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Orson Welles - The Man Who Was Magic, by Barton Whaley
Bar Harbor
Just finished reading this 3-volume e-book biography of Orson Welles. Like Orson himself, the book is brilliant, but deeply flawed.

The author's thesis is that Orson self-identified as a magician, and that this hugely influenced every aspect of his life -- a detail overlooked or ignored by all other biographers. He makes a convincing case, and it's a fascinating angle from which to view a fascinating man.

But, ye gods!, he needed a better editor, at every level of production. Typos and grammatical errors are frequent. Whatever software was used to convert from his manuscript to a kindle ebook introduced numerous formatting issues, including sometimes causing small snippets of text to be duplicated -- or go missing.

Aside from mechanical issues, he also needed better editing on a structural level. As published, he presents events and anecdotes in *almost* exact chronological order. But you can see signs of earlier drafts which were more arranged by topic. It's common to see a well-written transitional sentence at the end of paragraph A that leads beautifully into paragraph B -- but in between A and B, paragraphs Q and R appear. There's at least one spot where a footnote contains a 'todo' note along the lines of "(find the exact date for this)".

The author's particular interests definitely color the book. He spends comparatively little time on Welles media projects, often mentioning them offhand in anecdotes without having previously established what they even are, and what Welles was trying to accomplish with them. But every scrap of anecdote he can find about Welles and magic gets included. He seems interested in Welles' love affairs, but gives extremely short shrift to his marriages and children. Whaley invariably takes the most charitable view of Orson in any contested story, but is an honest enough scholar that he includes the conflicting views.

All that said, this *is* a very good book, and indispensable to any serious Welles fan or scholar. The author has done a lot of original research, and spends a good amount of verbiage countering common myths about Welles. Of which there are legion, of course, many started by the man himself. Yet his *actual* life was an *extremely* full one, with tons of fascination.

Welles was famous for movie projects that ran over budget and time, and were never finished. Whaley spends a lot of ink 'refuting' this reputation, but also sort-of reinforcing it. The facts make it clear that, at least as far as filming goes, Orson routinely brought in projects *under* the scheduled budgets and schedules. But Whaley himself provides multiple examples of Orson spending inordinately long times in post-production editing, many of which, in fact, never finished that process. Orson *was* a brilliant editor, but his perfectionism kept him from actually getting it *done* a lot of the time.

Recommended, with caveats.


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