Orson Welles Quotes

Continued from: Orson Welles: Thoughts on Studio Moguls

What did Orson Welles think of the old Studio Moguls?

While Welles had some words of derision, he certainly respected them more than the batch of studio executives who were to come later. He laments the loss of quality from the earlier days, quality that he attributes to lack of direct supervision from the studio bosses, such as Darryl Zanuck, who co-founded 20th Century Fox. Early studio bosses were overseeing so many movies they had little free time to intervene or interfere with the creative process.

What was so good about it was just the quantity of movies that were made. If you were Darryl Zanuck, and you were producing 80 moving pictures under your direct supervision, how much attention could you pay to any one picture? Somebody was gonna slip something in that’s good.

Despite the reputation Welles earned as "being difficult," he felt he got along well with the early moguls in comparison to later producers who were much more focused on the market than on the creative quality of films:

I got along well with even the worst of the old moguls. They were all easier to deal with than these college-­educated, market-conscious people. I never really suffered from the “bad old boys.”

What About Lawyers & Agents?

Welles had harsher words to say about lawyers and agents, who he blamed for much of the problems he experienced in Hollywood:

I’ve only suffered from lawyers and agents. Wasn’t it Norman Mailer who said that the great new art form in ­Hollywood is the deal? Everybody’s energy goes into the deal. Forty-five years I have been doing business with agents, as a performer and a director.

He points-out the sheer hypocrisy of agents who are supposed to be representing talent, but buckle without a fight.

As a producer, sitting on the other side of the desk, I have never once had an agent go out on a limb for his client and fight for him. I’ve never heard one say, “No, just a minute! This is the actor you should use.” They will always say, “You don’t like him? I’ve got somebody else.” They’re totally spineless.

The Difference Between Respected Moguls and Reviled Producers

Welles talked about his admiration for Samuel Goldwyn, one of the original moguls who was involved in forming several studios and later ran Goldwyn Picture. Welles seemed to think Goldwyn had a lot of integrity as well as a good sense of humor:

In his time, Sam Goldwyn was considered a classy producer because he never deliberately did anything that wasn’t his idea of the best quality goods. I respected him for that. He was an honest merchant. He may have made a bad ­picture, but he didn’t know it was a bad picture. And he was funny. He actually once said to me, in that high voice of his, “Orson, for you I’d write a blanket check.” He said, “With Warner Brothers, a verbal commitment isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

On the other hand, Welles disliked producer Irving Thalberg and others among the new breed of producers. He hated that they got too involved with the creative parts of film making:

None of the old hustlers did that much harm. But once you got the educated producer, he has a desk, he’s gotta have a function, he’s gotta do something. He’s not running the studio and counting the money—he’s gotta be creative. That was Thalberg. The director became the fellow whose only job was to say “Action” and “Cut.” Suddenly you were “just a director” on a “Thalberg production.” A role had been created in the world. Just as there used to be no conductor of symphonies.

I get the feeling Welles would have even harsher words for the Hollywood studios of today with their focus on large franchises and market research driven decision-making. The movie business of today bears little resemblance to the studios of the early 1940s when Welles made Citizen Kane.

My Lunches with Orson

The above quotes from Orson Wells are sourced from the forthcoming book:

My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles

The book by Peter Biskind will be published by Metropolitan Books. The book is available for pre-order now and is scheduled for released on July 16, 2013.

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