In 1994, or thereabout, distinguished British actor Simon Callow published half a biography of Orson Welles, covering his life from birth through his master work, Citizen Kane. It’s a wonderful book, and much of my long-time fascination with Welles can be traced to it. Having thoroughly enjoyed it, I eagerly looked forward to the publication of the second half. It turned out to be a long wait.
The first couple of years, I was patient””a work of such insight doesn’t happen instantly, after all. Clearly, Callow was taking the time to delve into his subject and craft a second volume worthy of its exceptional mate. I was confident it would be worth the wait.
But the years rolled on, and Callow seemed to lay his Welles project aside. He worked fairly steadily as an actor during this time, and good for him””he is, after all, a delightful fellow to watch on the screen. But my pleasure in watching him act was increasingly tempered with impatience over the missing Welles volume. Eventually, I came to greet his every screen appearance with an attitude of, “Simon, good fellow! Lovely to see you. Now get back home and WRITE THAT BOOK!”
This weekend, the happy news reached me that twelve long years later, the second book is at last being published. Haroo, hurrah! The long wait ends May 4th! Except, according to Amazon, that’s the pub date in England; the book won’t be available until August in the U.S. Presumably, that’s to allow time for translation from English to Americanish. (Don’t laugh! They do it more than you know. Try a British Harry Potter book sometime, you’ll see what I mean.) It seemed the wait of more than a decade would be iced with a further three month’s frustration and anticipation, until I realized I have two things working in my favor: I’m fluent in English, and I have a friend in London who is unfailingly cheerful about being dispatched to the shops whenever I crave something only available in the U.K. (Much obliged, I’m sure, m’Lud!) (See? My English is spiffy!)
So, it’s time to re-read the first volume, in preparation for the second. I recommend the first one whole-heartedly, even if you’re not a particular fan of Welles””you may well be, by the time you finish it. For those of us who grew up knowing Welles as the Paul Masson guy, and didn’t quite get what the big deal about him is, the book is an eye-opener (as is the Roger Ebert commentary track on the Citizen Kane DVD.) Sure, you’ve seen those shot set-ups and camera moves a million times; what you don’t realize is, in watching Kane, you’re seeing their first appearance in film. Welles invented much of what has become the standard language of film-making. He was a brilliant innovator, for all he was a complicated and troubled man; thus ever with geniuses, no?
And speaking of difficult, brilliant men: it would seem that Simon Callow is not yet done with me, nor I with him. It turns out that his new book is the second in what is now a planned THREE-volume set. Oh, well played, Callow! Well played, indeed. I hope you aren’t planning to leave me dangling for another decade!