Monday, March 10, 2014

'Everybody should be bigoted'; Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles


Henry Jaglom: Isn’t it terrible, the Tennessee Williams thing? Did you hear how he died?
Orson Welles: Only that he died last night. How did he die?

HJ: There was a special kind of pipe that he used to inhale something. And it stopped him from being able to swallow or breathe, or .  .  .

OW: Some dope? Or maybe a roast beef sandwich

HJ: “Natural causes” Then they went to “unknown causes.” So mysterious.

OW:  I’d like to be somebody who died alone in a hotel room- just keel over, the way people used to.
Ken Tynan had the funniest story he never printed. He and Tennessee went to Cuba together as guests of Castro. And they were in the massismo leader’s office, and there are several other people there, people close to El Jefe, including Che Guevara.  Tynan spoke a little fractured Spanish, and Castro spoke quite good English, and they were deep in conversation. But Tennessee had gotten a little bored. He was sitting off, kind of by himself. And he motioned over to Guevara, and said (in a Southern accent), “Would you mind running out and getting me a couple of tamales?”

HJ:  Do you think Tynan made it up?

OW:  Tynan wasn’t a fantasist. Tennessee certainly said it to somebody. But I’ve suspected that he improved it, maybe, by making it Guevara.

Did I ever tell you about the play of his I lost, like a fool, to [Elia] Kazan? Eddie Dowling, who ued to be a producer on Broadway, sent me a play by a writer called Tennessee Williams. I didn’t even read it. I said, “I can’t do this; I just can’t consider a play now.” It was called The Glass Menagerie.

HJ:  The Glass Menagerie – my God.

OW:  If I had done The Glass Menagerie, I would have done all those others. A big mistake.

HJ: A pity .  .  . By the way, I was just reading Garson Kanin’s book on Tracy and Hepburn.

OW:  I blurbed that book. I thought if I wrote something, I’d finally make it with Katie! But instead, I found out it was the worst thing I could have done.

HJ: I must say, reading it, I didn’t understand why she was so upset about it.

OW:  I think it was that he said she and Tracy lived together –

HJ:  A lot of people knew that.

OW:  Particularly since she laid around town like nobody’s business

HJ: Hepburn?

OW:  Hoo boy! I sat in makeup during Kane, and she was next to me, being made up for A Bill of Divorcement. And she was describing how she was fucked by Howard Hughes, using all the four-letter words.  Most people didn’t talk like that then. Except Carole Lombard. It came naturally to her. She couldn’t talk any other way. With Katie though, who spoke in this high-class girl’s finishing-school accent, you though that she had made a decision to talk that way. Grace Kelley also slept around, in the dressing room when nobody was looking, but she never said anything. Katie was different. She was a free woman when she was young. Very much what girls are now.

HJ:  I wonder what she’s got against you. Did you ever do anything to Tracy, or say anything about him?

OW:  I was never a fan of his. When I was a young man, I got up and made a fuss at Captain Outrageous – uh Courageous.

HJ: Well, you see, that probably got back to Hepburn at some point, and that’s why she doesn’t like you.

OW: Come on. Nobody knew who I was when I did that. I was nineteen years old. I stood up in the Paramount Theatre and said, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” when he was doing the Portuguese accent. With curled hair! The usher told me to get out because I was making fun of his performance.

HJ: Did you bark?

OW: No, I was imitating his accent as he went along.

HJ: The single lapse in his career.

OW: That was not the only one. He had several. I’m having a hard time trying to think of a great Tracy performance. Well, he was gigantic in Judgment at Nuremberg, although it was not a great picture, but I couldn’t stand him in those romantic things with Hepburn.

HJ: Didn’t you find him charming as hell?

OW:  No, no charm. To me he was just a hateful, hateful man. Tracy hated me, but he hated everybody. Once I picked him up in London, in a bar, to take him out to Nutley Abbey, which was Larry [Olivier] and Vivien {Leigh]’s place in the country. Everybody came up to me and asked for autographs and didn’t notice him at all. I was the Third Man, for God’s sake, and he had white hair. What did he expect? And then he sat there at the table saying, “Everybody looks at you and nobody looks at me.” All day long, he was just raging. Because he was was the big movie star, you know. When he was on the set it was, “Why is that actor distracting everyone while I’m talking?”

But I don’t think that’s it, really. I think Katie just doesn’t like me. She doesn’t like the way I look. Don’t you know there’s such a thing as physical dislike? Europeans know that about other Europeans. If I don’t like somebody’s looks, I don’t like them. See, I believe that it is not true that different races and nations are alike. I’m profoundly convinced that that’s a total lie. I think people are different. Sardinians, for example, have stubby little fingers. Bosnians have short necks.

HJ: Orson, that’s ridiculous.

OW: Measure them. Measure them! I could never stand looking at Betty Davis, so I don’t want to see her act, you see. I hate Woody Allen physically, I dislike that kind of man.

HJ: I’ve never understood why. Have you met him?

OW: Oh, yes, I can hardly stand to talk to him. He has that Chaplin disease. That particular combination of arrogance and timidity sets my teeth on edge.

HJ:  He’s not arrogant; he’s shy.

OW: He is arrogant. Like all people with timid personalities, his arrogance is unlimited. Anybody who speaks quietly and shrivels up in company is unbelievably arrogant. He acts shy, but he’s not. He’s scared. He hates himself, and he loves himself, a very tense situation. It’s people like me who have to carry on and pretend to be modest.

HJ:  Does he take himself very seriously?

OW: Very seriously. I think his movies show it. To me it’s the most embarrassing thing in the world – a man who presents himself at his worst to get laughs, in order to free himself from his hang-ups. Everything he does on screen is therapeutic.

HJ: That’s why you don’t like [Bob] Fosse either – All that Jazz

OW: Yes, that’s right. I don’t like that kind of therapeutic movie. I’m pretty catholic in my taste, but there are things I can’t stand.

HJ: I love Woody’s movies. That we disagree on. We disagree on actors too. I can never get over what you said about Brando.

OW: It’s that neck. Which is like a huge sausage, a shoe made of flesh.

HJ: People say Brando isn’t very bright.

OW:  Well, most actors aren’t. Larry [Olivier] is very – I mean seriously stupid. I believe that intelligence is a handicap in an actor. Because it means you’re not naturally emotive, rather cerebral. The cerebral fellow can be a great actor, but it’s harder. Of performing artists, actors and musicians are about equally bright. I’m very fond of musicians. Not so much of singers. All singers think about is their throats, you know? You go through twenty years, what have you got to say? They’re prisoners of their vocal chords. So singers are at the bottom; actors are at the top. There are exceptions. Leo Slezak, the father of Walter Slezak the actor, made the best theater joke of all time, you know? He was the greatest Wagnerian tenor of his era. And the king – the uncrowned king – of Vienna. He was singing Lohengrin – if you’re a Wagnerian, you know that he enters standing on a swan that floats on the river, onto the stage. He gets off, sings, and at the end of his last aria, is supposed to get back on the swan boat and float off. But one night the sawn just went off by itself before he could get on it. Without missing a beat, he turned to the audience and ad libbed, “What time does the next swan leave?”

HJ: How can those people have such charm without any intelligence? I’ve never understood that.

OW: Well, it’s like talent without intelligence. It happens.

HJ: If Tracy was hateful, none of that comes across in the work.

OW: To me it does. I hate him so. Because he’s one of those bitchy Irishmen.

HJ: One of those what?

OW: One of those bitchy Irishmen.

HJ: I can’t believe you said that.

 OW: I’m a racist, you know. Here’s the Hungarian recipe for making an omelet. First, steal two eggs. [Alexander] Korda told me that.

But you liked Korda.

OW: I love Hungarians to the point of sex! I almost get a hard-on when I hear a Hungarian accent, I’m so crazy about them.

HJ: I don’t understand why you are saying that about the Irish.

OW: I know them; you don’t. They hate themselves. I lived for years in Ireland. The majority of intelligent Irishmen dislike Irishmen, and they’re right.

HL: All these groups dislike themselves. Jews dislike themselves.

OW: Nothing like Irishmen

HJ: That doesn’t make them right, Orson, and you know that. I don’t accept this prejudice from you. I know that you don’t really have it.

OW: I do have it. I do have it. Particularly against Irish-Americans. I much prefer Irishmen from Ireland. If I have to have an Irishman, I’ll take one of those. And Irishmen in England are quite good. All the great Irish writers mostly left and went to England, except for [George William] Russell and [William Butler] Yeats. Yeats makes me shiver. I was in Dublin at the time he was still –

HJ: I didn’t realize he was still around in the thirties.

OW: Yeah. He was at every party, and you could see him walking in the park. And Lady Gregory. All those people were still around – the famous Gaelic nationalists. I got to know them all. And you know, some of my best friends were Irishmen.

HJ: Oh, God!

OW: But when I look at Tracy, I see everything that’s hateful about him is Irish. Everything that’s mean. Every Irishman will tell you that. Seven hundred years of bitter oppression changed their character, gave them that passive meanness and cunning. All I can say is what Micheal Mac Liammoir said when we were making Othello, and I asked him, “Describe the Irish in one word.” He said “Malice.” Look, I love Ireland. I love Irish literature, I love everything they do, you know. But the Irish-Americans have invented an imitation Ireland which is unspeakable. The wearin’ o’ the green. Oh, my God, to vomit!

HJ: That’s boring and silly, and –

OW: No, it’s to vomit. Not boring and silly. Don’t argue with me. You’re such a liberal! Of course there is no proof. It’s the way I feel! You don’t want me to feel that, but I do! I think everybody should be bigoted. I don’t think you are human if you don’t acknowledge some prejudice.

HJ: Yes. But acknowledging some prejudice and really having full-out hate, like you have against the Irish –

OW: Well, not so much that I’m rude to them or would bar them from my house. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a perception of their character. Or of the majority of them.

HJ: Okay. But if that’s true, then all it means is that there’s cultural conditioning.

OW: Well, of course there is!

HJ: So when they come to America, that changes them.

OW: Yes, they become a new and terrible race. Which is called “Irish-Americans”. They’re fine in Australia; they’re fine in England; they do well in Latin America. It’s in New York and Boston that they become so frightful. You know, the old Kennedy was a real Irish-American. That’s what I mean.

HJ: But his kids weren’t?

OW: No. They escaped it. You can see the Irish ancestry, but their character wasn’t Irish. Their life wasn’t based on malice. You know, if you’re here in America long enough, you lose the faults and the virtues of your original culture. The Italians will lose the sense of family when they finally get to the next generation. They won’t hang together, the way they still do now.

HJ: It’s like Israel, where there is no art now. All these Jews, they thought they were gonna have a renaissance, and suddenly, they’re producing a great air force, but no artists. All those incredible virtues of the centuries –

OW: They left all that in Europe. Who needs it? They get to Israel and they sort of go into retirement.

HJ: Their theater is boring, their film is boring. Painting and sculpture –

OW: Boring. You know, the only time they make good music is when Zubin Mehta, a Hindu, comes to conduct.

HJ: It’s amazing. When the Jews were in Poland, every pianist in the world –

OW: Every fiddler who ever lived was Jewish. It was a total Russian-Jewish, Polish-Jewish monopoly. Now they’re all Japanese or Orientals [Arthur] Rubenstein is gone.

HJ: Last year,.

OW: I knew Rubenstein for forty years, very well. I told you his greatest line. I was with him at a concert in Albert Hall, and I had no seat, so I listened to the concert sitting in the wings. He finished. Wild applause. And as he walked into the wings to mop his face off, he said to me, “You know, they applauded just as loudly last Thursday, when I played well.”

HJ:  Dying at ninety-five is not bad. He had a full life.

OW: Did he ever.

HJ: It’s true, all that, then? That he fucked everybody?

OW: He was the greatest cocksman of the nineteenth century. Of them twentieth century. The greatest charmer, linguist, socialite, raconteur. Never practiced. He always used to say, “You know, I’m not nearly as good a pianist technically, as many of my rivals, because I am too lazy to practice. I just don’t like to. [Vladimir] Horowitz can do more than I can. He sits there and works. I like to enjoy life. I play clinkers all the time.” But, he says, “I play it better with clinkers.”

HJ And Horowitz hates his life, and for fifteen years hasn’t been able to play or even move.

OW: Rubenstein walked through life as though it were one big party.

HJ: And then it ended with this young girl. Didn’t he leave his wife after forty-five years when he was ninety to run off with a thirty-one-year-old woman?

OW: Like Casals. Who suddenly, at the age of eighty-seven or something, came up with a Lolita.

HJ: Getting back to the Irish, some are liberals, like Robert Ryan. He was a brave man, politically and socially. Tell me Robert Ryan was not a decent man.

OW: He’s a wonderful actor. I don’t think of him as Irish; he just has an Irish name. He must be fourth generation.

HJ: Now, Ford you liked. He was an Irishman.

OW: We were very good friends, and he always wanted to do pictures with me. He was a pretty mean son-of-a-bitch Irishman. But I loved him anyway.

HJ: When did you first meet him?

OW: When I was shooting Kane, he came to the set on the first day of shooting.

HJ:  Just to wish you well?

OW: No, for a reason. HE pointed to the assistant director, a fellow called Ed Donahue, who was in the pay of my enemies at RKO, and said, “I see you got snake-in-the-grass Donahue on the picture.” And left. He came to warn me that my assistant was a fink.

HJ: I’ve always heard that Ford was a drunk.

OW:  Never when he was working.  Not a drop. Just the last day of a picture. And he’d be drunk for weeks. Serious, serious drunk. But for him, drinking was fun. In other words, he wasn’t an alcoholic. Went out with all the boys. Irishmen, get drunk and fight. Everybody gets beat up in a pub, you know? I’ve lived through all that. Went to jail in Ireland for rowdyism. It was a culture where nobody got married until they were thirty-five, because they were always dreaming of emigrating, and they didn’t want to be stuck with kids, financially. So all these poor virgin ladies sat around waiting to get married, and the guys were all swinging at each other, reverting to the bestiality of the male.

HJ: There was not much fucking around, I would imagine, because it was a Catholic culture?

OW: Oh, my God ,yes. By the girls. I could hardly draw a breath when I visited the Aran islands. I was all of seventeen. And these great, marvelous girls in their white petticoats, they’d grab me. Off the petticoats would go. It was as close to male rape as you could imagine. And all with husbands out in their skin-covered canoes. All day, while I had nothing to do. Then the girls would go and confess it all to the priest, who finally said to me, “I had another confession this morning. When are you leaving?” HE was protecting the virtue of his flock. When I told that tory, there was tremendous excitement in America from the clergy, who said it could never have happened.

HJ: Wasn’t Ford very reactionary, politically? Like his pals John Wayne and Ward Bond?

OW: Yes, but all those guys loved me, for some reason. And I loved them. I have a beer bottle that was put together on Ford’s yacht, with different Mexican and American beer labels signed by that gang of people, all dedicated to me. Now this was at the time when I was a well known Hollywood Red.

HJ: And their reactionary positions came from what?

OW: Irish, Irish, Irish. The Irish were taught, “Kill the kikes,” you know. I really loved John Wayne. I never had any trouble with extreme right-wingers. I always found them tremendously likeable in every respect, except their politics. They’re usually nicer people than left-wingers.

HJ: Easy for you to say. You were in Europe in the fifties, during the blacklist, when all that shit happened.

OW:  Yes, I was lucky. I wasn’t in America during the McCarthy era. I was on every list in the world. Every time they asked for help for whatever cause, I said, “Sign me up.” But in my New York Post column, all during the forties, I was in print attacking Stalinist Russia at a time when everybody though God was smiling on Stalin. I wanted to explain to HUAC the difference between a Communist and a liberal, so I kept begging, “May I please go to Washington to testify?” But they didn’t dare ask.

HJ: But you’re so forgiving about these kinds of very dangerous

OW: Forgiving? Supposing you go to the Amazon, and you live in a village of headhunters. Now, if you are an anthropologist, you can become very fond of those headhunters, but you’re not gonna argue about head-hunting with them.

HJ: I don’t understand how somebody with liberal feelings would not discuss politics with Wayne or Bond or Adolphe Menjou at a time when they had the power to hurt people, and in fact did a lot of damage.

OW: Well, Menjou was so fighting mad that you couldn’t talk to him. But Noel Coward took care of him wonderfully. Menjou was heading a USO troupe. Noel Coward was heading the equivalent of the USO – whatever they called it in England – you know, entertaining the troops. And they met in Casablanca. And they were eating in the mess. Menjou was talking about how terrible it was in England, that those “nigger” soldiers were fucking all the English girls, and you didn’t know what kind of race it was gonna be: “Isn’t that true, Noel? And Noel said, “At last there’ll be a race of Englishmen with good teeth.” No, with Menjou you couldn’t talk. He was a raving lunatic.


  1. The quality of the tapes varies drastically. Many of them are clear, but some, with the recorder lying muffled in Jaglom’s bag, are indistinct, and so I have taken occasional liberties with the text –adding or subtracting phrases, smoothing out syntax –for the purpose of making conversations more concise and intelligible. Occasionally, I have attributed material to Wells that is quoted in Jaglom’s diaries or furnished by him in interviews with me. With his permission, I have sometimes altered his comments with an eyes to furnishing context. Welles was, above all, a great entertainer, a fabulator who, like Scheherazade, learned early to sing for his supper. Some of the stories he tells in these conversations will have a familiar ring, and, indeed, they have been told elsewhere, but they were too good to go unrepeated, and since he always provided fresh details or new twists in every telling, I have included them.

  2. We looked at 8 houses for sale in "South Philly" yesterday and I became temporarily bigoted against the "Italian-American" influence on the properties: all trees have been cut down ("they're messy....they bring pests"), the walls have been covered in panelling and mirrors, the floors have been covered in carpet, the ceilings have been dropped so they are LOWER, and the only big windows are obscured by hideous awnings.