Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 89
There was a time when Orson Welles was one of America’s biggest celebrities.
In 1938, he made national headlines when the radio show he produced did a version of The War of the Worlds that was so realistic people actually thought the country was under attack by Martians. Then he went to Hollywood and made Citizen Kane, which is still considered one of the greatest movies of all time. And he did all of this by the age of 26.
For his entire life though, Welles’s obsession was Shakespeare. He produced and starred in Shakespeare plays on Broadway and directed and starred in multiple versions of Shakespeare’s work on film, including Chimes at Midnight.
Our guest is Michael Anderegg, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of North Dakota and the author of Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture.
From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published January 23, 2018. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “A Rescue, a Rescue!” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. Esther French is the web producer. We had production help from Steve Griffith and Randy Johnson at Minnesota Public Radio, and Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquardt at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California.
MICHAEL WITMORE: The 1930s were not kind to Shakespeare in America. Warner Brothers’ Midsummer Night’s Dream flopped at the movie theaters. Benny Goodman’s version died on Broadway. MGM’s Romeo and Juliet lost nearly a million dollars. But that didn’t stop people from trying.
[CLIP from Columbia Broadcasting System]
RADIO ANNOUNCER: Each Monday night at this time during July and August, the Columbia Network has brought you special full-hour radio adaptations of seven of William Shakespeare’s greatest plays.
WITMORE: Buried in this graveyard summertime slot was a plan, a plan to revive Shakespeare and raise him back to the place he’d held in American culture half a century before.
[CLIP from Columbia Broadcasting System]
RADIO ANNOUNCER: Starring in tonight’s performance of Twelfth Night are Tallulah Bankhead as Viola, Orson Welles as Duke Orsino, Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Malvolio…
WITMORE: For the next 50 years, this plan for Shakespeare became an obsession for one of those players, a one-man crusade waged by one of the century’s biggest personalities. From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s Director. The person we’re talking about is the actor, director, raconteur, magician, tap dancer, commercial spokesman, Orson Welles. I know there are younger people who, if they know Orson Welles at all today, it’s from clips like this on YouTube…
[CLIP from Orson Welles’s Paul Masson Wine commercial]
ORSON WELLES: Paul Masson will sell no wine before its time.
WITMORE: There was a time when Orson Welles was one of America’s biggest celebrities. In 1938, he made national headlines when the radio show he produced did a version of The War of the Worlds that was so realistic people actually thought the country was under attack by Martians. Then he went to Hollywood and made Citizen Kane, which is still considered one of the greatest movies of all time. And he did all of this by the age of 26. For his entire life though, Welles’s obsession was Shakespeare. He produced and starred in Shakespeare plays on Broadway and directed and starred in multiple versions of Shakespeare’s work on film. In 1999, Michael Anderegg, then a professor at the University of North Dakota, explored all the elements of Orson Welles’s mission to save Shakespeare and put it down in a book, Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture. We invited Professor Anderegg to come in and talk about some of the innovations in Shakespeare that Welles brought about, innovations that are largely taken for granted today. We call this podcast “A Rescue! a Rescue!” Professor Anderegg is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
— — — — — — — — —
BARBARA BOGAEV: Well, before we get to Orson Welles and his long association with Shakespeare, I think we should remind everyone that after Welles did War of the Worlds and Citizen Kane, he never had that kind of success or anywhere near a success as big as those, and in fact, he spent the next 40 years or so a little like Paris Hilton, right? He was famous for being famous.
MICHAEL ANDEREGG: [LAUGH] Yes, I mean that is certainly part of what you can say about his subsequent career. After Citizen Kane, as he himself once said, it was sort of downhill. So his career continued in various ways. A lot of it took place in Europe and he also worked as a guest star in a number of movies.
BOGAEV: Right, movies and television. I remember him from doing the spots on TV. Like appearances on variety shows and he would recite Shakespeare while putting on his makeup and he’d also do some magic and it really seemed kind of sad. And he also appeared on TV shows like I Love Lucy, right?
ANDEREGG: He did.
[CLIP from I Love Lucy]
MALE: I just spoke to Orson Welles’s agent. He’s all set to do the benefit and he’ll meet you here this afternoon for rehearsal.
RICKY RICARDO: Oh that’s just wonderful. Listen, is he going to do the same act that he did in Las Vegas?
MALE: Yeah, some Shakespeare and of course his magic routine.
RICKY RICARDO: Oh, that is just great. What time am I supposed to meet him?
ANDEREGG: …where essentially, he played Orson Welles. He was a guest on Ricky Ricardo’s nightclub.
BOGAEV: Right, we have a clip. We have that clip. Let’s play that.
ANDEREGG: Ah, yes. Okay.
[CLIP from I Love Lucy]
LUCY: Please Mr. Welles, “what man art thou that, thus bescreened in night, so stumblest on my counsel?”
RICKY: Lucy, can’t you see that Mr. Welles does not want to do Shakespeare with you?
ORSON: You keep out of this. “By a name, dear heart, I know not how to tell you how I am. My name is hateful to myself. Had I it written, I would tear the word. Had I it had written I would…”
LUCY: I know, I guess I’m a little nervous. At last, playing with the great Orson Welles.
ORSON: Why don’t we do my favorite scene…?
LUCY: What’s that?
ORSON: “For fear of that I still will stay with thee and never from this palace of dim night depart again.”
LUCY: Oh that one. Well I’m already dead in that scene.
ORSON: Yes. “Here, here will I set up my everlasting rest.”
LUCY: But Mr. Welles, you just have a soliloquy in that one.
ORSON: “And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars from this world-wearied flesh. Eyes, look your last. Arms, take your last embrace. And lips, oh you the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss a dateless bargain to engrossing death.”
BOGAEV: You know, one thing that I didn’t know until I read your book was that his whole Shakespeare history goes back to when he was a kid in high school, and he attended this pretty remarkable sounding Todd School for Boys.
ANDEREGG: That’s right. He was— the extent of his formal education were the years he spent at the Todd School from the age of 12 to 16. And that school was very progressive, had a lot of great facilities, radio station, its own printing press… and it was very much focused on creative kids. I mean, there were stories that when he was five years old he was already reciting Shakespeare, but…
BOGAEV: Was his voice already that deep then?
ANDEREGG: I don’t think so. And he has himself debunked some of those stories, but…
BOGAEV: And he was in Hamlet when he was 16.
ANDEREGG: That’s right. And he was able to, after school, you know, he went to Ireland and supposedly he was going to do a— he wanted to be a painter. He traveled around in a donkey cart and painted things, but then he ran out of money and he ended up in Dublin at the Gate Theatre. And that’s where he did some of his first important commercial theatre. After that he came back to the United States and that’s when he was hired to be in three plays actually, but one Shakespeare was Romeo and Juliet. And got a lot of attention for doing that.
BOGAEV: And somewhere in here he collaborated with the headmaster from that prep school on a series of books or I guess you could call them publications or pamphlets called Everybody’s Shakespeare. What were they like?
ANDEREGG: Yes. They were actually-the original versions of those were actually printed on that Todd School press and they were illustrated with drawings that Welles himself made based on famous actors. And they were put in a context where Shakespeare was meant to be accessible. The whole idea—and also meant to be acted. The text was sort of aimed at a secondary school market where teachers could employ them as a way of getting student to read and recite and think about Shakespeare as theater, which was not the usual way of teaching Shakespeare at that time.
BOGAEV: Really? How was Shakespeare taught in schools at that time? And we’re talking now about the 1930s, late ’30s?
ANDEREGG: Right. This is around the ’30s, and generally speaking it was more a matter of the language and interpreting what the words meant, that kind of approach. And also dealing with the ethical and moral issues that Shakespeare’s plays bring up. There was very little of the idea that students should act out the plays. So Welles was contributing to that, you know, eventually what became perhaps the primary way of dealing with Shakespeare in the schools.
BOGAEV: That’s interesting. So was the idea that you use Shakespeare as a kind of social hygiene and you would just get bits and pieces of speeches and passages in these texts and that’s how it was taught and the only performing you would do were these bits and pieces?
ANDEREGG: That’s right. And as well they were used for oratory.
BOGAEV: So by doing this, Everybody’s Shakespeare, it sounds like Welles was both trying to instill an appreciation of the actual plays of Shakespeare and introduce them for their own sake, but was he also out to make a buck?
ANDEREGG: Well, you know, certainly it— there was a financial side to it, no question. Although when he first printed them at the Todd School, at that point the market would not have been particularly large and he would not have been known. Now a few years later, when he was famous already, you know, and it didn’t take very long once he did his Macbeth and his Julius Caesar on Broadway, his name was sufficient that Harper & Brothers reprinted— using actually some of the same plates that they had used to print it in Woodstock, Illinois— reprinted it. Originally it was edited by Roger Hill and Orson Welles. When they were reprinted it was edited by Orson Welles and Roger Hill and at the same time he produced a number of recordings.
[CLIP from Julius Caesar]
ORSON: Act one. Scene one. Rome. A public place. It is a festive sunshiny day and a crowd of common people are gathered here. Two tribunes enter, Flavius and Marullus.
FLAVIUS: Hence! Home, you idle creatures, get you home! Is this a holiday? What, know you not, being mechanical, you ought not walk upon a laboring day without the sign of your profession? Speak, what trade art thou?
CARPENTER: Why sir, a carpenter.
MARULLUS: Where is thy leather apron and thy rule? What dost thou with thy best apparel on?
ORSON: He wheels about and waves at another.
MARULLUS: You sir, what trade are you?
ORSON: The commoner bows low, his eyes twinkling.
COBBLER: A trade, sir, that I hope I may use with a safe conscience.
ANDEREGG: The recordings were sold along with the texts and also very much appealed to the schools again because they could play records of Welles and his fellow cast members in a way that had never been done before.
BOGAEV: I think you mentioned too in the book there was an internal memo about that project by Columbia Records that put out these things, right? And the subject heading was “cashing in on the classics.”
ANDEREGG: Exactly. Which suggests, you know, the way Shakespeare could be looked at in this period, and Welles, in a way, found ways of cashing in on the classics throughout his career.
BOGAEV: Right. And it epitomizes really your thesis which is that he navigated through this low brow, high brow use of Shakespeare throughout his whole career. But I want to pick up on something you just mentioned which is the, at the time, referred to a play that Welles staged, the “Voodoo” Macbeth and what was called the “fascist” Julius Caesar—these were his most well known productions. Remind us what those were like, and how did they get those nicknames?
ANDEREGG: Yes, well the “Voodoo” Macbeth was a production of the WPA, so it was a government-sponsored project. Welles was hired by John Houseman who was in charge of the Negro Theater branch of that theatrical project to direct something in Harlem and using African-American actors, African-American stage people and to do something that would be eye-catching that would employ a lot of people. And so Welles chose to do Macbeth.
[CLIP from Welles’s “Voodoo” Macbeth]
MACBETH: My name’s Macbeth.
MACDUFF: Turn, hellhound, turn!
MACBETH: Of all men else I have avoided thee. But get thee back. My soul is too much charged with blood of thine already.
MACDUFF: Then yield thee, coward, and live to be the show and gaze o’ th’ time. We’ll have thee, as our rarer monsters are, painted upon a pole, and underwrit, “Here may you see the tyrant.”
MACBETH: I will not yield. Though Birnam Wood be come to Dunsinane, yet I will try the last.
ANDEREGG: The setting was basically the period after the slave revolts in Haiti, but at the same time it was Shakespeare’s language.
[CLIP from Welles’s “Voodoo” Macbeth]
MACBETH: Hahaha! Thou losest labor. I bear a charmèd life, which must not yield to one of woman born.
MACDUFF: Despair thy charm, and let the angel whom thou still hast served tell thee Macduff was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.
MACBETH: Accursèd be the tongue that tells me so.
BOGAEV: And just to give us context too, how much of a departure was this from other Shakespeare performances of Macbeth at the time?
ANDEREGG: Well, it was a total departure. There was really nothing like it before, and it really made his reputation. And it also demonstrated that yes, African-American actors can do Shakespeare. Why not?
BOGAEV: And the “fascist” Julius Caesar?
ANDEREGG: Okay, well that was— so Welles did a few more productions for the WPA and he and John Houseman decided to go off on their own to see if they could do something in the commercial theater. So Welles chose to do Julius Caesar on Broadway, and here the gimmick, if you want, or the idea, was to set it in a modern-day fascist Europe.
[CLIP from Welle’s “fascist” Julius Caesar]
JULIUS CAESAR: Chew upon this: Brutus would rather be a villager than to repute himself a son of Rome under these hard conditions as this time is like to lay upon us. Farewell both.
BOGAEV: This is, in fact, what we’re used to. Many productions of Shakespeare now, they take their cue from topical events. They allude to the political situation going on or, you know, they— and they often come under the charge of making Shakespeare into a spectacle as opposed to “straight,” which is I guess in the 1930s they were up there in Elizabethan garb declaiming Shakespeare.
BOGAEV: And I think the way that you put this is that Welles almost always produced Shakespeare as an event.
ANDEREGG: Right. He produced Shakespeare so that it would call attention to itself. And the other thing about the 1937 production is that it was very simple, using boards and steps. It was really the lighting that created the effect. You know, it was put on about the same time that Thornton Wilder was doing Our Town also on a bare stage, so that called attention to itself as well, particularly when elaborate productions of Shakespeare—Tallulah Bankhead had just totally failed in a huge production of Antony and Cleopatra. It called attention to itself for its simplicity and for its debt to European methods of staging.
BOGAEV: So, Welles did these Everybody’s Shakespeare booklets and he did these Shakespeare Mercury recordings and also the plays, and then he went on to the movies, and he makes Macbeth at Republic Pictures which was a low-budget outfit that primarily had put out westerns. Here— this is in the era that the big guns like Warner Brothers and MGM had spent a ton of money on their attempts at Shakespeare with the likes of Mickey Rooney and other stars, and they’d failed at the box office, for the most part. So what made Welles think he could succeed where they had flopped?
ANDEREGG: Well, that was his challenge and he thought he could do it because he was doing it at this little budget studio under a rather tight shooting schedule and not a whole lot of money. I mean, it was not produced at the same cost of a Roy Rogers western, but at the same time, it was far less money than MGM and Warner Brothers had spent on their production.
BOGAEV: Like, I bet a lot of us haven’t seen— most of us probably haven’t seen Orson Welles’s Macbeth so remind us, what were some of its challenges?
ANDEREGG: Well, because of the budget in part, he was employing more of the standing sets at Republic Studios, which is to say a lot of caves and boulders.
BOGAEV: They’re so cheesy. It reminded me of Lost in Space.
ANDEREGG: [LAUGH] Yeah. Well, that’s right. I mean it is. The sets are cheesy and so are the costumes.
BOGAEV: And they speak in a really heavy Scottish burr accent.
ANDEREGG: Well, he did. He did have them speak in this Scottish burr partly, he claimed later, because he thought that it would allow the actors… it would force the actors in a way to slow down their delivery and therefore make the lines more easily understandable.
[CLIP from Welles’s Macbeth]
LADY MACBETH: Think of this, good peers, but as a thing of custom. ‘Tis no other; only it spoils the pleasure of the time. Shame itself, why do you make such faces? When all is done, you look but on a stool.
MACBETH [to the ghost]: Avaunt, and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee. Thy bones are marrowless; thy blood is cold; thou hast no speculation in those eyes which thou dost glare with.
LADY MACBETH: The fit is momentary; upon a thought, he will again be well.
MACBETH: What man dare, I dare.
ANDEREGG: Actually, I think it’s perfectly understandable, but the studio bosses at Republic and some of the other people just thought this was terrible. They couldn’t understand what the actors were saying. And my feeling is that they couldn’t understand it because they couldn’t understand Shakespeare. You know, this was not a high-class group of producers at Republic, but in any case, the studio was so upset that they forced Welles to redo the soundtrack. This caused a lot of problems because Welles, at this point, was in Europe. So he had to do this work long-distance.
[CLIP from Welles’s Macbeth]
LADY MACBETH: I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. Did not you—
LADY MACBETH: Now.
MACBETH: As I descended?
LADY MACBETH: Ay!
BOGAEV: Oh, it’s a mess. It’s a mess. And we should remind everyone that he plays Macbeth and he’s also the director of this picture so it’s just a nightmare on all fronts. And on top of everything, it’s just a tragedy that Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet came out right before Welles’s Macbeth and it came out to— it was just earth-shattering. Everyone fell to their knees and worshiped Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet. It sounds so humiliating.
ANDEREGG: He was— it was a terrible coincidence because Olivier’s film cost more than twice as much as Welles’s did so it had, you know, much more of an attractive decor, a mise-en-scène and so forth. And so every time, you know, the reviewers would be reviewing Welles’s film, they would also simultaneously be reviewing Olivier’s film and always to the detriment.
BOGAEV: So is it unfair? What do you think of the film Macbeth?
ANDEREGG: Well, when all is said and done, even though I find fascinating things in Welles’s Macbeth, it’s a mixed bag. The cast is not great and even Welles himself; it’s not one of his better performances. And Welles did have a tendency when he was directing and acting in something that he would spend all of his energies on the directing of everybody else and would spend little time on his own performance. And it shows, you know. It’s a mixed bag.
BOGAEV: Well, speaking of mixed bags, what about his 1952 Othello? And there are at least six different versions of this film.
ANDEREGG: Right, right. Although that point can be exaggerated. Again, this film was essentially dubbed after it was made, but I think Othello is quite superior to the Macbeth. I think it’s a really powerful film that was made under totally different circumstances. Welles did it as an independent producer so he had to raise all of the money for the film himself and he could only do it in bits and pieces. So the film was shot over a number of years instead of the 21 days in which Macbeth had been filmed. But often he had to shut down production, go find a gig somewhere, and then come back and restart it, and it meant sometimes that the actors who had been available before were no longer available for the dubbing or whatever. So he had a lot of issues and problems with it, but I think it’s an extraordinary film.
BOGAEV: Despite all of the money problems and production issues with all of these films, you do see these amazing camera angles. Just fascinating close-ups and the way he follows actors around a set or up and down stairs, it’s such immediate filming. It’s so modern. And you have a lot of things— positive things to say about Welles’s Othello production. For instance, you write that “while dispensing with so much of Shakespeare’s verbal poetry Welles creates a visual poetry of his own.” And I think you’re referring to that kind of dynamic staging.
ANDEREGG: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think visually it’s an extraordinary film, and it has elements of, for example, of the works of Eisenstein in some of his later films.
BOGAEV: Oh yeah, he does wonderful things with lighting in that film.
ANDEREGG: Absolutely, you know, and so, you know, you could say that at the same time that he does that, and it’s wonderful, he does, perhaps, cut a good bit of text of the play in order to concentrate on some of those visual things. He could be critiqued for that, but I think that where he does cut the text he finds ways of creating a similar effect and a similar meaning through the way he edits, through the way he photographs the action. I think it’s an extraordinary film in spite of rough patches. And some of those rough patches have to do with the soundtrack.
BOGAEV: Well, speaking of rough soundtracks, I just recently watched Chimes at Midnight.
[CLIP from Chimes at Midnight]
SHALLOW: Jesus, the days that we have seen. Ha, Sir John, said I well?
SIR JOHN: We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Robert Shallow.
SHALLOW: That we have, that we have, that we have. In faith, Sir John, we have. Jesus, the days that we have seen.
BOGAEV: And this was Orson Welles’s work in which he stitches together excerpts from a number of the plays to explore the character of Falstaff. And the sound levels are unlistenable. I could not get through this film. They go from too quiet to just eardrum bursting. I kept waking my husband up in the middle of the night watching it when horns suddenly blared announcing a royal arrival.
ANDEREGG: Well, it’s true. And some of that, I mean I don’t know which version you watched because the latest Blu-ray DVD does fix a lot of those problems. So if you watch…
BOGAEV: What do you want us to take away though from Chimes at Midnight?
ANDEREGG: I think it’s perhaps, in a way, in terms of his approach to Shakespeare, I think it is his most faithful to the text of Shakespeare’s play. Even though he’s combining several plays and doing several other things in presenting it, he is presenting the essence of the Falstaff story in his film. There’s very little in the way of, perhaps you could argue, self-indulgent cinematic tricks in this film. It is very much dedicated to getting across Shakespeare’s view of Falstaff and beyond that I think it’s Welles’s finest performance.
[CLIP from Chimes at Midnight]
PRINCE HENRY: What the devil has thou to do with the time of day? Unless hours were cups of sack, clocks the tongues of bawds, dials the signs of leaping houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-colored taffeta, I see no reason why thou should be so superfluous to demand the time of the day.
FALSTAFF: Indeed, you come near me now, Hal, for we that take purses go by the moon. How now, who picked me pocket? Hostess! Hostess!
HOSTESS: Sir John!
FALSTAFF: I fell asleep here and had me pocket picked.
HOSTESS: You think I keep thieves in my house. My Lord, I pray you hear me.
FALSTAFF: Go to. I know you well enough.
HOSTESS: I know you, Sir John. You owe me money, Sir John, and now you pick a quarrel with me to beguile me of it—
FALSTAFF: This house is turned bawdy house.
HOSTESS: Bawdy house?
FALSTAFF: Picked me pockets!
HOSTESS: We cannot lodge and board a dozen or fourteen gentlewomen who live honestly by the prick of their needles, but it’s thought we keep a bawdy house!
FALSTAFF: Shall I not take my ease in mine inn, but I shall have my pocket picked?
HOSTESS: You owe me money, Sir John.
PRINCE HENRY: What didst thou lose, Jack?
FALSTAFF: Wilt thou believe me, Hal? Some forty pounds.
PRINCE HENRY: What?
FALSTAFF: And a gold seal ring of me grandfather’s worth some 40 mark.
ANDEREGG: Putting Falstaff at the center makes perfect sense. And he is at the right age and almost at the right weight to be playing Falstaff.
BOGAEV: There’s also a great cast. He has John Gielgud as the King.
[CLIP from Chimes at Midnight]
KING: Shall our coffers then be emptied to redeem a traitor home?
WORCESTER: My Liege…
KING: No, on the barren mountain let him starve! For I shall never hold that man my friend whose tongue shall ask me for one penny cost to ransom home revolted Mortimer.
HOTSPUR: Revolted Mortimer? He never did fall off, my sovereign liege, but by the chance of war.
KING: My blood hath been too cold and temperate. Unapt to stir at these indignities and you have found me, for accordingly you tread upon my patience.
ANDEREGG: All the elements come together in Chimes of Midnight in a way that isn’t entirely true of his other two Shakespeare films.
BOGAEV: Well, we’ve talked a lot about Welles and his explorations of Shakespeare and this kind of traveling between a highbrow and lowbrow entertainment and art. Is that how Welles thought about Shakespeare all of his career, and not just Shakespeare? I mean, did he take this aesthetic highbrow approach to whatever he was doing, but also a pop culture lowbrow marketing approach at the same time?
ANDEREGG: Well I think that’s a good way of putting it. I think he was always caught between the kind of highbrow approach that’s represented by Shakespeare’s works, but he also believed that it wasn’t just a matter of making it commercial, but a matter of making it popular. And the two would go together, but I don’t think Welles ever thought primarily in terms of money, frankly. I mean, if he had he would have done things, you know, different from what he did.
BOGAEV: He would have had more of it.
ANDEREGG: Exactly, you know, exactly. I mean, he thought of money as something that he could use to make something new and make something different. But of course he was, you know, he had enough ego that he wanted whatever he did to have a large audience and to capture people’s attention. But if Welles’s goal, as I somewhat suggest is not something he ever said himself, was to mediate between high culture and low culture, I don’t think he ever quite succeeded in doing that. I think that his films could be seen of course— just by making Shakespeare films you are in a sense taking high culture and turning it into at least middlebrow culture. Otherwise what’s the purpose of filming Shakespeare? You’re trying to bring it to a large audience. Well, ironically enough, none of the three Shakespeare films that Welles made did bring Shakespeare to a large audience.
BOGAEV: No, but he always, throughout his whole career, played with this tension between the aesthetic… taking the high road aesthetically and being very intellectual and being very involved at the highest level in Shakespeare’s poetry and in the history of the works and in all the works that he did, but also being that Vegas magician.
ANDEREGG: That’s right. And again, to go back to the I Love Lucy example, really that episode just encapsulates that problem. He’s on the program because of his Shakespeare, essentially, and Lucy sees him as… you know, at one point she says, “Oh, I think you’re the greatest Shakespearean actor in the world.”
[CLIP from I Love Lucy]
LUCY: I think you’re the greatest Shakespearean actor in the whole world! I think you’re better than John Gielgud! I think you’re better than-than Maurice Evans! I think you’re better than— than— Sir Ralph Richardson!
ORSON: You left out Laurence Olivier.
BOGAEV: That was a sore point.
ANDEREGG: It’s like a sore point, exactly. Exactly. So that’s the way Lucy sees him, but Ricky I think is probably more interested in Welles doing his magic. And so, you know, Welles is feeding in himself to that tension and that image. You know, is he a popular entertainer? Is he a highbrow Shakespearean? And, you know, I don’t think he saw himself as being necessarily one or the other. You know, I think he clearly saw himself as being both in some essential way.
BOGAEV: Well, I could talk about this forever, but it has been such a joy talking with you today. Thanks very much for this.
ANDEREGG: Well, thank you.
WITMORE: Michael Anderegg is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of North Dakota. His book, Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture was published by Columbia University Press in 1999. He was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
“A Rescue, a Rescue!” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the Associate Producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. Esther French is the web producer. We had production help from Steve Griffith and Randy Johnson at Minnesota Public Radio, and Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquardt at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California.
If you’ve been enjoying Shakespeare Unlimited, I hope you’ll consider reviewing the podcast on whatever platform you get the podcast from. It helps us get the word out to people who haven’t heard it, people who might enjoy it. We’d really appreciate your help. Thanks.
Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website folger.edu. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.