The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane
By Patrick McGilligan
832 pages with two 16 page photo inserts
Publisher: Harper Collins
This was my second excursion into the world of Orson Welles and was by far the most comprehensive to date. My previous experience was with Simon Callow’s first volume THE ROAD TO XANADU, a few years back; I found its tone tedious.
Do not let the size of this tome put you off: author Patrick McGilligan takes you on a wonderfully detailed trip into Welles’ life. One gets to follow the lives of Welles’ would- be parents before they meet. The social fabric of the time, the early industrialization of America, the schools, all add up to nostalgic sections of Welles’ parents and their lives in Kenosha Falls.
Interesting accounts of young Orson in school as he tries to and succeeds in avoiding physical education and athletics with guile unbecoming a twelve year old. One gets to see the opportunities as they come into his life such as the Mercury Theatre and early Shakespeare productions that Welles often played in as a lead, knowing the roles almost by heart from an early age. His love of magic and magicians became a lifelong obsession.
Patrick Gilligan gets us close to Welles’ friends, such as actor Norman Lloyd, Joseph Cotton, and John Houseman, who was instrumental in Orson’s theatre and radio work, culminating in the famous or infamous THE WAR OF THE WORLDS broadcast of 1938.
The reader gets to be a fly on the wall in meetings as the genesis of CITIZEN KANE takes place with co- writer Herman Mankieweiz and Orson, plus others as they give birth in various script versions often fueled by excess and madness of creativity.
One also learns of the other side of genius, as Orson was called at a young age. The divorce, the estranged children, the money fights, the creative fights, the battles with studios, later years of neglect and perhaps the truth of what Rosebud really meant in the film. The barriers of belligerence Orson set up in later years to protect himself from people that hid a lonely man who wondered, “People would hire me to talk about film but no one will let me make one.”
YOUNG ORSON: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane is an excellent addition to any film lover’s or biography reader’s bookshelf as it draws from previous and new sources. It is a glimpse of a Renaissance man at work and at play – warts and all.