Actor, writer, producer, and director Orson Welles is widely recognized as one of the most significant figures in 20th-century dramatic arts. His 1938 radio broadcast of H. G.Wells’s The War of the Worlds and his film Citizen Kane (1941), often cited as the most innovative film ever made, are only two of the works that have helped make him an almost legendary figure. Welles acted and directed on stage, radio, film, and television, made numerous recordings, and authored plays, film scripts, and a newspaper column. As a political activist, he devoted considerable energy to the 1944 presidential campaign in support of Franklin Roosevelt. His work is of deep interest to students and scholars in a broad variety of disciplines, both here and abroad.
The Orson Welles materials in the Lilly Library at Indiana University can be found in a number of collections. The largest of these, the Wells mss., numbers about 20,000 items and pertains to Welles’s activities on radio, stage, and film as well as to his personal and political life. Covering principally the years 1936–47, they include extensive documentation of his stage and radio careers, as well as voluminous materials for the films he planned and produced. The Fanto manuscripts consist of correspondence, film and theater production materials, photographs, and clippings pertaining to the work of Welles and his cameraman George Fanto. Correspondence and legal papers relating to the financial affairs of Welles and Mercury Theatre Inc., as handled by Welles’s personal attorney, L. Arnold Weissberger, may be found in the Weissberger manuscripts. The Pauline Kael manuscripts add substantial information about his career as a film director. Film scripts and press kits for several of the films in which Welles acted as well as directed may be found in the printed collections of the Lilly Library. A detailed guide and inventory to the Orson Welles collection is available on the Lilly Library’s Web site.
The Orson Welles materials have been used steadily for numerous published articles and books, including most recently Simon Callow’s definitive biography, the second volume of which, Hello Americans, appeared in 2006. In addition, the materials have served for both study and inspiration in a number of graduate and undergraduate courses at the university in the departments of English, film studies, and telecommunications, among others.
New material continues to be added to the Lilly’s Welles holdings. The library recently acquired a third copy of one ofWelles’s earliest publications, Everybody’s Shakespeare: Three Plays (1938), edited for reading and arranged for staging by Welles and Roger Hill, this one with the young writer’s extensive pencil annotations and revisions for radio production. An even more surprising acquisition came this past year with a series of love letters and whimsical self-portraits from Welles to his wife Rita Hayworth, preserved for years in her traveling cosmetics case.
Collection Profile and Overview: Breon Mitchell
Illustrations: Michael Taylor