Orson & magic: Welles’ last hidden passion

The American George Orson Welles (1915-1985) is one of the most well-known and recognized men of culture in the international arena, and also one of the most influential in the artistic fields in which he left his mark, which are many. Actor, screenwriter and film director, mainly, but also a radio fiend and intellectual leader, Welles did not leave anyone indifferent, especially if we add to this creative power a good dose of overflowing and eccentric personality. Memorable works such as the well-known radio dramatization, in 1938, of The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, which unleashed a panic crisis in the US, with frightened masses who truly believed they were in the midst of an alien invasion, or his big-screen debut with the masterpiece Citizen Kane, recorded his name on the story with gold letters. However, what very few know is that, under all this series of successes, admiration and fame Welles hid a last artistic vocation, his great hidden passion: magic.

 

Wells always got that oriental touch…

 

As a young child, Welles had already shown a special predilection for illusionism, as circus performers passing by often visited the seedy hotel where he lived with his alcoholic father. The young Orson kept as a treasure one of his first childhood gifts, a box of magic tricks, and when he was just 20 years old he founded his first company, the Mercury Theater. For him, the secret was always the most important element, and this conception of the show, which was based mainly on magic, would be the one that would export to all his works, both in theatre, first, and in radio and cinema, later. Every illusion is built in audience’s mind, which is the one who transforms it into a unique experience. After The War of the Worlds, Welles, already a celebrity, would face a real war conflict: World War II. To cheer up allied troops he transformed his company into the Mercury Wonders Show, whose star number was to cut his wife in half, neither more nor less than Rita Hayworth. Now, Paramount did not really like the show, and Hayworth had to be replaced by Malrene Dietrich. Take that!

Wells & Dietrich: a top-notch couple!

 

After the war Welles broke with the Hollywood system due to political reasons and fleeing from the anticommunist witch hunt in the country: he is forced to go into “exile” to Europe between 1948 and 1956, and during this period he fell in love with Spain. Throughout his filmography, Welles used techniques and resources characteristic of illusionism and, in addition, he loves to play the role of magician himself (as Houdini said), as in Black magic or the documentary F for fake, considered one of his best works. Finally, the project The magic show, to which he dedicated 10 years and in which he had prestigious illusionists, became his true passion during the final stretch of his life, despite remaining unfinished. In short, a great genius with the vocation of a magician… or vice versa.