One of the great pleasures we’ve experienced of late is reading through the newly -published My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles (Henry Holt and Company, Metropolitan Books).
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here to recommend this highly readable book put together from many luncheon chats between Welles and director-writer-actor Jaglom, who befriended Welles in his last years.
The conversations (from 1983 through 1985, the year Welles died) took place at the then popular Los Angeles restaurant Ma Maison, were recorded with Welles’ consent by Jaglom, and edited decades later by Peter Biskind. These chats show Welles at his most free-wheeling, offering often acerbic recollections of such classic figures as Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, Laurence Olivier, David Selznick and, most movingly, of Orson’s former wife, Rita Hayworth.
We thought we’d start today with Welles’ comments about Joan Fontaine, his costar in 20th Century Fox’s 1943 drama, Jane Eyre, based on Charlotte Bronte’s tale of a plain Jane (Fontaine) nanny who wins the heart of the lord of the manor, Edward Rochester (Welles). There’s Joan above with Orson and his fake nose.
We’ll give Welles his say first, followed by Fontaine’s impressions as written in her 1978 memoir, No Bed Of Roses.
Oh, her, says Welles referring to Fontaine. No, she’s no good in it. She’s just a plain old bad actor. She’s got four readings, two expressions and that’s it.
Welles’ principal complaint was that Fontaine’s performance didn’t reveal her character’s inner strength — standing up for herself, being a fierce little girl — that so attracts Lord Rochester. And that isn’t the movie at all! It isn’t even indicated. Nobody told her that, you know.
For good measure, Welles is equally critical of her sister, Olivia DeHavilland. There are always (acting) jobs for pretty girls who speak semi-educated English. I don’t think either one of ‘em is worth much.
Counters Fontaine: Orson Welles was a huge man in 1943. Everything about him was oversized, including his ego. Unlike Charles Boyer and Fred Astaire, Orson’s concern was entirely for Orson: “Jane Eyre” was simply a medium to show off his talents.
Fontaine wrote that Welles “demoted” the film’s official director — the gentlemanly Robert Stevenson — but couldn’t keep up to the position he had assumed. He was undisciplined, always late, indulging in melodrama on and off the set.
Fontaine’s final shot? Welles “overlooked” three other actresses in the film soon to be as famous as he. They were Peggy Ann Garner, Margaret O’Brien, and a violet-eyed Elizabeth Taylor (in an uncredited role) .