Orson Welles's Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind

Orson Welles's Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind

by Josh Karp


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250007087
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 04/21/2015
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

JOSH KARP is a journalist and writer who teaches at Northwestern University. His first book, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, won best biography of 2006 at both the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Midwest Book Awards. It was adapted into the 2018 Netflix film of the same name, starring Will Forte. Karp is also the author of Straight Down the Middle: Shivas Irons, Bagger Vance and How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Golf Swing. His writing has appeared in Salon, The Atlantic, and Newsweek among others.

Read an Excerpt

Orson Welles's Last Movie

The Making of the Other Side of the Wind

By Josh Karp

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 Josh Karp
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-01608-9




He was disappointed in the world. So he built one of his own. —Jedediah Leland on why Charles Foster Kane built Xanadu

The greatest danger for those working in the cinema is the extraordinary possibility it offers for lying. —Michelangelo Antonioni

July 3, 1970

Located on Sunset Boulevard, Schwab's drugstore was a legendary industry hangout with a soda fountain where, during the golden era, you might find yourself on a stool next to Mickey Rooney, Marilyn Monroe, or Groucho Marx.

Schwab's was where Charlie Chaplin played pinball and where F. Scott Fitzgerald had his first heart attack. It's where William Holden hung out with his screenwriting pals in Sunset Blvd. and where Ava Gardner worked while awaiting her big break.

It has long been claimed that Schwab's was the site of a story that encompasses all we believe about Tinseltown at its peak. It goes like this: In January 1937, sixteen-year-old Judy Turner cut class at Hollywood High to grab a Coke at Schwab's, where her beauty was so stunning that director Mervyn LeRoy offered her a screen test on the spot. Later changing her name from Judy to Lana, she became Lana Turner: one of those remarkable things known as a movie star.

Like many things in Hollywood, the story is mostly true, except for the facts. Lana Turner was indeed discovered while ditching school to get a Coke, but it was at Top Hat Malt Shop where the publisher of The Hollywood Reporter discovered her and put her in contact with talent agent Zeppo Marx, Groucho's brother.

But to this day, many who know better will still tell you it happened at Schwab's.

The story of how cameraman Gary Graver came into Orson's life also begins at Schwab's, and like Lana Turner's discovery, it seems like something from a screenplay. It almost has to be true, because if you made it up, nobody would believe you.

In Hollywood, however, truth is often more remarkable than fiction, and it's a place where anything can seem possible—as it was on Friday, July 3, 1970, when Graver and his wife, Connie, stopped for coffee at Schwab's.

As he sat down, Graver picked up a copy of Variety, whose headline blared that indie films were booming and represented 39 percent of new pictures heading into production that year.

On the second page, he found Army Archerd's "Just for Variety" column, which explained that Sean Connery had set up a new production company; Laurence Harvey had fractured his knee; Patty Duke was back from her honeymoon; and actress Sharon Farrell was pregnant.

But right in between Laurence Harvey's knee and Patty Duke's honeymoon, the following item struck Graver:

Orson Welles looking very well, visiting friends here and in San Fran., says he soon returns to film his yarn "The Other Side of the Wind" in Italy and Yugoslavia.

Yes, Orson Welles was in town and making a new movie.

"I bet he's at the Beverly Hills Hotel," Graver told his wife before walking to the pay phone.

"Orson Welles, please," Graver asked the hotel operator, praying he'd picked the right place and that Welles was staying under his own name.

Then the line began to ring and somebody picked up. And there was that voice.

"Hello," rumbled a man who was unmistakably Orson Welles.

Stunned, Graver asked, "Uh ... Orson Welles?"

"Yes," Welles responded. "Who is this?"

"My n-name is Gary Graver and I'm an American cameraman," the thirty-one- year-old stuttered. "I know you have some projects and I'd sure like to be involved with you as a cinematographer—"

Welles cut him off, explaining that he was busy and just about to fly to New York, where he was acting in Henry Jaglom's A Safe Place.

"Why don't you give me your name and phone number," Welles said.

Graver did so but knew he'd blown it. Somewhere at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Welles was sitting impatiently on the edge of a bed, waiting for the call to end and not writing down Gary Graver's phone number.

Returning to the table, Graver looked at his wife and said, "Let's go home."

* * *

With Orson, one friend said, timing was everything. If you came into his life a few minutes early, you might be gruffly dismissed. Arrive five minutes later, however, and you could be swept into his orbit for an evening as his dinner guest, an experience that you'd talk about for the rest of your life and one he'd forget by the next afternoon.

But if you arrived right on time, not a minute early or five minutes late, you could be more. Meeting Welles at the right moment meant you could become his business partner or his personal assistant; his trusted friend or future enemy; Sancho to his Don Quixote; or Hal to his Falstaff. Even more, when Orson needed you, you became indispensable—until, of course, you weren't. You might remain in his grasp for the rest of his life or even yours. That choice was his, and resistance was futile.

The impact of falling under Orson's spell was summed up best by actress Geraldine Fitzgerald, who said he was "like a lighthouse. When you were caught in the beam, it was utterly dazzling. When the beam moved on, you were plunged into darkness."

As Graver drove back home to Laurel Canyon, he probably felt some small measure of that darkness. Soon, however, he would be caught in the beam.

* * *

As the Gravers arrived home, Gary heard the phone ringing, ran inside, and picked up the receiver. It was Orson, who said, "Get over to the Beverly Hills Hotel immediately! I've got to talk to you right away!"

Back in the car, Graver flew down North Beverly Drive to the pastel-green Beverly Hills Hotel. Moments later, he was at a bungalow door, face-to-face with Orson Welles, clad in black silk pajamas and a matching robe.

Inviting him in, Welles offered Graver coffee and they chatted for a bit. Then Orson cut to the chase.

"I'm about to make a movie called The Other Side of the Wind and I'd like to work with you," he said. "You are the second cameraman to ever call me up and say you wanted to work with me. First there was Gregg Toland, who shot Citizen Kane. Since then no technician has ever called up and said they wanted to work with me. So it seems like pretty good luck."

When he returned from New York, they would take test shots for The Other Side of the Wind.

* * *

Gary Graver had come to Hollywood in the early 1960s, looking to get into movies any way he could. A native of Portland, Oregon, he tried acting and took classes from Lucille Ball and Lee J. Cobb but went nowhere. So he parked cars and ushered at movie houses until he found a way to break in.

That break, strangely, came as the result of an event that wound up shaping an entire decade—the Vietnam War. Drafted into the army, Graver chose to enlist into the navy because he'd heard that Honorary Admiral John Ford sometimes trained Los Angeles–based cameramen before they headed off to Southeast Asia.

Graver didn't meet Ford, but with his naval film unit in Vietnam he got a crash course in how to be a cameraman and shot in conditions that studios would spend millions trying to re-create, while doing so from the air, ground, and water as well as under enemy fire.

Back in Hollywood, Graver found that this training made him perfect for producers such as Al Adamson and Roger Corman, whose independent studios cranked out down-and-dirty, low-budget biker, horror, and exploitation films made by eager young directors. Corman's studio in particular was a de facto film school for everyone from Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese to Ron Howard, James Cameron, and Peter Bogdanovich.

Before meeting Welles, Graver's credits included Satan's Sadists and The Girls from Thunder Strip, in which three "beautiful bootlegging sisters" fend off a violent biker gang.

At heart, however, Graver was a true cinephile who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of film, read Sight & Sound, had watched the French New Wave, and loved old masters such as Alfred Hitchcock and Jean Renoir. He was also a Welles fanatic, who'd sat in an empty theater to watch Chimes at Midnight and had marveled at the opening shot in Touch of Evil. If there was a single director Gary Graver would have given his life to work with, it was Orson Welles.

That director, amazingly enough, was now talking to him in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel and mentioning him in the same breath as Gregg Toland, the legendary Oscar-winning cinematographer who'd taught a novice Welles everything he needed to know about cameras and lenses before the pair pushed every possible creative boundary to achieve the rich, deep-focus world of Kane. Making this all the more remarkable was the fact that Orson was now asking Graver to fill Toland's shoes on his next film.

With those thoughts undoubtedly colliding in his brain, Graver suddenly felt Welles's huge hands unexpectedly gripping his shoulders and then, just as suddenly, found himself being thrown to the ground, where moments later he was joined by Orson who used his bulk and one beefy arm to keep the cameraman pinned to the ground. Each time Graver struggled or tried to speak, Orson would simply raise a finger to his own lips, wordlessly indicating, Silence! Perhaps, Graver wondered, this might not have been such a great idea after all.

Then, however, Welles slowly peered over at an open windowsill, stood up, and helped Graver to his feet.

"I saw the actress Ruth Gordon out there," Welles said. "If she'd seen me, she'd have come in here and talked and talked and talked. Right now I want to talk to you."

From then on, Gary Graver belonged to Orson Welles, putting him ahead of marriage, children, money, food, and the mortgage. Of those priorities, Graver's son Sean said, "Orson would be number one."

* * *

Graver told Welles he could make a movie for almost nothing, using a young, non-union crew willing to work for less than $200 a week. He could get discounts at labs and purchase unexposed film stock left over from other pictures. He even knew ways to sneak extra days out of rental equipment.

Together they had enough equipment for a mini-studio. Graver had an Arriflex camera, while Welles owned both a 16mm and 35mm Éclair. They also had lighting, sound equipment, and an editing table.

After talking for hours, the pair agreed that they had everything necessary needed to start the movie when Orson returned from New York. At least everything besides a cast, a final script, and a financier. Until then they'd start with $750,000 provided by Orson.

Before Graver left, the fifty-five-year-old Welles said that he didn't want to spend his remaining years making movies for hire. No. He would focus on what he did best. The only movies he would make from here on out would have to be Orson Welles movies.

* * *

When Graver arrived, he'd noticed a dark-haired young woman in the background who quietly walked into another room and closed the door. With Graver gone, she returned.

The woman was Oja Kodar, a twenty-nine-year-old Croatian model, artist, and actress who'd met Orson in Zagreb during the early 1960s while he was directing The Trial. She was in her early twenties when they met, while the thrice married Welles was in his mid-forties, with three daughters, one of whom was three years older than Oja.

Despite the age difference, they began an intense on-and-off relationship. After an early separation, Welles took great pains to find Kodar in Paris, where he smashed in her apartment door and presented her with a love letter he'd been holding for three years. They'd been together ever since.

Though born Olga Palinkas, Kodar had picked up her stage name after Orson had described her as a "present from God" and learned that the Croatian word for "as a present" was kodar. Taking that as her last name and using a childhood nickname as her first, she became Oja Kodar.

A man who surrounded himself with beauty, Welles had found, in Oja, a striking woman with dark eyes, sharp features, and a lithe body, all of which emoted strength and sexuality. She was warm and tough; sweet and stern; sensual in spades; but nobody's plaything. This was not a woman with whom you'd have either a casual fling or a cozy family with a white picket fence. Orson had dated Dolores del Rio and been married to Rita Hayworth, two remarkably desirable women. But it was Kodar, somehow, who managed to maintain her grasp on him.

Things, however, were complicated. With Orson anything could be complicated, whether it was romance, setting up a shot, or financing a film. And in this case the major complication was that Orson remained married to his third wife, Italian actress Paola Mori, with whom he had a teenage daughter named Beatrice. After Orson's death, Kodar has stated that divorce was impossible because Mori was a Catholic who prized being "Mrs. Orson Welles." And while that may be true, Mori was also an intelligent, attractive woman who provided Orson with something his chaotic life greatly needed—stability.

For Kodar the situation was no problem since she didn't feel the need to marry Orson and was content to be his mistress. Welles, on the other hand, found himself maintaining two separate lives over the next twenty years: a bohemian existence with Oja in Los Angeles, Paris, and Spain; and a more formal arrangement with Paola and Beatrice in London and later Sedona, Arizona, and Las Vegas. And because he was accustomed to managing chaos, he supposedly kept Paola from even knowing about his relationship with Oja until a year before his death—though even for Orson that would have seemed to be a nearly impossible trick to pull off, particularly given that their relationship appears to have garnered attention in the Italian press while they visited Milan in February 1970.

Confident, bold, and sexually expressive (something Orson was not), the fiercely protective Kodar was like "a fairy queen who could order this huge man to scurry after things." If you needed Orson to change his mind, you asked Oja.

But the most important component of their relationship may have been the unity it brought to Orson's existence, which was expressed by Christopher Welles, who wrote: "My father's life was his work. And of all the women who attempted to live with him, only Oja was capable of entering fully into his creative life."

After starring in Orson's unfinished film The Deep, Oja allegedly collaborated on the screenplay for The Other Side of the Wind and would play the female lead in Hannaford's film-within-the-film. Thus, during the next several years, while Orson shot the movie in homes where they were also living, that merger between life and art became nearly complete.

"I like this boy," Welles said to Kodar after Graver left, "and we have that story—let's see if we can make it."

When Welles headed for New York, he took the typewriter that had been provided by Columbia but left no script behind, only an unpaid $30,000 bill that was charged to BBS.

* * *

Less famous than Schwab's, the Larry Edmunds Bookshop was pure Hollywood nonetheless. Crammed floor to ceiling with scripts, lobby cards, stills, movie posters, and books about filmmaking, the store on Hollywood Boulevard was frequented by everyone from David Lean and Jean-Paul Belmondo to Carl Reiner and François Truffaut.

On August 21, 1970, twenty-three-year-old film critic Joe McBride came into the store looking for owner Milton Luboviski. A tall, earnest Wisconsin native, McBride was on his first trip to Hollywood and had already interviewed John Ford and Jean Renoir. He was about to meet Orson Welles.

Although McBride had originally intended to become a novelist, his life was forever changed in a darkened University of Wisconsin classroom when he saw Citizen Kane for the first time; from that moment he settled on a new career, in which he'd still be telling stories, but now he'd be telling them on film.

After leaving school, McBride took odd jobs around Madison and wrote for movie magazines. By 1970, a collection of his criticism, Persistence of Vision, had already been published and he was at work on another book, this one about Welles, whom he'd never met. Having read in Variety that critic-turned-director Peter Bogdanovich was also working on a book about Orson, McBride visited Larry Edmunds to ask Luboviski for Bogdanovich's phone number.


Excerpted from Orson Welles's Last Movie by Josh Karp. Copyright © 2015 Josh Karp. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Prologue: After "The End" 1

Backstory: Before the Beginning 7

Orsonology: What You Must Know 15

The Greatest Home Movie Ever Made 27

Act 1 37

Act 2 127

Act 3 179

Afterlife 241

Now What? 267

Acknowledgments 273

Notes 277

Bibliography 303

Index 323

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