O.W.: We’re talking, thank you. [Waiter leaves.] I wish they wouldn’t do that. If I ever own a restaurant, I will never allow the waiters to ask if the diners like their dishes. Particularly when they’re talking.


From your lips to God's ear, Orson. Fuck me, they even do that shit at Ma Maison??? I've always regarded it as the half-assed restaurant's lazy substitute for actually paying attention.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:16 AM on June 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


H.J.: You want to try to explain this to the waiter?

O.W.: No, no, no. One complaint per table is all, unless you want them to spit in the food.


Don't know if he was difficult, but you have to admire the pragmatism. Also his criticism of Woody Allen seems to be spot on, if mean-spirited.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:16 AM on June 25, 2013


"Welles was fat and famously difficult, no longer a viable star..."

You are forgetting the mighty Klingsor the 19th, my good man!
posted by markkraft at 9:26 AM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fascinating but also pretty sad; the once great man reduced to dishing on his contemporaries, and going on about the Good Old Days. There's a particular note of sour venom which sounds awfully like self-contempt being projected out onto a world that failed to pay him his due.
posted by yoink at 9:28 AM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


That was the best thing I've read in months, thanks for posting it, The Whelk.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 9:28 AM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


His take on the Internment Camps is, um, interesting. It'd be nice to give it some credit, but the facts don't bear it out.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:30 AM on June 25, 2013


If we're sharing Orson Welles nuggets...

"MWUAAAHHHHAAAAHHHAAAAHHHHHAHHHAAA The French champagne..."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:30 AM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


That was fascinating.

I just can't tell how much of the ludicrous impatience is genuine and how much is living up to his persona. By the end, was his life just the only performance he was allowed to direct?
posted by rock swoon has no past at 9:35 AM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


His take on the Internment Camps is, um, interesting.

Yeah, the BS-meter is pegged to maximum through most of this. Tynan may not have been a fantasist, but Welles clearly is.
posted by yoink at 9:36 AM on June 25, 2013


If you were Darryl Zanuck, and you were producing 80 moving pictures under your direct supervision, how much attention could you pay to any one picture? Somebody was gonna slip something in that’s good.

Beautiful.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:37 AM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe he was so impossible because he'd stopped at Musso and Frank first?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:40 AM on June 25, 2013


That was everything I wanted and more.

There's a 4 minute audio clip by Biskind at Macmillan which gives a few details on the origin of the project.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:43 AM on June 25, 2013


His take on the Internment Camps is, um, interesting.

Yeah, the BS-meter is pegged to maximum through most of this. Tynan may not have been a fantasist, but Welles clearly is.


I'm willing to believe that Roosevelt spun it to him that way (though the stuff about Nazis shooting down Carole Lombard's plane is pure crap), because even Roosevelt wouldn't want to admit that the internment was pure racism.
posted by Etrigan at 9:44 AM on June 25, 2013


It occurs to me that I'm hearing these in my head not so much in the voice of Orson Welles, but Maurice Lemarche doing Brain. I don't know what Henry Jaglom sounds like, so I suppose I should just assume he's Pinky.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:51 AM on June 25, 2013 [12 favorites]


Great post.

... America was developed on the idea that your word is your bond. Otherwise, the frontier could never have been opened, ’cause it was lawless. A man’s word had to mean something. My theory is that everything went to hell with Prohibition, because it was a law nobody could obey. So the whole concept of the rule of law was corrupted at that moment.

The man has a point. Also, I will always remember Orson Welles for the wine commercials.
posted by exogenous at 9:51 AM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm willing to believe that Roosevelt spun it to him that way

Thing is, at that point in his life, it's hard to know what was Welles being full of crap, what was Welles being intentionally provocative, and what was Welles just telling a story he liked the sound of. It's not incredible that Roosevelt might have spun it to him that way, but that presumes that he even had that conversation with Roosevelt in the first place,
posted by octobersurprise at 9:53 AM on June 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


"What're we going to do tonight, Orson?"
"The same thing we do every night, Henry: try to recut Magnificent Ambersons!"
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:55 AM on June 25, 2013 [13 favorites]


“On my tombstone, I want written: ‘He never did Love Boat!’ ” -O.W.
posted by uraniumwilly at 10:01 AM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Richard Burton comes to the table.

Richard Burton: Orson, how good to see you. It’s been too long. You’re looking fine. Elizabeth is with me. She so much wants to meet you. Can I bring her over to your table?

O.W.: No. As you can see, I’m in the middle of my lunch. I’ll stop by on my way out.

Burton exits.


My kind of asshole.
posted by nerdler at 10:04 AM on June 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


I love Musso and Frank. Somehow I missed the memo on it being one of Orson's haunts.
posted by mwhybark at 10:16 AM on June 25, 2013


Gore Vidal recalled some of his amusing conversations with Welles in a 1989 article for The New York Review of Books, Remembering Orson Welles. An excerpt:
When I asked him why he didn’t have the operation that vacuums the fat out of the body, he was gleeful. "Because I have seen the results of liposuction when the operation goes wrong. It happened to a woman I know. First, they insert the catheter in the abdomen, subcutaneously." Orson was up on every medical procedure. "The suction begins and the fat—it looks like yellow chicken fat. You must try the chicken here. But then the fat—hers not the chicken’s—came out unevenly. And so where once had been a Rubensesque torso, there was now something all hideously rippled and valleyed and canyoned like the moon." He chuckled and, as always, the blood rose in his face, slowly, from lower lip to forehead until the eyes vanished in a scarlet cloud, and I wondered, as always, what I’d do were he to drop dead of stroke.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:29 AM on June 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Burton exits.

I can't wait for Burton's memoirs come out, to hear the other side of this, or simply to see if it's in there at all. "Ran into Orson at lunch today -- Christ, what a vainglorious asshole..."
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:48 AM on June 25, 2013


...the Chaplin disease. That particular combination of arrogance and timidity... I think they included this in the DSM-V.
posted by HuronBob at 10:49 AM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's it. Orson Welles and Carole Lombard are both dinner guests at my fantasty dinner party, so they can fight over whether she was shot down by Nazis. And Katie Hepburn, too, so I can compare her and Carole's swearing.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:56 AM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is the most entertaining thing I've read in ages, and I've read things that were scripted to be funny.
posted by chatongriffes at 11:10 AM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


The mental image of Hepburn obscenely "describing how she was fucked by Howard Hughes, using all the four-letter words" will keep me chuckling for days.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:11 AM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ooh, fantasy dinner party. I would seat Stephen Fry next to Orson Welles, because I think they would loath each other instantly. I have no idea who would come out ahead, but I suspect it would be Welles; Fry is too kind in his old age.

Wait! Make it A Bit of Fry & Laurie era Fry and now we have a proper event.
posted by gilrain at 11:13 AM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have no idea who would come out ahead, but I suspect it would be Welles; Fry is too kind in his old age.

If you think the years have only affected Fry, you might want to sit down for this next bit of news...
posted by FatherDagon at 11:37 AM on June 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I love Musso and Frank. Somehow I missed the memo on it being one of Orson's haunts.

It's where Ed Wood meets him in the Tim Burton movie!
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:39 AM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm willing to believe that Roosevelt spun it to him that way (though the stuff about Nazis shooting down Carole Lombard's plane is pure crap), because even Roosevelt wouldn't want to admit that the internment was pure racism.

I wonder if there was a concept of "racism" prior to the end of the war and discovery of the death camps. Or to be precise, if there was the concept that "racism is bad." I don't think there was, but the horrors that were discovered in Germany and Eastern Europe actually helped pave the way for the end of Asian exclusion in Canada and the States, as well as the right to vote.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:56 AM on June 25, 2013


Dramatic Chipmunk vs. Orson Welles.
posted by markkraft at 12:39 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


even Roosevelt wouldn't want to admit that the internment was pure racism.

There were, at the time, a variety of rationalizations used, and "protection" was in fact one of them. I know I was hearing this argument as something close to the textbook conventional wisdom as late as the 1970s. It isn't as peculiar a view as it may sound today.

He also wasn't alone in considering conspiracy theories about the Lombard plane crash. It was just a month after Pearl Harbor, and public paranoia was high.

I wonder if there was a concept of "racism" prior to the end of the war

Eh? There certainly was, although our modern conception of it owes much to post-structuralist theory (via feminism). But what was considered racist was much more in the realm of practical effects like voting rights or segregation than, say, Paula Deen's potty mouth.
posted by dhartung at 1:01 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I wasn’t rude. To quote Carl Laemmle, “I gave him an evasive answer. I told him, ‘Go fuck yourself.’ ”
I think that's my new favorite phrase ever.
posted by TDavis at 1:13 PM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's where Ed Wood meets him in the Tim Burton movie!

With Vincent D'Onofrio as Welles. Who later produced and starred in Five Minutes, Mr. Welles, a short performance about Welles preparing for The Third Man.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:16 PM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe he was so impossible because he'd stopped at Musso and Frank first?

The last time I was in LA we had a meetup at Musso and Frank and Warren Beatty and Annette Bening sat at that very same booth that Welles is in in that clip. We were at the table next to them.

You've probably heard the story about how I followed Beatty to the men's room so that I could say Warren and I have urinated together. If you haven't heard that story...

Warren Beatty and I have urinated together.
posted by dobbs at 2:45 PM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


The younger director Henry Jaglom was one of many aspiring auteurs who admired him but possibly the only one who taped their conversations.

Pretty weird that Biskind is saying this as I believe it's pretty well known that Bogdanovich also taped their conversations. The difference is that Jaglom didn't get permission.
posted by dobbs at 2:49 PM on June 25, 2013


Warren Beatty and I have urinated together.

That's just one degree of urination from Shirley MacLaine!
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:59 PM on June 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't like this new Keven Bacon game.
posted by The Whelk at 3:01 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't like this new Keven Bacon game

Bacon? More like asparagus.
posted by zippy at 3:12 PM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


"It’s people like me who have to carry on and pretend to be modest."

Hahahahaha.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 4:18 PM on June 25, 2013


I picked up on the 'the way we used to go to the movies', because that was what I did as a kid in 1950s Brooklyn.

The local movie theatre was called the AVED on its marquee (it is now this church). It regularly showed 2 feature films, a cartoon, a short, coming attractions, and a newsreel, for a show lasting about 3 hours.
As Welles describes, you showed up anytime, sat through a complete showing, and left when you recognized the scenes you had seen when you came in.

Continuity is not a problem--just try watching any movie starting in the middle and then wrapping from the start. It works.

A quick look at the NYTimes movie ad page for April 4, 1952 shows very few movie start times--really just the art houses (there were phone numbers though). The page is pretty fascinating--no prices on the movie theaters, but for Audrey Hepburn in Gigi seats were $1.50 and $1.80. I remember movies going from a dime to a quarter over the 1950s.

AVED also showed a Saturday afternoon kids program. There would be two features, at least one a western, about 15 cartoons (the GOOD WB and Disney [but always one stinker by George Pal, which would get roundly booed]) one or two serials, and some short subjects (think Stooges). All air conditioned for four summer hours. Getting hooked for three weeks by a serial immunized me against getting hooked on any serial stuff since, so I have seen only fragments of Sopranos and not much else.

I don't know when movies went to 'come at the start and watch twenty minutes of stupid ads'.
posted by hexatron at 4:30 PM on June 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Welles did campaign for Roosevelt in 1944 - did a radio program that was hosted by Bogart.
posted by inthelongrun at 4:51 PM on June 25, 2013


This reads like a "My Lunch with Orson" McSweeney's piece. So good.
posted by corey le fou at 5:02 PM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


With Vincent D'Onofrio as Welles.

With the voice of Maurice LaMarche, who was The Brain in Pinky and The Brain. And we come full circle!
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:29 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


D'Onofrio channeled the younger Welles' physical and particularly facial mannerisms but fell well short on the vocal delivery; Liev Schreiber did the exact opposite in RKO 281: he's perfect but only to your ears. Somehow someone has to figure out how to CGI meld those aspects of their two performances into a single film.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:17 PM on June 25, 2013


Just adding to the chorus of how endlessly entertaining this is; for those who missed the little blurb at the bottom:

Excerpted from My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, by Peter Biskind, to be published next month


Here's Welles showing up at the end of Jaglom's "Someone to Love" and schooling him on what the movie was about.
posted by the bricabrac man at 8:08 PM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


With the voice of Maurice LaMarche, who was The Brain in Pinky and The Brain.

I didn't catch this: my criticism of D'Onofrio's delivery is based on watching Five Minutes, Mr. Welles. After I posted that comment I watched him in the scene from Ed Wood and was briefly convinced I was mistaken... until I noticed how obviously dubbed it is. Then and only then did I understand your comment and look it up...
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:13 PM on June 25, 2013


In my defense, I saw "Ed Wood" many years before I first darkened the hallowed wood of Rueben's bar and the scene had escaped me.

The LA Theater Works edition of Orson's Shadow features a delightfully convincing version of Mr. Welles' vocal timbre and presence realized by Robert Machray. That last link seems to be to a PRX post of the complete two hour play. If you goof on Orson like I do (and you do, because you are in this thread devoted to discussing transcriptions of his lunchtime chats) you should prolly check it out.
posted by mwhybark at 1:07 AM on June 26, 2013


Warren Beatty and I have urinated together.

That's just one degree of urination from Shirley MacLaine!


And with all her past lives, it's one degree from Cleopatra and Sun Tzu too!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:25 AM on June 26, 2013


More interviews with Orson on tape at EggCityRadio
posted by Abinadab at 8:39 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Abinadab, I've been trying to track down those audio tapes for years. Thanks for the link!
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:46 PM on June 26, 2013


I don't know when movies went to 'come at the start and watch twenty minutes of stupid ads'.

At least since 1960.
posted by Omon Ra at 5:06 PM on June 26, 2013


Omon Ra-
I saw Psycho in Brooklyn in 1960. I remember the 'no one admitted after the movie starts' ad, but:
1. The ad is meaningful only in a context in which entering a movie theater at any old time is the norm.
2. The threat was not enforced in the neighborhood theaters, where turning away a paying customer would be lunacy.
posted by hexatron at 6:31 AM on June 27, 2013


My first encounter with extended advertisements in a movie theater (after the lights went out and before the movie started) was in NYC around 2000 or early 2001. I hissed in disgust, but the vast majority my fellow patrons were more blasé.
posted by exogenous at 8:17 AM on June 27, 2013


Behind-the-scenes with Orson Welles recording a frozen food commercial
posted by exogenous at 4:27 AM on July 1, 2013


Behind-the-scenes with Orson Welles recording a frozen food commercial

He sounds grumpy and tempermental, but the things he's saying aren't too far off base. Their copy and directing is crap! Who knows how long this session went on and on before he started to lose his temper over it and this recording started. It's hard to tell out of context.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:53 AM on July 1, 2013


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