Young Orson by Patrick McGilligan, book review: Reanimating old arguments

McGilligan sifts his sources and his research until they implode in a rich and absorbing synthesis of ingredients

Michael Coveney
Thursday 19 November 2015 18:39 GMT

Patrick McGilligan, an indefatigable Hollywood biographer (he's “done” Hitchcock, Cagney, Robert Altman and Clint Eastwood, among others) sifts his sources and his research until they implode in an admittedly rich and absorbing synthesis of ingredients, like a long-life, academically stewed Christmas pudding. His book, Young Orson, doesn't add much, beyond painstakingly itemised details of childhood and geographical pernicketiness, to Barbara Leaming's still magisterial authorised biography or indeed Simon Callow's own first and second volumes.

McGilligan reanimates old arguments about Welles' supposed heroics as a bullfighter and his sometimes cloudy sexuality (how close was he, really, to MacLiammóir and Edwards? Did he have an affair with Dolores del Rio?). Welles had three daughters, one with each of his wives – Virginia Nicolson, Rita Hayworth and the Italian countess Paola Mori, all of them actresses. But he nails the misapprehension, as he sees it, that Welles fathered the British film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg with the Irish actress Geraldine Fitzgerald. Beavering away among dates and locations, McGilligan roundly declares that Welles' paternity is “a biological impossibility.”

Quel dommage. For a man who spent his life seeking father figures (his own was a tragic alcoholic who died when he was 15), and orchestrating the issue of love, loss and rejection in the father/son tussle between Prince Hal and Falstaff in the film Chimes at Midnight, may not Welles be allowed yet another realm of surrogate possibility? When Lindsay-Hogg was cast in a small role in the Belfast and Dublin stage performances of Chimes in 1960, Keith Baxter played Hal (as he did, memorably, in the movie). Welles noted Lindsay-Hogg's brightness and demeanour but said no more than he looked like him and smoked a good cigar…

Michael Coveney's new book is 'Maggie Smith: A Biography' (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Harper, £20. Order at £16.50 inc. p&p from the Independent Bookshop

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