Me and Orson Welles

Me and Orson Welles

3.9 12
by Robert Kaplow

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"This is the story of one week in my life. I was seventeen. It was the week I slept in Orson Welles's pajamas. It was the week I fell in love. And it was the week I changed my middle name - twice."

So begins Me and Orson Welles, a comic coming-of-age novel set against the background of the twenty-two-year-old Orson Welles's debut production at the Mercury Theatre on

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"This is the story of one week in my life. I was seventeen. It was the week I slept in Orson Welles's pajamas. It was the week I fell in love. And it was the week I changed my middle name - twice."

So begins Me and Orson Welles, a comic coming-of-age novel set against the background of the twenty-two-year-old Orson Welles's debut production at the Mercury Theatre on Broadway. Richard Samuels is the stage struck seventeen-year-old from New Jersey who wanders onto the set one day and gets a small role in Welles's Julius Caesar. His life will never be the same.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Kaplow keeps all the proceedings clipping along, but what sets his book apart is its historical texture -- the chance to see real-life figures like Brooks Atkinson and Wolcott Gibbs and John Houseman and George Coulouris popping off the page. Me and Orson Welles, in short, is best enjoyed by people who get jazzed imagining conversations between Joseph Cotten and Norman Lloyd. If you have to ask who Joseph Cotten or Norman Lloyd was, you may be less beguiled, but you're still likely to recognize the behemoth who gives the book its title. — Louis Bayard
Publishers Weekly
"This is the story of one week in my life. I was seventeen. It was the week I slept in Orson Welles's pajamas. It was the week I fell in love. It was the week I fell out of love." Thus does the precocious protagonist of Kaplow's first adult novel summarize his adventures as a bit-part player in the landmark 1937 Mercury Theater production of Julius Caesar that helped catapult the 22-year-old Welles to the top of the entertainment world. Kaplow wastes no time setting up his unlikely scenario; after an impromptu sidewalk audition, Richard Samuels, a New Jersey high school student, lands the part of Lucius, a minor character. The conceit forms a nice counterpoint to the coming-of-age material, as Kaplow alternates scenes about Samuels's high school and home life with a series of rehearsal passages that bring the brilliant but mercurial Welles to life. Samuels falls in love more than once: first with fellow high school actress Caroline, then with a lovely, flighty production assistant named Sonja who is also involved with Welles, and finally with Gretta, an aspiring writer. The climax features a colorful showdown between Samuels and Welles after the boy confronts the married Welles about his affair with Sonja. Kaplow doesn't quite capture the dark side of the enigmatic Welles, but his bright, enthusiastic writing about Samuels's introduction to the world of high-stakes theater makes this an entertaining offering. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Richard Samuels, the seventeen-year-old narrator of this tale, recounts the week in 1937 that he met Orson Welles, played a minor role in Welles's production of Julius Caesar at the new Mercury Theater, and fell in love. Through a twist of fate, Richard happens to be standing outside the Mercury, watching workers hoist the marquee, when Welles appears and taps him to play the role of Lucius, a part just opened by the firing of the previous actor. Richard jumps at the opportunity and is soon caught up in the egomaniacal frenzy that seems to surround Welles wherever he goes. To top it off, Richard lies to his parents and travels from the New Jersey suburbs to make his Broadway debut. After Richard has a fling with an up-and-coming production assistant, he clashes with Welles, and Richard's dreams of the stage are dashed. Kaplow creates a genuinely timeless character in Richard. Although the story takes place in the mid-1900s, many teens will recognize their own aspirations and desires. Richard's voice is clear and strong as he muddles his way through Welles's rants and requirements, and his desire for something more than life in suburbia is often reflected in today's youth. Besides Richard, Kaplow lends pre-war, Depression-era New York City a definitive character, giving it a vitality and glimmer to which anyone who has been there or hopes to visit will respond. Better readers and those involved in the stage will be drawn to this book, and teachers might use it for its detailed description of Welles's staging of one of Shakespeare's great plays. VOYA Codes: 4Q 2P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High,defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2003, MacAdam/Cage, 269p., Ages 15 to Adult.
—Lynn Evarts
Library Journal
A theater-mad New Jersey teen, Richard has his world turned upside down when he meets the young Orson Welles, currently preparing his Broadway production of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theatre. Richard is given the small role of lute-playing Lucius and plunges into the life of an actor. Working with Welles, Joseph Cotten, John Housman, and other luminaries of the period, Richard learns all about outsize egos and talent, sex and romance, and careerism and cruelty. What results is a strong coming-of-age story, with an atmospheric grasp of 1930s New York and a brilliant portrait of the brilliant Welles. A fun read, this is recommended for most fiction collections and is mandatory for theater collections that include fiction. It is also suitable for YA collections (the author has written successful YA books), although some of the language and situations may be a bit saucy for more conservative readers.-Judith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In November, 1937, Richard Samuels, 17, a high school senior drifting relatively painlessly through school and relationships, feels there might be more to life. The New Jerseyite spends weekends wandering in Manhattan looking for a connection, preferably theatrical, that would excite him. He happens upon the yet to open Mercury Theatre and is noticed by its mercurial muse, Orson Welles. He is given a small part in Julius Caesar, which is ultimately a grand success, and spends a week in a fantastic whirl as part of the troupe. The following few days are exciting, frustrating, and, finally, both triumphant and devastating to the would-be thespian. Kaplow brings the New York of the late 1930s vividly to life, especially the theatrical world. The novel is fast paced and very funny, and the brilliant but unpredictable Welles is a perfect foil for the sardonic but inexperienced young man. Welles at 22 is close to Richard's age, but far from the center of his moral compass. Incidents of anti-Semitism and misogyny distress the teen, yet the actor/producer's brilliance and daring are like a magnet. Richard's dreams of a Broadway career soon fade, but he emerges from the experience with a desire to write, possibly a new romance, and certainly an important new friendship. This unusual coming-of-age story will intrigue teens; while the circumstances and time are very different from today, the feelings and ideas are universal.-Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The luckiest kid in the world gets a shot at appearing in an Orson Welles play-and falls in love, to boot. It's a pity that Kaplow appears to be aiming for the grown-up market in this adult outing, because, as a YA author, he has crafted one of the best depictions of male adolescent yearning ever to hit the page-though one that few adolescents are likely to read. It's 1937, and Richard Samuels is a 17-year-old Jewish kid living in Dullsville, New Jersey. Bright but not too nerdy, with a pretty but somewhat cool-to-the-touch girlfriend, Richard is swimming along the high-school current without a lot effort. Desperate for more, he prowls the libraries and museums of Manhattan, dreaming of poetry, art, and the theater, until one Saturday he spies "a little action down beyond Bryant Park" and goes to see what the fuss is about. It turns out to be the Mercury Theatre troupe mounting their theater's sign and putting the final touches on their inaugural play: Orson Welles's modern-dress Julius Caesar, opening the following Thursday. A stroke of luck makes Richard catch the eye of Welles himself, and within minutes Richard has been given a small role in the play, which he has mere hours to learn. Within a couple of days, Richard is in the thick of the final stages of one of the century's most exciting theatricals and has fallen desperately in love with a woman who has also caught Welles's eye. It's all paced at break-neck speed, with Kaplow whipping everyone who's in the orbit of Welles-that cold-blooded, hot-tempered, and phenomenally gifted wunderkind only five years older than Richard-into a manic fury of creative euphoria and despair. By the time opening night comes around, it's as though ayear has passed, yet this is a tale that reads like the wind. Joyful and alive, crackling with wonder. Agent: Stephen Ruwe/Literary & Creative Artists

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Product Details

MacAdam/Cage Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.48(w) x 7.24(h) x 1.06(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
" Richard, in the span of 269 breezy pages, falls in love, has his heart broken, sees his showbiz dreams crushed, and-beautifully, almost imperceptively-becomes a man."
-Entertainment Weekly

Meet the Author

Robert Kaplow is a teacher and writer best known for the satirical songs and sketches he writes for NPR’s Morning Edition, where he created "Moe Moskowitz and the Punsters." His award-winning young adult novels include Alessandra in Love and Alex Icicle: A Romance in Ten Torrid Chapters.

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Me and Orson Welles 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
LinkLuvor More than 1 year ago
We are in New York, in 1937. Our hero, the 17-year-old aspiring Richard Samuels' dream is to be an actor. While listening to the radio he feels that the world of celebrity is easily approachable for him. He is close to the truth: one day he finds himself face to face with the crew of Mercury Theatre. After a neat compliment, few lines of singing and a well-composed answer Richard gets a small role in the soon-to-be-opened Julius Caesar. Robert Kaplow's Me and Orson Welles shows us how the boy becomes an adult in a week and represents Welles' ostentatious personality. The book entertains us and stays true to reality at the same time: in the beginning, humor is provided by the character of Welles, but later he throws away the masque of every humanlike quality except his talent, wrapping the critics and the whole crew of Mercury Theatre around his finger, including inexperienced Richard. And even the door of the radio studio read: Talent Only. So this is the only quality an actor might need? Kaplow's drama tells it to us.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most of the Young Adult fiction I've read in the past decade or so has either been fantasy based (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson) or dystopian (Hunger Games). It was a nice change-of-pace to read a YA (or what I guess is now called "New Adult") set in the "real world," even if it is the real world of almost 80 years ago. The book is a fast, easy read, taking place over the course of one solid week and told strictly from the point of view of narrator Richard Samuels. Samuels is an endearing character: bright, insecure-yet-bold, recognizable. As so many of us experienced in our teens, Richard finds it easier to take chances and be bold when he's around people who don't really know him, and is far more insecure when he encounters similar situations in which his friends are involved. And of course, he doesn't treat his parents with half the thought and care he should. His week with the Mercury Theater teaches him the reality of who he is versus who he thinks he wants to be (and how not-so-different those persons are) and lessons about how to deal with people when you're not a singular personality like Orson Welles. There were dozens of laugh-out-loud moments mixed in with the drama. Kaplow strikes a nice balance between the two extremes and never veers too far in one direction or another. And he captures so well the sense of what it must have been like to see that opening night performance of Welles' Julius Caesar. I have no idea how well this book translated to film (starring Zac Efron as Richard, with Claire Danes and Christian McKay), but the book is a solid, enjoyable read that I think anyone who has been an teen actor (or any parent who has a teen actor child) would enjoy.
WordRogue More than 1 year ago
A well written and entertaining coming-of-age story. The legendary Orson Welles comes to life again.
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Through the protagonist, the novel Me and Orson Welles demonstrates that it takes more than a wish to achieve a dream. It isn't all about the goal; it is the hard work that it takes to accomplish the challenge.

Every time Richard walks along the New York streets he re-lives his dream of being discovered by a famous producer who will turn him into a star. He finally gets that opportunity and lands a part in a play.

Richard is a romantic in the true sense of the word. He has big time dreams of being a somebody, but throughout the book he evolves. His dynamic character progresses from an awkward, lanky teen to an individual who accepts himself as he truly is instead of trying to be someone he's not.

The author's writing is filled with specific details that shape a clear picture in the mind's eye. It really sets the stage, but at times the detailing is excess. His descriptions are so colorful that the moment is lost in translation. The plot was also jumbled.

Me and Orson Welles took a new twist on the regular coming of age novel with its original scenery and new story line. I highly recommend this novel to drama experts, theater lovers, and those who would like an entertaining, fresh novel to read for enjoyment.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Brilliant recreation of a lost masterpiece: told with wit, energy, and fantastic style. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read an advance copy of this novel, and it was one of the best books I've read in 2003. a super story, witty and engaging. A great read for all ages.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a touching, beautifully written account of a young man's coming of age, set against a backdrop of the l930s. Full of perfect period details and wise observations.
Sheri Haines More than 1 year ago
I think it is wrong for a school to require 300+ students to purchase and read a book written by one of the teachers. If it was not required, I would never read this book and I would definitely not pay this inflated price.