1941 Orson Welles publicity portrait for Citizen Kane.
Filmmaker Orson Welles lived in Sedona from 1977 through 1978 with his wife and daughter, Beatrice, who still lives there. Beatrice gives us a glimpse of what life was like with her father.
SEDONA MONTHLY: What was a typical day in Sedona for Orson Welles?
BEATRICE WELLES: Quiet but not quiet. He never slept. He slept when he was tired. He’d be up all night, and then he’d sleep a couple of hours in the afternoon. The typewriter never stopped. He tried to teach me about baseball, which didn’t work. My mom was the cook – everyone was an exceptional cook in my family except me. But I got all of my father’s [traits]. I knew nothing about Thanksgiving until I moved to America. So he had to tell me the story about Thanksgiving – I was 21 years old. So we had Thanksgiving in Sedona. I think my grandmother was here from Italy – she stayed for a few months. I remember my mother made a turkey stuffed with mini tamales. She got the recipe from Sunset Magazine.
Your father said he learned to make movies by watching Stagecoach dozens of times. Did you ever hear him talk about the film?
Yes! He always said Monument Valley was one of the most beautiful places in the world. When he sent us off on the trip that led us to Sedona, he said we had to see Monument Valley. He was in awe of Jack Ford; he saw Stagecoach 33 times. It is an amazing movie. I saw it four or five years ago on the big screen – I’d never seen it on the big screen. It’s extraordinary – it has everything. It’s ageless.
Did he ever express interest in making a Western?
Never that I knew of. He had so many projects – maybe there was a Western in the middle of one. I don’t know.
You mentioned Burt Reynolds. Did any other filmmakers or actors visit him in Sedona?
No, because he didn’t want them to [laughs]. That was the whole point. He had to deal with them in Hollywood, and he didn’t want them coming here. Of course, he was very close to Burt at that time.
Did he ever watch any of his older films on TV?
No. Once something was done, you moved on because you can’t change it. Especially movies. He was in love with movies, but he loved to do theater because he could change it every night. If there was something that wasn’t quite right, he could tweak it. He was a perfectionist, and I get that from him. It’s annoying because you’re never quite happy with what you do, and he never was. The only movie he ever said he loved and the one movie he wanted people to remember him by was Chimes of Midnight, which was the five Shakespeare plays he put together and made into a 90-minute movie. It was first on stage in Dublin and then it was made into a movie backed by Spaniards.
I was in the film. It was my one acting experience. I got rheumatic fever the moment it started, so it was all over. I had to get a double. It was his favorite movie. I remember watching it with him. But he never watched his other movies. God forbid one of his commercials came on. He would instantly change the TV. He never wanted to see himself. Everything that was past was past. It’s what saved him. He had a lot of hardships in his life. He had so much taken away from him – most of his movies. And he moved on.
That’s the side of me that’s hard. If I think about everything I’ve done [to preserve his legacy], I know I’m doing it for my father, but he probably doesn’t care. I’ve spent the last 20 years going through heartbreak – it’s all emotion and I’m the only one who cares about it. That’s logical; I’m the only one who would care. But there’s another side that makes me think he wouldn’t care, and maybe I should stop. But I can’t. I want to leave his films the way they should be left. It’s not about him but what he left and how he made it. They should be left that way.
I’m talking about Othello and all of his films I’ve tried to get my hands on. We stopped Touch of Evil from being screened at the Cannes film festival [in 1998]. They wouldn’t listen to us. We wanted to see what was being done to the movie. It was being restored – footage had been added. As the estate, we wanted to see it. They ignored us like we didn’t exist. We brought in a lawyer who told them the movie wasn’t approved by the estate, and the Cannes festival didn’t show it. I was very unpopular. Chuck Heston called me an idiot on TV. I didn’t want to stop a premier at the Cannes film festival, but we wanted to see what was going on. We wanted to see the script and the movie. Is that so much to ask?
So how much filming did you actually do for Chimes at Midnight?
I was 9. My British accent was dubbed by a boy. I played the part of Falstaff’s page. It was very traumatic. I was 9 years old, I had long hair, I was starting to think about being a girl, and suddenly I had to have my hair all chopped off, looking like a boy. Nobody understands how traumatic that was for me. I was quite feminine, and suddenly I had to have this horrible haircut, which was also bad because he told me during that time nobody had good haircuts, which is a very good point.
I worked on the film quite a lot. They would drag me out of bed. I was in bed for a year. Thank God for that – we had the right doctor. The only way to save your heart is by not moving. I had cortisone injections every day. So I would be put on a pillow for filming. There were parts where they couldn’t use a double. But my part became much smaller because I was sick. The worst of it was that my father hated birthdays, like me. He hated them because on his ninth birthday, his mother died. So my ninth birthday came along. Usually, it wasn’t a big thing for him. Christmas was. But on my ninth birthday, he bought me a horse. But I never got to ride the horse, because I was sick two days later. And we ended up selling the horse. It wasn’t practical.
What were his favorite movies from the late 1970s?
He was a great admirer of Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone – he thought the first Rocky was amazing.
Was there a movie theater in Sedona, and did you go see movies?
There was the Flicker Shack, but we didn’t see any movies. Again, coming home was sacred. In those days, there was no VHS, so it was just TV.––Interview by Erika Ayn Finch and Joe McNeill