Me and Mr Welles by Dorian Bond – Review
By Victoria Holdsworth
Having read David Thompson’s dazzling biography, Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles, a few years ago now, the book, although detailed left me wanting to know even more about the legendary film director. Me and Mr Welles fills that gap, offering further fascinating insights into this complex and enthralling man.
The memoirs are written by Dorian Bond, who worked by chance as Orson Welles’s personal assistant during the 1960s. The young student was tasked with the job of travelling to Yugoslavia, delivering the Hollywood director’s favourite cigars and a bundle of £50 notes. This meeting changed the life of one, if not both men’s lives forever – and they struck up a quite unconventional relationship.
We follow the pair’s journey across Europe as they visit cities Bond has only ever dreamed about, staying in luxury hotels and dwellings, meeting some of the golden age’s most revered stars, such as Steve McQueen and Laurence Olivier. There even comes a time when the young Dorian Bond is seduced, over the course of a series of telephone calls, from the one and only screen legend, Marlene Dietrich.
Fascinatingly, the book is set against a varied background of cultural phenomena which become backdrop to the stories being told, leading to interesting, and sometimes philosophical, conversation between Bond and Welles. The ever-topical Manson murders occur just after the pair have dinner with Sharon Tate in Rome, where Welles had been contracted to appear in a bizarre movie called Thirteen Chairs, based on a Russian surrealist story, which also starred Tim Brooke-Taylor and Terry Thomas. The young starlet leaves a lasting impression on the duo before her murder.
“Upfront and honest”
Describing the dinner, Bond recalls how Tate had said that she had only taken the film part so she can tell her grandchildren that she had worked with Orson Welles. Bond goes on to say how, after lunch, Tate was taking a flight out of Rome to London and, as she left, she kissed him politely on the cheek and said to him: “You talk just like Roman (Polanski). All that enthusiasm. All that burning ambition.” It is only one week later that the newspaper headlines in Rome carried the headline that Tate , with her unborn baby, are dead.
Throughout the book, Bond touches heavily on the fact that hardly anything that Welles started was finished. A number of projects were on hold and scattered across Europe. Partly due to Welles’s difficult reputation not many film houses were willing to finance or work with him. His reputation did proceed him – albeit quite unfairly. Welles was very much an upfront and honest man – and brutal honesty does not always go down well in the film industry.
The great director, unceremoniously cast aside by Hollywood, is revealed to be very much in tune with how the world and society works, and not just in the field of arts. At one point he tells Bond: “Don’t ever give people what you think they want. Give them what they never conceived as possible.” Insightful words like this from Welles are are scattered through each chapter.
Me and Mr Welles also illustrates just how disjointed Welles’s life had become, although he always managed to make ends meet, right up until his death in 1985, even taking jobs that were very much beneath him. Welles would work for whoever would pay him.
“Poignant and memorable”
Not that this book is overly flattering to Welles. Whilst Bond is clearly in awe of the man, he still sees and outlines his flaws – even to Welles in person. It’s a trait that that Welles respects – and something that ultimately solidifies the friendship.
But perhaps the book is at its best when it is at its most conversational. Not just discussions between Bond and Welles, but with the characters they come across – a section with a waiter is particularly poignant and memorable, casting different shades across a character you thought you already knew.
There’s humour too, as Welles recounts tales with fellow actors, dignitaries and even popes, exposing some people’s darker, hidden sides – you might not ever see Charlie Chaplin again in the same light.
An outstanding read.
‘Me and Mr Welles: Travelling Europe with a Hollywood Legend’ by Dorian Bond is published by The History Press