orson welles: I like what I do, not what I am

Mr. Welles with daughter Beatrice

“I like what I do, not what I am.”
~Orson Welles to Jean Clay, 1962 

The above line I found in the preface to Orson Welles, Volume 1, The Road to Xanadu by Simon Callow. If anything sums up what an artist thinks of him or herself, that’s it. I don’t think any great art has come through without at least a part of self-loathing compared to the whole. Self-loathing in art is a constant, not a variable.

In the next passage of the book, Welles tells Peter Bogdanovich to throw all his research away. “It can only cripple the fine spirit of invention.” Then in another interview with Kenneth Tynan, Welles says, “I don’t want any description of me to be accurate; I want it to be flattering.”

Welles probably thought anyone who wanted to know anything about himself as a person, rather than his art, was nuts: “There’s a philistine and an aesthete in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don’t reconcile the poles. You just recognise them, ” he states.

Hello Americans is the title of Volume 2. I didn’t hear of these books until Dennis Miller mentioned them on his radio show. Miller praised Callow’s books as the best on Welles. And many books explore the man who wrote and directed the best film in history, Citizen Kane, but didn’t follow up with anything of that magnitude afterward.

My journey into the life of Orson Welles began over 10 years ago. In fact, my first buy with Amazon.com was the shooting script of Citizen Kane. One day, I combed the library for more info on Welles, I discovered we shared the same birthplace of Kenosha, Wisconsin. One thing I didn’t know was that a little life grew inside of me. The next day I took a pregnancy test and from then on, motherhood came first. My script went into the closet along with all the books I hadn’t read.

From now on, I am that Orson Welles scholar from ten years ago. But still second to a good mother. That’s up to my children to decide. I don’t care if Mr. Welles thinks me nutty for wanting to find out not only about his art but himself as a person. I’m going to do it anyway. Because I like what he does and who he is.


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