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Orson Welles, Volume 1: The Road to Xanadu (Orson Welles / Simon Callow) Paperback – February 1, 1997


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Product Details

  • Series: Orson Welles / Simon Callow
  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140254560
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140254563
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #613,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Now in paperback, Callow's vastly entertaining chronicle of Welles's first 26 years seems even finer than it did in 1995. The author's ability to skewer his subject's evasions and lies while retaining critical affection for him is perhaps explained by the fact that Callow, an actor himself, understands the need to mythologize. Welles's innovative theatrical work in the 1930s has never been better described or analyzed. Even such oft-told sagas as the War of the Worlds broadcast and the filming of Citizen Kane gain new dimension from Callow's intelligent treatment.

From Library Journal

Actor/director Callow (Being an Actor, St. Martin's, 1992) offers the first of two volumes on the life of Orson Welles, covering through the release of Citizen Kane. Callow's stated goal is to put Welles into the context of his times. He's also extremely skeptical at taking his self-promoting subject at his word, which places Callow at odds with previous Welles chroniclers Barbara Leaming (Orson Welles, Viking, 1985) and, to some extent, Peter Bogdanovich (This Is Orson Welles, LJ 11/15/92). This is by far the best-written and most balanced biography of the elusive Welles, though its massively detailed descriptions of his theater work will leave some readers behind (the author originally set out to cover only that aspect of Welles's career). Recommended for most film collections in public and academic libraries.?Thomas Wiener, editor, "Satelite DIRECT"
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Read Simon Callow's biography of America's Great Voice -- Orson Welles.
SF Fan
I highly recommend this biography to any fan of Orson Welles or anyone who is interested in the history of broadway or the theatre in general.
Babeur
So Callow's book, while doing a very good job of detailing Welles' life, has general interest that goes beyond Welles.
farington

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Andrew McCaffrey VINE VOICE on February 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
Simon Callow's thick and detailed biography of Orson Welles is a staggeringly thorough account of the actor/director's life, from his birth up until the release of his most famous picture, CITIZEN KANE. Callow goes to great lengths to separate the man from his inhumanly grandiose reputation. Armed with years of research, his personal interviews, and a keen sense of humor, Callow sets off to discover the real early life of Orson Welles. He finds a man smaller than his gargantuan myth, yet fascinating and brilliant all the same.
Orson Welles is a notoriously difficult man to write about with any great degree of accuracy. This is attributable to the fact that Welles seems to have spent almost as much time publicizing his work as he spent creating. The difficulty arises when one realizes that the majority of what he said wasn't strictly accurate, and yet it's that publicity which has been accepted for many years. Not to say that Welles was lying, or making up facts (at least, not all the time). It would be closer to the truth to say that Welles was prone to exaggerations, sometimes wild ones when it concerned himself. For the sake of his image, and for the sake of his career, he would embellish and overstate what he was doing and what he had done. Some of the more hysterical (and insightful) portions of the book are those where we see Welles describing something that had occurred several chapters previous. The story that gets told later can be almost totally at odds to what the actuality of the situation was. The further on one goes into the book, the farther away from reality these descriptions become. Welles was obsessed with constantly reinventing himself, creating a gigantic legend that became increasingly difficult for any mortal man to live up to.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Mike Stone on November 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
Mr. Callow (best known as the funeral in 'Four Wedding and a Funeral') does a fine job detailing Welles' early life, especially his time at the Todd School, and how it formulated his later character. That later character, however, spends an inordinate amount of time in the theatre. It is here that Callow lost me. Although I understand the need for these scenes (and some of them are rip-roaring good yarns), they sometimes come across as addendums to a larger book on the history of theatre that Callow is writing, rather than have any relevance to Orson's life. He tends to get over excited, going into too much detail about the most minor productions of Welles' career. Yes, his modern dress 'Julius Caesar' and the rest of the Mercury Theatre's first season were groundbreaking, but do we really need a whole chapter devoted to 'Shoemaker's Holiday' and 'Heartbreak House'? Those of you with passion for the theatre, its history, and various theories of acting will eat up these sections (comprising a good two thirds of the book), but for those of us anxious to get to the 'Kane' scenes, they are merely delaying the inevitable.
As for those 'Kane' scenes, Callow does yeomen's work debunking the myths that went into the production of that particular masterpiece. Mankiewicz, Toland, Schaefer, and Hearst are all heard from (in one way or another) in a way that makes Welles' contributions to that picture much clearer. My one complaint is that this section didn't dominate the book the way I hoped it would have. I suspect that in the title of his book, Mr. Callow wanted to emphasize "The Road" over "Xanadu"; that is his prerogative, but not my preference.
Overall, Welles comes off as a man whose talents justified the hype surrounding them.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By David J. Loftus on November 9, 1998
Format: Paperback
This is an impressive piece of work. Callow catches Welles out at countless examples of self-mythologizing, yet never gloats or judges him harshly -- merely letting his findings speak for themselves. And he doesn't diminish Welles's achievements or fascination as a man one whit. (Nor does he customarily split infinitives, which is refreshing in this day and age.) Though personal failings and the stuff of gossip are noted, Callow does not dwell upon them. His descriptions of Welles's stage productions in the 1930s and early 1940s especially make me wish I had been alive then -- or videotape technology had existed -- in order to see them. The introduction notes that most studies of Welles ask "what went wrong after _Citizen Kane_"? Callow sought to discover what went wrong BEFORE it, and I think he did an admirable job. I can hardly wait for the second volume.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By no longer a customer on May 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
Writing a biography can be compared to being the captain of a ship sailing through hazardous waters; we, the passengers/readers, trust our captain to guide us safely to our destination, avoiding the storms of revisionist excess, (i.e. Paul Alexander's fetish/fantasy biography of James Dean), and avoiding the sand-bars of worshipful praise or savage deconstructing. Callow is our Good Captain, steering us carefully, ethically and factually through the early life and career of a Great Genius. Callow's biography is refreshing in that he does not dwell on endless psycho-analysis or speculation, if he cannot substantiate an item, he leaves it there. Almost incredible in this age of paparazzi-revisionism-and outright falsehood. He respects his readers and Callow's tone through-out this extremely well-written book is that of a conversation with a trusted friend. If you are a Welles fan, you will enjoy reading of his exploits in Dublin at the Gate Theatre and the passages dealing with the Mercury are pure gold. Callow's portrayal of Welles' experiences in Hollywood at the time of CITIZEN KANE will leave you in awe that Welles could have survived that period of his life; but it also reveals the sheer energy, tenacity and genius of the man. Callow shows a man burning both ends of the candle...burning them off with a blowtorch. It's heartbreaking to read how Welles, for all his genius, is already in the early days of his life sowing the seeds of his own downfall through excess. An excellent book about an incredible man written by a wonderful actor...and a wonderfully decent man. Why can't more biographies be this ethical?
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Orson Welles, Volume 1: The Road to Xanadu (Orson Welles / Simon Callow)
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