My Lunches With Orson came out seven years ago and I’ve been meaning to read it since then. I finally got around to it and it is great.
If you aren’t familiar with the book it is a series of transcripts that filmmaker Henry Jaglom had with his friend Orson Welles at Ma Mason on Melrose Ave, a French restaurant in Los Angeles that catapulted Wolfgang Puck to stardom.
The conversations take place between 1983 and 1985 and Welles was fine with being recorded so long as he never saw the tape recorder or knew when it was on.
The prologue to the book goes into Welles’ life as well as Jaglom and spends a fair amount of the on their friendship and how they met. A fair amount of it talks about how Welles had trouble getting people to work with him behind or in front of the camera.
Even without that, it’s fairly clear why once you read these transcripts; he badmouthed just about everybody either behind their back or to their face.
I mentioned Wolfgang Puck, Welles hated him. He also hated Spencer Tracy. And Peter Bogdanovich. And Charlie Chaplin. And about 200 other famous people.
He thought Bette Davis and Woody Allen were terrible because of how they looked.
“I never could stand to look at Bette Davis, so I don’t want to see her act, you see. i hate woody allen physically, i dislike that kind of man.”
Richard Burton comes to his table and tells him that Elizabeth Taylor would like to come over and say hello. He tells Burton to get lost. On the flip side when Jack Lemmon comes into the restaurant Welles goes bananas and has him pull up a chair and join them (I never knew Lemmon cussed like a sailor until I read this book).
Welles thought Hitchcock’s American movies were among the worst ever made, especially Vertigo and Rear Window. He considered Buster Keaton’s The General to be arguably the best movie ever made.
It is over 200 pages of stuff like this. It’s fascinating and fun to read but I can’t imagine this behavior endeared him to anybody.
He is complimentary about a few people. He adored Carole Lombard. She comes off the best in this book by far. Every time he mentions her it is nothing but positive, even if he believes her plane was shot down by Nazi saboteurs.
Rita Hayworth, he speaks fondly of as well. He is critical of her in some ways but he doesn’t hold it against her because he has real feelings for her.
Some of the other topics in this book he discusses are things like dating Marilyn Monroe before she was famous and how nobody would give her a second glance and how David O. Selznick would invite people over to his house and force people to play charades. He states that FDR put the Japanese in camps in WWII to keep them safe from harm. He talks about being afraid to hug Jaglom because one of them might catch AIDS (it was 1985).
Welles comes off as a college professor version of Archie Bunker with his remarks about Hungarian Jews, the Irish, “Ethnic” actors, and various other groups. He hated pretty much everybody.
“Everyone should be bigoted.”
Overall it is an enjoyable read that is a window in Orson Welles’ mind near the end of his life.