I am reading Henry Jaglom's book of his lunches with Orson Welles. Henry's brother Michael was at my crazy high school, Cherry Lawn,in Darien, Conn. and was crazier even than the nuttiest person there. He and Frenchy Bessmertny used to surprise attack each other, jumping off roofs, crying" Mao-Tse-Tung" as they landed on each other's backs. Besides being nuts, Michael was also some kind of genius, so I was always a little bit interested in his film-making brother. But mainly I am interested in Orson Welles, always acknowledged as one of our authentic geniuses, unrealized to the extent he might have been if he'd had more financial support, and it hadn't been so difficult for him to get his projects made.
When I went to Paris after Bryn Mawr, in love with Show Biz as i already was, I said I was going there to save Judy Garland, Marlon Brando, or Orson Welles, all of whom were supposed to be there at the time. (I later almost nearly had a chance encounter with Judy, when I went to Las Vegas, sent there by MCA, to write a new act for her. But she had a breakdown just before my plane landed, and that was that. My husband, Don, came closer, as he had worked for the wicked agent David Begelman who handled her in every sense of the word, and had assigned the 22 year old Don to shepherd her, and she liked him, always patting his ass just before going onstage for good luck.) Anyway, I was crossing one of the great bridges in Paris on my way to the Mars Club where I was singing, when I passed Orson Welles, who was going the other way. He was talking to himself. That sort of ended my idolizing him, as I saw he was in trouble. I didn't have the courage yet... I was 20... to take on someone that crazy, or maybe that gifted.
Then I saw his production of Moby Dock onstage in London, in which he played a number of roles including Father Mapple, about which the captious critic Kenneth Tynan wrote "Hamlet is a tragedy about a man who couldn't make up his mind. Moby Dick is a tragedy about a man who couldn't make up his nose." So mean, and so accurate. Welles' nose was particularly tiny and so, I guess, not impressive enough to him, so he really overdid it. That was the only time I ever saw him except once, and no longer infatuated, no longer hoped to make it better for him, The only other time was at Ma Maison, where all the conversations in Jaglom's book take place, when he was lunching with my loved friend, the brilliant actor-director John Cassavetes, who I think would have written a better book, but he wasn't one to record.
I have never before written about what I was reading, but as books on paper vanish, I suppose it is a good idea. I remember when Maureen Stapleton was being courted by the 90-something-year-old George Abbott, and told me he'd written her "I am reading The Pretenders. It's supposed to be about Billy Rose." I was thrilled of course that the fabled showman was actually reading my novel, just as Maureen was thrilled to be courted by him. They went out dancing almost every night when they were in the same town-- she was at the Beverly Hills Hotel while making a movie in LA, and called me to say that I was going to be very rich, that a thief had broken into her hotel room and left her money and left her jewelry, but had stolen her copy of The Pretenders. "When I get back to New York I am going to go to Doubleday's," she said-- remember when there were Doubleday's?-- "and I am going to say: "Do you have a Child's Garden of Verses, and do you have The Pretenders? And if you do, why the fuck isn't it in the window?" There was nobody like her. She and Mr. Abbott broke up because he was seeing other women. No kidding. "Surely you're not one of those women who's jealous?" he said to her. but she was.
I'm writing this as I have to do something of a creative nature since my morning was spent on the phone with A T & T trying to sort out a bill demanding payment for a phone line I never used and cancelled because I couldn't hear, and neither could anyone I tried to call. Billy Rose, my diminutive sort-of hero of The Pretenders got rich because of A T &T, and I'm sure he would be appalled at what has happened to them. But he would probably be appalled at what has happened to everything. I don't want to sound like one of those people lamenting about things having gone to seed, but haven't they?
I'm sort of relieved that Orson Welles isn't here to see, though I imagine he would, if he could get the financing, make a good movie about it.