Archivists Find Fragments of an Unfinished Orson Welles Autobiography
By MICHAEL CIEPLY and BROOKS BARNESMAY 20, 2015
LOS ANGELES — Yet another unfinished work by Orson Welles, that master of the incomplete, is about to surface.
Gary Graver, left, and Orson Welles on the set of "The Other Side of the Wind."Nina Palinkus/University of Michigan Library’s Special Collections
Archivists at the University of Michigan said this week that they have discovered extensive fragments of, and notes for, a Welles autobiography in a trove of papers newly purchased from Oja Kodar. Ms. Kodar, a Croatian actress, was Welles’s companion in the years before he died in 1985.
With the working title “Confessions of a One-Man Band,” an unfinished memoir appears to have been in the works since the 1970s, and matches up with additional fragments already in the university’s extensive Welles archive, officials said.
“It’s scattered, we’re still sorting through” about eight boxes of new material, said Philip Hallman, curator of the university’s Screen Arts Mavericks and Makers collection. The papers arrived last week from Croatia, where they had been kept by Ms. Kodar, Mr. Hallman said.
University officials declined to disclose the purchase price of the papers
An excerpt from Orson Welles’s autobiography papers, on the making of “Othello.”University of Michigan Library’s Special Collections
The discovery comes amid renewed interest in Welles coinciding with the 100th anniversary of his birth earlier this month. Most prominently, a group of producers are working to complete “The Other Side of the Wind,” a film shot by Welles in the 1970s. The producers unveiled an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign on May 7 to raise funds for editing, music and other postproduction costs.
So far, they have raised more than $206,000 toward a $2 million goal.
Famous for directing “Citizen Kane” and “The Magnificent Ambersons,” Welles was a restless creator who left behind scripts and footage for more than a dozen films he never finished. (The original drafts of scripts for “The Other Side of the Wind” have long been in Michigan’s archive.)
The unfinished memoir, Mr. Hallman said, was interspersed with other “weird stuff” in Ms. Kodar’s papers, including scripted patter for magic acts that Welles performed. (Welles once sought to do a magic-themed television show.) Mr. Hallman said he did not believe the memoir had been generally accessible to film scholars in the past.
Mr. Hallman said it was impossible to tell yet whether the autobiography is complete enough to publish.
“We had hoped to do that,” said Mr. Hallman, who joined Kathleen Dow, head archivist for the university’s special collections, in a phone interview on Tuesday. “But looking at it now, I’m not so sure.”
Mr. Hallman and Ms. Dow said that a quick review of papers revealed what appeared to be tantalizing accounts of Welles’s encounters with fellow artists.
“No wonder he hated me,” Welles wrote of the film director D. W. Griffith, according to Mr. Hallman. Welles went on to explain that Griffith was living as “an exile in his own town,” while the newcomer Welles had a studio contract.
Ms. Dow said she was struck by Welles’s account of a wine-soaked session with Ernest Hemingway, who had just won the Nobel Prize for literature. “It should have gone to Isak Dinesen,” Hemingway said, according to Ms. Dow’s description of Welles’s remembrance.
Ms. Dow said it would take perhaps five months to arrange the papers for public use.
In early June, Ms. Kodar is expected to attend a university-sponsored Welles symposium that will honor donors to the film archive. It promises to be an unusual affair, one that Welles may have appreciated. One presentation, Mr. Hallman said, will feature music composed for an ensemble that plays toy instruments.
Ms. Kodar, he added, may have something else up her sleeve. “She has asked us to tell people she’s planning to do magic tricks with the audience,” Mr. Hallman said.