The following is fictional but based on true facts about the lives of two great American artistes, actor-director Orson Welles, and novelist Ayn Rand
By STEVEN TRAVERS
We are at a lavish party in the Beverly Hills mansion of a leading Hollywood movie producer, with a spectacular view of Los Angeles at night. The year is 1957. The glitterati of Hollywood is all there: Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, John “Duke” Wayne, and many other Beautiful People.
Drinks flow freely and so does the conversation; juicy nuggets from inside the film industry, rumors of affairs, wild tales told out of school, such as James Dean’s homosexuality and the real story behind his fiery death in a car crash.
Amidst this scene we see ORSON WELLES, the famed “boy wonder” of Hollywood who at 23 co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in Citizen Kane, which has made a comeback in American theaters within the last year. Some critics are calling it the “greatest movie ever made.” But Orson is no longer a “boy wonder.” He is 42 but looks 50, rotund at close to 270 pounds, his expensive Brooks Brothers suit too tightly clinging to him.
Several actors, actresses and executives say hello to him, attempting to engage him in conversation. He is polite but gives them the brush. He has a bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne in his right hand, a glass in the other, and proceeds to a closed door, which he opens.
Welles enters an ornate library, filled with books and photos of Hollywood stars going back to the silent era. A huge, cavernous couch adorns the middle of the room, and beyond it large bay windows overlooking a steep canyon, beyond that the dream factory, Hollywood.
Welles looks admiringly at the view, until a slight grimace comes to his mouth.
“To be, or not to be, that is the question,” he says, quoting William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The man has a deep, sonorous, baritone voice. It is a voice that could stop a train, could be heard in a violent blizzard, would turn heads in a train station at rush hour.
“Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or, to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them – to die, to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep we say to end . . .”
Before Welles can recite the next line, we hear an unseen person in a deep Russian accent.
“The heart ache and the thousand natural shocks
The flesh is heir to: ‘tis a consummation.”
Wells is taken aback, but recovers. Both recite the next lines:
“Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub:”
Welles switches gears, this time quoting from Romeo and Juliet.
“It is my lady, O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were . . .”
The Russian voice replies:
“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? What art thou thus bescreen’d in night?
So stumblest on my counsel?”
“By a name
I know not how to tell thee who I am
My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself,
Because it is an enemy to thee;
Had I written it, I word tear the word.”
Welles breaks character. He comes around to the other side of the elaborate couch. “My name, fair maiden, is Orson Welles: writer, producer, director, actor, failure.”
Reveal AYN RAND, 52 years of age, lithe and slender, but not beautiful. Her nose is bird-like, her eyes darting, yet she reveals an intelligence, a sense of self and surrounding, an intellectualism that more than makes up for classic beauty, such as the perfect goddesses trolling about in the other room looking to sleep their way to stardom.
Ayn Rand has already earned her stardom. She is the author of two best-selling novels, the latest of which is all the rage, but is engenDering controversy that weighs heavily on her mind. She remains seated.
“Mr. Welles,” she intones. “My name is Ayn Rand. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Ayn Rand!” exclaims Welles. “Why I half expect flames from your nose. Forgive me, but I have already drunk two bottles of Champagne on top of some choice pharmaceuticals and cannot be held responsible for my words. What a predicament for a writer, wouldn’t you say?”
“That’s quite alright, Mr. Welles. Please take a seat, this couch is more than big enough for the two of us.”
“But is this town, Miss. Rand?”
“Ah, we’ll see. And it’s Mrs. as in O’Connor.”
“Let’s forget formalities. Call me Orson.”
“Call me Ayn.”
“Orson and Ayn,” says Welles. “It sounds like a Vaudeville act.”
“From what I hear,” she replies, “we might be reduced to such in due order.”
“Ay, there’s the rub,” says Welles. “I agree on my predicament, but are you or are you not the author of the hottest novel since Gone With the Wind?”
“According to a man I admired and thought shared my beliefs, a certain Whittaker Chambers of National Review wrote that from each page of Atlas Shrugged \’a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber – go!’ ”
“Ouch,” says Welles. “Perhaps this will help.”
He offers Ayn some Champagne, but she reveals she already has a bottle of red and a glass full of it.
“Apparently we came into this empty room, with a big party going on outside the door, to drink alone,” she says.
“I can leave,” he replies.
“No,” she says. “Please join me. I am an admirer.”
“I wish I could say the same of me regarding you, Mrs. Rand, er, Mr.s O’Connor is it?”
“I’ve retained my maiden name for my work,” she says. “My husband’s name is Frank O’Connor. He is an out of work actor, since 1929. Not that I don’t worship the ground he walks on.”
“He is not here?” asks Welles.
“No, the attention is all on me and it wears on him. Apparently on me as well,” she says. “You’re wife, is she here?”
“My wife Paolo is in New York. I’ve moved back here after a long hiatus. I hate it already. I despise this town and all it stands for. I’ve been married three times. The gossip columns wrote all about it.
Delores del Rio broke up my first marriage. I was infatuated with her since adolescence. My shrink can’t get to the bottom of that one.”
“Weren’t you married to Rita Hayworth?” asks Ayn.
“Indeed I was,” says Welles. “Imagine that, the portly Mr. Welles married to such a spectacular form of female splendor. I wish I could dish on her with stories of her rudeness and entitlement, but she was a wonderful person and still a fine friend, our 10-year old divorce notwithstanding.”
“You mentioned flames emanating from my nose,” says Ayn. “What does this refer to?”
“I’m embarrassed,” replies Welles. “As I say I’m drinking, but frankly your politics are not my politics. At least from what I’ve read.”
“You’ve not read Atlas Shrugged?” she asks.
“I’m afraid not.”
“Solved,” she says, reaching into a bag and pulling out a copy, which she opens and signs, “To Orson, our greatest thespian, Ayn Rand.”
Welles reads it and puts his hand to his mouth.
“Dear God, are you trying to start a riot?” he says laughingly. “Marlon Brando is right outside that door.”
“He’s a mumbler,” says Ayn. “You are Othello. You are Macbeth.”
“Well, thank you,” he says. “I will read it, but I warn you, I am a New Deal FDR progressive and atheist.”
“I am too. An atheist, I mean.”
“Really?” says Welles. “I thought everybody on the Right is like Duke Wayne: God, country, patriotism.”
“My philosophy is Objectivism,” she replies, “which is the role of the mind in man’s existence . . . the morality of rational self interest. I concentrate on moral Objectivism with groups and in public speaking. Some called these groups a cult or religion.
“I love Victor Hugo’s novels and my female characters have a ‘male gaze’ quality. Objectivism is man as heroic being, responsible for his own happiness . . . noble achievements are his responsibility, reason is his absolute.
“Man should help others only after helping himself; if man cannot help himself he cannot help others. I am a devout atheist who believes in ‘philosophical realism.’ I disdain mysticism and supernaturalism as religious doctrine and believe free will is our cause of determinism. I reject concepts such as ‘instinct’ or ‘gut feeling,’ and believe selfishness is a virtue. I believe in individual rights, property rights, and laissexx-faire capitalism.
“Romanticism best exemplifies our free will. Aristotle is my greatest influence, although I must adhere to the ‘three A’s’: Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand.”
“I agree with practically everything you say,” says Welles. “Except maybe the part about ‘gut instinct.’ My character Charles Foster Kane operated on that premise.”
“Look where it got him,” replies Ayn smugly. “In the end, at least.”
“I suppose you have a point,” Welles adds, pouring himself some more Champagne while Ayn sips her wine.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” Welles says. “I am Sisyphus, pushing the rock to the top of the Hollywood sign only to have a gaggle of studio executives and simpletons push it back down. First they ruined Citizen Kane. I directed that film using chiaroscuro lighting techniques and deep sound effects I discovered from radio. I was considered the first auteur; a bravura performance. Nobody in Hollywood understood what I was trying to achieve.
“I hated William Randolph Hearst because he excluded me from his influential social circle for being a Socialist. Louis B. Mayer, Hearst and the conservatives in Hollywood, then very powerful, attempted to bribe George Schaefer to destroy the print, but he refused. The Hearst papers refused to mention the film.
“It took 10 weeks to make and was the hit of 1941, but won only one Oscar despite nine nominations. It won for Best Original Screenplay which they really only allowed because Herman Mankiewizc wrote it but I was a co-writer. The studios instituted a block voting system by the extras’ unions, controlled by Mayer. He resented me and prevented the film from garnering more awards.
“I’m not in it for awards, however. But they ravaged the film so it did only modest business and was shelved as the war began.”
“I saw it in New York last year,” says Ayn. “The theatre was filled and it received a standing ovation.”
“It only re-emerged with French audiences after the war,” says Welles. “It did not see a revival until it came on TV, causing it to be re-released in theaters to great acclaim.”
Welles finishes his glass and pours some more Champagne. Rand does the same with her wine.
“I sense some displeasure on your part,” he says to her. “You’ve written two wildly successful novels. The Fountainhead was a hit. Surely Atlas Shrugged will be too. I saw Charlton Heston out there. He seems on your wave length. Would you like me to introduce you so you can ask him to play John Galt?”
“The Fountainhead was published 14 years ago. I was so naive; Howard Roark vs. the ‘second handers’ who climb the backs of others.”
“That sounds familiar,” says Welles.
“My Objectivist philosophy was not fully formed,” says Ayn. “12 publishers turned it down before Bobbs-Merrill bought it at the insistence of Archibald Ogden, who threatened to quit if they did not. I got hooked on Benzedrine so I could work nights. Now I’m moody.
“Warner Bros. allowed me to write the script for Hal Wallis. My contract included other works including The Moral Basis of Individualism.
“But Frank I were working closely with the Right during the Blacklist and McCarthyism, exposing Communism and Song of Russia as misrepresenting my native Russia. I was a ‘friendly witness’ for HUAC. I criticized The Best Years of Our Lives as a negative portrayal of business. It was all futile. I thought we were on the right side of history. I certainly felt the movie industry to be sympathetic to my beliefs, but Dory Schary replaced Louis Mayer and overnight I was an enemy in this town, in New York.
“Communism is embedded in the U.S. Whittaker Chambers was right. We are on the losing side. It won’t need a hammer ‘n’ sickle. People won’t need the KGB to turn spies in this country; to blackmail homosexuals. People will choose Communism without realizing it. It will be their politics. I have seen it happen when I lived in Russia.”
“I think I understand you,” replies Welles. “A few years ago I was in Hong Kong and met some dissidents from the mainland. They told me of a plot to assassinate -.”
Welles stops and looks around conspiratorially, making sure he is not heard by others.
“A plot to assassinate John Wayne. Stalin planned it and it was attempted when he made Hondo in Mexico. Duke’s wife was divorcing him and looking for dirt so the studio had special security set up, and they stopped the plot in its tracks, but they tried when he got back to the States. Duke and his stuntmen stopped it at the Warner Bros. lot and the FBI shipped these men back to Russia, but these wonderful Chinese dissidents told me Mao is plotting the same thing. Duke’s reaction was to make anti-Communist films like Big Jim McLain and Blood Alley.
“But listen Ayn, what I’m telling you . . . I’ve drunk too much. Duke hasn’t made any of this public. He doesn’t want his fans or even his family to worry. Please don’t repeat this.”
“Orson, you have my word,” replies Ayn. “You are of another age, my friend. You are a classic liberal, like Aristotle, like John Locke. But there are younger people, many raised in New York . . . Chambers exposed the network but we are still asleep; many who hate this country. We have exposed a spy network. Half of FDR’s Oval Office were Soviet under covers, but soon they won’t need a network. College students will simply choose politics undermining America and all that makes her great.
“But I too have had too much wine. Forgive me, I speak too much on this. But Hollywood, ah, the studios . . . I disliked The Fountainhead from beginning to end. They changed my script, and did not utilize my suggestions on lighting and direction.
“After that Frank and I moved back to New York City. I no longer believe in Hollywood. Lenin said of all the arts, cinema is the most powerful. Hitler understood it too. So too do the ‘useful idiots’ in this town.
“So I finished Atlas Shrugged and formed working groups in New York. This is where I have influence. Many readers sent letters and I began a forum including some who will go into government. But it has affected my marriage. I have had a romance with a young acolyte, Nathan. His wife and my husband all know. It is a triangle of sorts like that of Dagny Taggart with Francisco dAntonio, Ragnare Danesjold and John Galt.
“But they read working manuscripts and made suggestions. The novel describes the role of mind in man’s existence . . . true morality, but the intellectual response discouraged me. Hollywood will not make Atlas Shrugged and if they did they would ruin it. I will never allow it. I will move back to New York. I won’t write novels. I’ll concentrate on moral Objectivism with groups and in public speaking.
“My enemies call these groups a cult or religion. National Review and William F. Buckley hated Atlas Shrugged. Whittaker Chambers’ review was scathing, writing that each word seemed to order those not viewed as heroic supermen and superwomen to the gas chambers. Sex, he wrote, does not result in marriage or children. I fear I have created a schism between the traditional Christians in the Republican Party and the Randians, who dress like my characters, mimicking them, even forming romantic triangles like them.
“But the good news is the book was a huge hit immediately. My books have always been written as if for a film, with a three-act structure taught me by Cecil B. DeMille, but the politics of Hollywood have changed. No doubt I will never find favor again.”
Welles sips his Champagne and pours himself another glass. Rand follows suit with her wine.
“History does not repeat,” Welles says. “It rhymes, but when it does it does so in polar opposite to its previous incarnation. Whereby I was once suspect for my Democratic affiliations with the New Deal, and you were riding high as did the likes of Dick Nixon and Joe McCarthy, the pendulum has swung against this reactionary thinking.
“I was Goodwill Ambassador to Latin America during the war and always favored the Spanish-speaking countries and people. The OSS tasked me with gathering information on the growing Fascist movement in Latin America at the time. I worked with Duke Wellington. But while in Latin America the Hollywood big shots worked behind my back. I was fired from RKO even though I’m credited with doing much work, especially on radio, to promote the war effort, at the expense of my career. I spent $40,000 of my own money on an Armed Services radio show because I felt guilty I never fought in the war. I helped raise over $20 billion in war bonds.
“I campaigned ardently for FDR, sending him phrases he incorporated into speeches. I even filled in for FDR in debates with Governor Dewey. I was a progressive Democrat who hated racism and segregation. FDR told me we were the two greatest actors alive, urging me to run for Senate in California or Wisconsin. I promoted the New Deal in a newspaper column and was a correspondent at the first U.N. Conference in San Francisco, 1945. I met Jack Kennedy there.
“But in 1946 I directed The Stranger, my only commercially successful film, but International Pictures breached their contract, which was supposed to see me direct several more. The fix was in, so I returned to radio and Broadway. My support of the NAACP did not endear me to some political elements. The Lady From Shanghai did not do well in the U.S. but like Citizen Kane was embraced in Europe. I starred and direct in Macbeth, again using the same techniques borrowed from my Negro Theatre production in the 1930s. Given a small cast and budget I made drastic changes in set design and sound, which critics at first called a ‘disaster,’ just as they did when they first viewed Citizen Kane, but again I was hailed in Europe, so I moved and worked there for eight years, making The Third Man. I did Othello. That shoot had many problems, but my performance was not one of them. I filmed Mr. Arkadin in Europe (1955), and last year when Citizen Kane finally got its due, I thought, now is the time to return to Hollywood.
“Still I have enemies with long fangs and longer memories. I worked with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who purchased RKO. I guest starred in I Love Lucy. They were accused of Communism. Desi hates Castro but the knives were out.”
He is getting louder, more perturbed.
“I made Man in the Shadow with Jeff Chandler, and just finished starring in and directing Touch of Evil for Universal with our party guest Mr. Heston. Joseph Cotten and Marlene Dietrich are in it. The studio ripped it apart, despite a 58-page memo I wrote offering the best path forward. It is my best work since Kane, a modern morality play, my vision, my characters. I offered myself up to the gods on this one; I allowed myself to be filmed fat and slovenly. I am the ‘evil’ in the title. Has an actor this side of Olivier been more vain than I? Yet I was willing for my art to subjugate my appearance in favor of art. None of this is to my credit. Universal is cutting it apart. It is not my movie anymore.”
Welles slugs back another glass and begins to pour more. Then he calms down.
“I’m sorry Mrs. – Ayn,” he says. “I sound like a fool. Who am I to complain. My God, you escaped Communism, didn’t you? Tell me how that happened.”
Ayn pours more red.
“I was born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum in 1905, from a Russian-Jewish bourgeoisie family, the eldest of three daughters. My father was a pharmacist. I was 12 when the Bolshevik Revolution occurred. My father’s business was confiscated, so we fled to Crimea, where the Whites still held on. After high school I returned to St. Petersburg (now Petrograd) where we nearly starved.
“In 1921 I entered Petrograd State University to study history but I was seen as bourgeoisie so they soon purged me before graduation, but some scientists complained so myself and others were allowed back in, graduating in 1924. Then I studied at the State Technicum for Screen Arts in Leningrad. Cinema was seen as the greatest tool of propaganda. I began calling myself Ayn Rand and published my first book about a Polish actress.
“In 1925 I was granted a visa to visit relatives in Chicago, where I learned English. I never intended to return. Soon after I moved to Hollywood to write screenplays just as ‘talkies’ were coming into being. There I met C.B. DeMille. I was an extra on King of Kings. Using my feminine wiles I talked him into giving me a job as junior screenwriter.”
Welles laugh. “Here, here,” he says.
“I met Frank O’Connor, a young actor. We were married in 1929 and I became a citizen a couple years later. Attempts to bring my parents to the U.S. were unsuccessful.
“I wrote screenplays and stage plays in the 1930s with limited success. I sold a script, Red Pawn, and an unproduced stage play. Night of January 16th was produced in L.A. and made it to Broadway. Audiences were selected as a jury and determined the ending each night.”
“Ah, the experimental theatre,” Welles reflects.
“I published an autobiographical novel, We the Living about the Russian state,” continues Ayn. “It was made into a stage play, but did better in Europe than in the U.S., just as much of your work has. After I gained recognition it was revised and should be produced next year or so. The same with We the Living after The Fountainhead. It told a dystopian story of totalitarian existence years before 1984.
“Frank and I worked for Wendell Willkie. A journalist named Henry Hazlit introduced me to the Austrian school of economics taught by Ludwig von Mises. Von Mises called me ‘the most courageous man in America,’ which I loved as I thought to be called a man was a compliment. I elevated the ‘male gaze’ to the idea of ‘man worship.’ Isabel Patterson, a libertarian writer, further tutored me on American history.
“The libertarians claim me as their own. I am unsure on this point. I am not an anarchist.”
She sips her wine and Welles sips his Champagne.
“I understand you attempted Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” she says. “C.B. told me you couldn’t lick it.”
Welles looks wistfully out at the lights of L.A.
“Is that what DeMille told you?” he replied. “It was more of the same, really. Hollywood screwed me over that one. I should have learned my lesson and gone to Europe to stay in the theatre. Of course Hitler would have thrown me in the camps.
“Did you know I met Hitler once? I was admitted to Harvard but chose to travel to Europe instead. In Dublin I talked the owner of a local playhouse into believing I was a Broadway star, leading to several roles on the Irish stage including Somerset Maugham’s The Circle. I met Adolf Hitler while hiking in Austria, but he was ‘invisible,’ with no personality. There was nothing there until 5,000 people started yelling, ‘Sieg heil.’ I also traveled to South Africa.
“But you ask about Heart of Darkness. I was to be Marlowe narrating the boat journey, which I had done for radio using many sound effects, but in pre-production it became obvious it would be super-expensive and complicated to shoot on water. The project was shelved by the bean counters, who had no confidence in my ingenuity.
“Everybody says it can’t be licked. Richard Brooks tried but failed. I’ll never be given another chance, but a young screenwriter should take it on, like a young bull charging a red cape, just head on. It could be modernized, a war film, a river journey to complete a mission perhaps. A colonial war, on the Suez or in the Orient, 20th Century imperialism a stand-in for Conrad’s Congo. Care to write it?”
“I might,” Ayn says, sipping her wine.
Both are intoxicated but lucid, in sync with each other as creative artists.
“I wish I’d made Les Misrables,” muses Welles.
“What a magnificent Jean Valjean or Doctor Manette you would have made,” says Ayn. “Tales of noble achievement, oft made against the odds, lost causes which are the best causes. Yet Chambers and others see not Hugo or Dickens as my influences but Friedrich Nietzsche, as if a Jewish atheist girl escaping the gulags would favor the author of Nazism’s ‘Will to power.’
“Ah, the hell with it. Immanuel Kant! Ah, there was an evil man. His ethics opposed willful self-interest; therefore nobody benefits. What is a better philosophy, one in which half the people suffer, or one in which everybody suffers? Who is more evil, Nazis for killing Jews, or Communists for killing everybody including the Jews?
“I deluded myself into believing I would receive academic acknowledgement and was mis-guided enough to believe I should have gotten it. What is your philosophy, Orson? Who influenced that magnificent mind of yours?”
Welles slugs one down.
“My father was Episcopalian. At different times I said we were Catholic, Puritan, Quaker and atheist, but I have tried to be a Christian. I did not pray because I did not want to bore God. I worked with Bishop Sheen on a 1941 film, Life of Christ that like so many of my films was never completed.
“At least I think I’m an atheist, but sometimes I just think, there’s more to it than this . . .
“I’m from Wisconsin. I was always ill. My father was an inventor who made a fortune, but he was an alcoholic, stopped working, and I was always lonely. My mother Beatrice played the piano but had to support the family because Dad drank too much to have a career. Mother died when I was nine. I followed her into music but stopped after her death.
“I traveled with my father to the Far East but lived much of my early life on the road. I took care of Dad as much as he took care of me. I worked on stage development while in school. I was given an ad hoc education by the school master. Very progressive, very experimental. I never really had a childhood.
“My father died when I was 15. I contributed to his death from alcoholism.”
He stops and almost cries but gathers himself, then fortifies that with drink.
“Back in the States I met Thornton Wilder, whose introduction led me to major stage work including Romeo and Juliet. This is where I met John Houseman.
“In the 1930s I directed Macbeth on stage using an entirely African-American cast, for the Works Projects Administration. FDR said I was the only Federal employee to siphon money into the government as I used my own funds to keep the play afloat. Somehow the Republicans decided the WPA was a Communist organization.”
“It was,” replies Ayn without batting an eye.
More drinks. Both are unfazed.
“This is where I first dealt with the studios, so to speak, when the government canceled The Cradle Will Rock, so I moved it to a private theatre,” continues Welles.
“In 1937 I directed Caesar for the stage under the Mercury Theatre banner Houseman and I founded. It was modernized into an anti-Fascist statement. There were no stage changes other than incredible new lighting techniques, including a ‘festival of lights’ evoking Nuremberg. I made the cover of Time at 23.”
“Have you ever seen Rope?” blurts out Ayn.
“Of course I have, my dear. It too was filmed by Hitchcock with only one or two takes. Yes, in case you were gonna ask, he stole the technique from me.
“Anyway, in 1938 I accidentally stabbed Joseph Holland in the scene where Brutus stabs Caesar using a real knife chosen because it reflected light better than a fake one. Holland recovered but never really forgave me. We did Les Miserables and Hamlet on radio for the Mercury Theatre.”
“Then came War of the Worlds!” says Ayn.
“Then came War of the Worlds,” repeats Welles. “My namesake, H.G. Wells. I was 23. We did a disclaimer but people received it as they received the Hindenburg broadcast, as fact. It made my career, for better or for worse. Adolf Hitler disparagingly mentioned the fiasco in a speech.”
“Were you prepared for such notoriety and success at such a young age?” asks Ayn.
“Was Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams prepared? No. Nobody is.”
He takes a slug.
“I was a stage actor who had found a new medium, and a little over a decade after the technology of sound I moved to Hollywood with the largest two-picture deal up to that time with RKO. This was the beginning of my troubles with the studio system, who resented the control given the ‘boy wonder’ plus I drove up the prices.
“After Kane I did The Magnificent Ambersons, but resentment lingered, resulting in the loss of much creative control toward the end of the shoot. With the move to Hollywood came the inevitable downward slide. Three marriages. Tabloid scandals. I was over six feet tall, 180 pounds and not bad on the eyes with a baritone tenor for a voice. Alcohol -.”
Her takes another sip, as does Ayn.
“Caused me to become portly and in ill health. The man before you is permanently obese. I’ve tried crash diets and lots of pills. I am as I am.
“I did not further my cause by writing for the anti-Blacklist publication Red Channels. Hollywood, which was more and more influenced by Duke Wayne and his fans, ostracized me further for spending the Blacklist in Europe.”
“So here we are,” says Ayn. “two artistes, two talents,. Both ostracized by the greatest artistic medium ever created by man -.”
“The American art form,” interrupts Welles.
“A conservative and a liberal, caught in the same wheels of a finely-tuned machine bigger than either one of us. Both writers whose true love is not the movies . . . is novels, literature, the stage, Shakespeare, yet we are driven to drink, to avoid crowds at parties. Two extroverts of the world stage hiding in room in Beverly Hills.
“So they stole Touch of Evil!? What is next for Mr. Orson Welles?” asks Ayn.
“Moby Dick, of course,” replies Welles. “What else for Captain Ahab?”
“Still trying to spear the Great White Whale.”
“Or Don Quixote. I’ll have to go to Europe, they’re the only ones that’ll have me. More metaphors of my struggles.”
“Our struggles,” replies Ayn
“I want to be buried quietly in Spain with a Shakespearean epitaph:
“But if the while I think on thee, dear friend
All losses are restored and sorrows end.”
Suddenly the door opens and in walks John “Duke” Wayne, Charlton Heston and Natalie Wood.
“Well, whadda we got here, a ‘friendship conference?’ asks Wayne. “Like the one Ike sent me to with that bastard Khrushchev.”
“Holy cow Orson, I didn’t know you knew Ayn Rand,” says Heston. “Hey Miss Rand, I’d love to play John Galt.”
Ayn just rolls her eyes and looks at Orson Welles, and they share a knowing laugh.
Born 1915 in Wisconsin. He was prone to illness as a child. His father invented the bicycle lamp, made a fortune, but he was an alcoholic, stopped working, and Welles was lonely. His mother Beatrice played the piano but had to support the family because his father drank too much to have a career. His mother died when he was nine.
His father was Episcopalian. Welles at different times said he was Catholic, Puritan, Quaker and atheist. He said he tried to be a Christian. He did not pray because he did not want to “bore God.”
He worked with Bishop Sheen on a 1941 film, Life of Christ that like so many of his films was never completed.
Welles followed his mother into music but stopped after her death.
He traveled with his father to the Far East but lived much of his early life on the road. He took care of his dad as much as his dad took care of him.
He worked on stage development while in school, given an ad hoc education by the school master. He never really had a childhood.
His dad died when he was 15. Orson felt guilty, believing he contributed to his death from alcoholism.
In 1931 he was admitted to Harvard but chose to travel to Europe instead. In Dublin he talked the owner of a local playhouse into believing he was a Broadway star, leading to several roles on the Irish stage including Somerset Maugham’s The Circle. He claimed he once met Adolf Hitler while hiking in Austria, but he was “invisible,” with no personality. “There was nothing there until 5,000 people started yelling, ‘Sieg heil.’ ” He also traveled to South Africa.
Back in the States Welles met Thornton Wilder, whose introduction led him to major stage work including Romeo and Juliet. This is where John Houseman met him.
In the 1930s he directed Macbeth on stage using an entirely African-American cast, for the Works Projects Administration. FDR said he was the only Federal employee to siphon money into the government as he used his own funds to keep the play afloat.
He first dealt with the “studios,” so to speak, when the government canceled his play The Cradle Will Rock, so he moved it to a private theatre.
In 1937 He directed Caesar for the stage under the Mercury Theatre banner he and Houseman founded. It was modernized onto an anti-Fascist statement. There were no stage changes other than incredible new lighting techniques, including a “festival of lights” evoking Nuremberg. Welles made the cover of Time at 23.
In 1938 Welles accidentally stabbed actor Joseph Holland in the scene where Brutus stabs Caesar using a real knife chosen because it reflected light better than a fake one. Holland recovered but never really forgave him.
He did Les Miserables and Hamlet on radio for the Mercury Theatre.
In 1938 he directed War of the Worlds for Mercury Theatre. Welles was 23. Adolf Hitler disparagingly mentioned the fiasco in a speech.
The success and notoriety of Mercury Theatre and War of the Worlds led to Welles’ moving to Hollywood and signing the largest two-picture deal up to that time with RKO. This was the beginning of his troubles with the studio system, who resented the control given the “boy wonder” plus his driving up of prices.
Welles intended to direct Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. He was to be Marlowe narrating the boat journey.which he had done for radio using many sound effects, but in pre-production it became obvious it would be super-expensive and complicated to shoot on water. The project was shelved.
In 1941 he directed Citizen Kane using chiaroscuro lighting techniques and deep sound effects he discovered from radio. He was considered the first auteur. He co-wrote (with Herman Mankiewizc), produced, directed and starred; a bravura performance.
He hated William Randolph Hearst because he was excluded from his influential social circle for being a Socialist. Louis B. Mayer, Hearst and the conservatives in Hollywood, then very powerful, attempted to bribe George Schaefer to destroy the print, but he refused. The Hearst papers refused to mention the film.
The film took 10 weeks to make and was the hit of 1941, but won only one Oscar for Welles and Mankiewizc (Best Original Screenplay). Block voting by the extras’ unions, controlled by Mayer and the studio system that resented Welles, prevented the film from garnering more awards despite nine nominations.
The film did modest business but was shelved as the war began, only to re-emerge with French audiences after the war. It did not see a revival until it came on TV in 1956, causing it to be re-released in theaters to great acclaim.
Welles directed The Magnificent Ambersons in 1942, but resentment from Citizen Kane lingered, resulting in Welles losing much creative control toward the end of the shoot.
He was named Goodwill Ambassador to Latin America during the war and always favored the Spanish-speaking countries and people. The OSS tasked him with gathering information on the growing Fascist movement in Latin America at the time. He worked with Duke Wellington during the war. But while in Latin America the Hollywood big shots worked behind his back against him. He was fired from RKO. Welles is credited with doing much work, especially on radio, to promote the war effort, at the expense of his career. He also spent $40,000 of his own money on an Armed Services radio show because he felt guilty he never fought in the war. He helped raise over $20 billion in war bonds.
Welles campaigned ardently for FDR, sending him phrases he incorporated into speeches. He even filled in for FDR in debates with Governor Thomas Dewey. He was a progressive Democrat. He hated racism and segregation. FDR told him they were the two greatest actors alive, urging him to run for Senate in California or Wisconsin. He promoted the New Deal in a newspaper column and was a correspondent at the first U.N. Conference in San Francisco, 1945.
In 1946 he directed The Stranger, his only commercially successful film, but International Pictures breached their contract, which was supposed to see him direct several more. The fix was in.
He returned to radio and Broadway. His support of the NAACP did not endear him to some elements. The Lady From Shanghai did not do well in the U.S. but like Citizen Kane was embraced in Europe. He starred and direct in Macbeth, again using the same techniques borrowed from his Negro Theatre production in the 1930s. Given a small cast and budget he made drastic changes in set design and sound, which critics at first called a “disaster,” but again he was hailed in Europe.
Acclaimed in Europe, Welles moved and worked there from 1948-56, making The Third Man. He starred in Othello, on a film with many problems, but Welles’ performance was acclaimed. He filmed Mr. Arkadin in Europe (1955), and in 1956 returned to Hollywood.
He worked with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who purchased RKO and guest starred in I Love Lucy. He made Man in the Shadow with Jeff Chandler (1957), then went on to star in and direct Touch of Evil for Universal (1958) with Charlton Heston, Joseph Cotten and Marlene Dietrich. The studio ripped it apart, despite a 58-page memo he wrote offering the best path forward.
He tried Moby Dick and Around the World in 80 Days but they were scrapped like many of his projects.
Disillusioned, he departed for Europe afterwards to make Don Quixote, the story best representing his quixotic journey, in Europe. He planned to make Don Quixote in the modern age, as a metaphor of his own struggles.
Welles was married three times, including to Rita Hayworth (1943-47) and Paolo Mori (1955 to his death in 1985).
Delores del Rio broke up his first marriage.
He was over six feet tall, 180 pounds with flashing eyes and a baritone tenor of a voice. His penchant for alcohol caused him to become portly and in ill health. By 1957 he was permanently obese. He tried crash diets and lots of pharmaceuticals.
He wrote for the anti-Blacklist publication Red Channels, and claimed Hollywood ostracized him further for spending the Blacklist in Europe. He wanted to be buried quietly in Spain with a Shakespearean epitaph:
“But if the while I think on thee, dear friend
All losses are restored and sorrows end.”
Born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum in 1905. from a Russian-Jewish bourgeoisie family. She was the eldest of three daughters. Her father was a pharmacist. Rand was 12 when the Bolshevik Revolution occurred. Her father’s business was confiscated, so the family fled to Crimea, where the Whites still held on. After high school she returned to St. Petersburg (Petrograd) where they nearly starved.
In 1921 she entered Petrograd State University to study history. Seen as bourgeoisie she was soon purged before graduation, but some scientists complained so she and others were allowed back in, graduating in 1924. Then she on to the State Technicum for Screen Arts in Leningrad. She began calling herself Ayn Rand and published her first book about a Polish actress.
In 1925 she was granted a visa to visit relatives in Chicago, where she learned English. She never intended to return. Soon after she moved to Hollywood to write screenplays just as “talkies” were coming into being. There she met C.B. DeMille, where she was an extra on King of Kings. Using her feminine wiles she talked him into giving her a job as junior screenwriter.
She met Frank O’Connor, a young actor. They were married in 1929 and she became,e a citizen in 1931. Attempts to bring her parents to the U.S. were unsuccessful.
Rand wrote screenplays and stage plays in the 1930s with limited success. She sold a script, Red Pawn, and an unproduced stage play. Night of January 16th is produced in L.A. and makes it to Broadway. Audience selected as a jury determined the ending each night.
She publishes an autobiographical novel, We the Living about the Russian state in 1936. It was made into a stage play, but did better in Europe than in the U.S. After her success it was revised in 1959.
We the Living (1936) was published in England, then in the U.S. after The Fountainhead. It told a dystopian story of totalitarian existence years before 1984.
While writing The Fountainhead, which she started in 1935, she and O’Connor worked for Wendell Willkie in 1940.. Journalist Henry Hazlit introduced her to the Austrian school economics taught by Ludwig von Mises. Von Mises called her “the most courageous man in America,” which she loved and thought to be called a “man” was compliment. She began her idea of “man worship.” Libertarian writer Isabel Patterson further tutored her on American history.
The Fountainhead was published in 1943. It was the story of Howard Roark vs. the “second handers” who climb the backs of others. Her Objectivist philosophy was forming. 12 publishers turned it down before Bobbs-Merrill bought it at the insistence of editor Archibald Ogden, who threatened to quit if they did not buy it. Rand used Benzedrine to stay awake and work nights. It was said to contribute to her lifelong mood swings.
Rand sold the film rights to Warner Bros. And wrote the script in Hollywood for producer Hal Wallis. Her contract included other works including The Moral Basis of Individualism.
Rand and O’Connor worked closely with the Right during the Blacklist and McCarthyism, exposing Communism and Song of Russia as misrepresenting her native country. She was a “friendly witness” for HUAC. She criticized The Best Years of Our Lives as a negative portrayal of business. Overall she felt the effort fighting Communism was “futile,” as it was embedded in U.S. She agreed with the assessment of Whittaker Chambers in Witness.
She disliked The Fountainhead “from beginning to end.” They changed her script, and did not utilize her suggestions on lighting and direction.
After the movie she and Frank moved back to New York City. Many readers sent letters to her, and she began a forum including Bud Greenspan and Nathan Blumenthal (later changed to Branden) and his wife Barbara, plus Barbara’s cousin Leonard Peikoff.
They began to read working manuscripts of Atlas Shrugged, making suggestions. She began a romance with Nathan, with the knowledge of Frank and Barbara. This inspired the idea of romantic threesomes played out in her work, particularly in Atlas Shrugged.
The novel was published 1957 and described as describing the “role of mind in man’s existence . . . the morality of rational self interest.”
Intellectual response discouraged Rand, however. She Decided to end being a novelist and concentrate on moral Objectivism with groups and in public speaking. Some called her groups a cult or religion.
National Review and William F. Buckley hated Atlas Shrugged. Whittaker Chambers’ review was scathing, writing that each word seemed to order those not viewed as heroic supermen and superwomen to the gas chambers. Sex, he wrote, does not result in marriage or children.
But the book was a huge hit immediately, and followers began dressing like her characters, mimicking them. They also liked romantic triangles as did Rand.
Her influence with DeMille made her books film-worthy plots, but Atlas Shrugged was not picked up by Hollywood, no doubt because of the industries’ liberalism.
Rand loved Victor Hugo’s novels and her female characters had a “male gaze” quality.
Objectivism is “man as heroic being, responsible for his own happiness . . . noble achievements are his responsibility, reason is his absolute.”
Man should help others only after helping himself; if man cannot help himself he cannot help others. She was a devout atheist who believes in “philosophical realism.” She disdained mysticism and supernaturalism as religious doctrine and believed free will is our cause of determinism. She rejected concepts such as “instinct” or “gut feeling,” believed selfishness is a virtue, in individual rights, property rights, and laissexx-faire capitalism.
Romanticism, she said, best exemplifies our free will.
Aristotle was her greatest influence, although she spoke of the “three A’s”: “Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand.”
Others, including Chambers, saw Friedrich Nietzsche in her work.
Rand said Immanuel Kant was the “most evil man in history” because his ethics opposed willful self-interest; therefore nobody benefits. What is a better philosophy, one in which half the people suffer, or one in which everybody suffers? Who is more evil, Nazis for killing Jews, or Communists for killing everybody including the Jews?
Rand wanted academic acknowledgement but did not get it.
Steven Travers is a former screenwriter who has authored over 30 books including the brand new Best Sports Writing Ever and Coppola’s Monster Film: The Making of Apocalypse Now (2016). One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game That Changed a Nation (2007) is currently under film development. He is a USC graduate and attorney with a Ph.D who taught at USC and attended the UCLA Writers’ Program. He played professional baseball, served in the Army JAG corps in D.C., was in investment banking on Wall Street, worked in politics, lived in Europe, and was a sports agent before finding his calling as a writer. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, L.A. Times, StreetZebra, Gentry magazine, Newsmax and MichaelSavage.com. He lives in California and has one daughter, Elizabeth. He can be reached at USCSTEVE1@aol.com or on Twitter @STWRITES.