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This six-episode series, produced on a shoestring budget for the BBC, proves that above all else Orson Welles was a great storyteller. The camera cuts back and forth between close-ups of Welles and his charming sketches as he tells anecdotes ranging from the tragic (such as the case of a black U.S. serviceman who returned to the South after a tour in the Pacific, got into a dispute with a bus driver, and as a result was beaten blind by a policeman) to the hilarious (the varied reactions to the Mercury Theatre of the Air's infamous radio adaptation of [i]The War of the Worlds[/i]). This is as minimalist as television gets - just his drawings, his subtle facial expressions, and that wonderful, wry voice - and it's riveting; a great showcase of Welles's talent, wit, and charisma.
Orson Welles' Sketchbook was directed by Huw Wheldon, 'producer' being
1950s BBC language for producer-director. There is a story that during
the filming of one episode Orson ran out of ink and threw down his pen
in irritation. By the time Wheldon had reached the set Orson has
disappeared, telling a crew member that he was going to Paris. It
turned out to be the case. Nevertheless, the two men became friends.
Wheldon later conducted a celebrated interview with Welles on the
legendary BBC arts programme 'Monitor'. Welles tried to persuade
Wheldon to be his European manager. Wheldon was concerned both that he
would never be paid and that Orson would have 'eaten him up'. Wheldon
went on to become the Managing Director of BBC TV, and knighted for his
services to broadcasting. He died in the same year as Welles, 1986. On
his death the sketches Welles had done for the show were found among
Wheldon's papers, a gift from the one man to the other.
Welles was an accomplished artist, and went to Ireland at the age of 16 in order to become a painter, not an actor.
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