Various people have bid fair to become Orson Welles’ ultimate
Boswell, so when three of them agree on the value of a new book, it’s well
worth noting. Peter Bogdanovich, Simon Callow, and Jonathan Rosenbaum all
praise the publication of Orson Welles
and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts by Todd Tarbox (BearManor
Media), and with good reason. Rather than depending on research or
recollections, it reproduces a series of telephone conversations between Welles
and the man he considered his mentor, friend, and in some ways his surrogate
father. Roger Hill was a teacher and later headmaster of the Todd School for
Boys in Woodstock, Illinois, where the dauntingly precocious Welles spent his
formative years, which he later called the happiest of his life. Orson was 11
when he arrived at Todd and Roger, son of the school’s founder, was exactly
twenty years his senior. They formed a bond that never frayed in the seventy
years to come.
In fact, Roger Hill outlived his prodigious protégé, and in planning a revised edition of his memoir, obtained Welles’ permission to record their telephone calls in the 1980s. (He was also urging Orson to work on his own autobiography, and thought the transcripts might be helpful.) They form the basis of this book, which is gracefully edited and presented by Hill’s grandson, Todd Tarbox.
Here are refreshingly candid conversations between two adoring friends who shared an abiding interest in language, literature, theater, and art. We learn of Welles’ current and forever-frustrated projects (such as untangling the ownership of The Other Side of the Wind), his everyday activities, his beloved canine companion, and much, much more. Both he and Hill are apt to break into long quotes from famous poets and playwrights at the drop of a hat: these are no ordinary phone calls.
What I take away most is the love of learning that the Todd School fired in Welles, who was already well-traveled and something of an autodidact. He also treasured the fellowship of his schoolmates and the opportunity to spread his wings in all forms of arts and letters. (Wait till you see his prose and pictures for the official school pamphlet.)
Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts doesn’t take long to read, in part because it’s hard to put down. How lucky we are that Todd Tarbox has allowed us to eavesdrop on two such extraordinary men.