A COPY of One-Man Band – the third volume in Simon Callow’s biography of Orson Welles – sat ready on the lectern beside him. But it was never opened.
Callow has been writing about Orson Welles for more than a quarter of a century now, so he did not need a text. After a small slice of autobiography, he launched into the astonishing life story of one the most abundantly talented and fatally erratic figures of 20th century culture.
Welles himself was one of the world’s great raconteurs, but his own accounts of his life were not unduly burdened by fidelity to the facts. Callow starts with the handicap of having to stick to the truth, as far as it can be known, but his version of Welles’s life is no less compelling for that.
He told us how this extraordinary prodigy emerged from Kenosha, Wisconsin (his home town was the only ordinary thing about Welles, Callow noted), and how his combination of huge ability and brazen chutzpah set him on the path to making one of cinema’s masterpieces, Citizen Kane.
Welles famously said that he started at the top and worked his way down, but as Callow made clear, he continued to innovate and astonish.
It’s a great story in print and Callow’s passion made it riveting on stage. The connection between audience and speaker was so intense that you feared to shift your weight on the Studio’s creaky bench seating lest you break the spell. Here was one man on a small, bare stage, somehow conjuring up all the spectacle and extravagance that flowed from Orson Welles’s gifted imagination.