Friday August 05, 2011
Was Orson Welles Gay?
I'm taking a class at Northwest Film Forum on Orson Welles, taught by a woman who knew Welles briefly in the 1970s. The syllabus begins with “The Magnificent Ambersons” and ranges onto “Touch of Evil,” “Chimes at Midnight,” “The Stranger,” “Mr. Arkadin” and ends, where the film career began, with “Citizen Kane.”
In class on Monday, I had a question, a bit long (you know me), which went something like this:
- If, as we've heard, the scenes at the Mirador Motel in “Touch of Evil” influenced Alfred Hitchcock in the making of “Psycho,” which starred Tony Perkins in what became the role of his lifetime ...
- ... and Perkins subseqently starred in Welles' “The Trial” two years later ...
- ... and three years later Welles cast a Perkins lookalike, Shakespearean actor Keith Baxter, to play Prince Hal opposite his Falstaff in “Chimes at Midnight” ...
- ... well, is there anything to all this or is it just some interesting coincidences?
The teacher smiled and said it wasn't just coincidences. When pressed, she said that Perkins and Baxter were the type of man Welles was attracted to.
Orson Welles was gay? Or bi? I'd never heard this before. I guess David Thomson suggests as much in his bio “Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles.” I guess Simon Callow suggests as much in his series of bios on Welles. But Welles' daughter, Chris Welles Feder, who wrote her own book on Welles, dismisses the suggestion:
I try to read every book written about my father but I couldn’t even finish reading Rosebud! And in Road to Xanadu there is Simon Callow’s speculation about my father’s “homosexuality.” I asked Simon about that when he came to interview me at my place in New York. His first volume had already come out, so I said, “Simon, do you have any kind of positive proof that my father was homosexual, or is it all just second hand innuendo?” He had to admit he had no direct first hand evidence. It was all just innuendo. I even asked my mother about it, and she was so funny, she said, “oh, absolutely not!” I said, “Well Simon Callow has just published a book that suggests he was homosexual, and she said, “Oh, well that’s just wishful thinking on his part.”
I'll write more if I learn more.
Top: Tony Perkins in Orson Welles' “The Trial” (1962). Bottom: Keith Baxter as Prince Hal in Orson Welles' “Chimes at Midnight” (1965).