Alas, the fact that you can’t access the Spring 2009 issue of Michigan Quarterly Review online means that a good many people, including other Welles fanatics, won’t bother to hunt it down in bookstores or order it online. But this is a pity, because “Treasures from the Special Collections Library at the University of Michigan: Letters and Memos Mainly on Macbeth,” compiled and introduced by Catherine L. Benamou, is an important step forward in Welles studies. The two massive collections of “written, illustrated, recorded, and photographic materials pertaining to the writer-actor-director’s artistic career from around 1931 to 1985,” “totaling some one hundred linear feet,” have been in place for about five years now, even though they’re still being catalogued, and I’m proud to say I was the very first “outside” scholar who paid them a visit when I selected the photographs used on the cover of my most recent book, Discovering Orson Welles (University of California Press, 2007).
These two collections consist of the Welles-related papers of (a) Richard Wilson, associate producer of Mercury Theatre projects starting with Too Much Johnson in 1938 and continuing until Wilson became a film director in his own right in the 1950s, and (b) Oja Kodar, Welles’ companion, muse, and major collaborator over the last two decades of his life and career, a sculptress who worked on his films in multiple capacities (though chiefly as writer and actress). I was fortunate in knowing Wilson (1915-1991) over a 19-year span, starting with our correspondence about Welles’ first Hollywood project, Heart of Darkness — the focus of one of my first published articles (reprinted in Discovering Orson Welles), which led to my meeting Welles in Paris in 1972 — and I’ve also been lucky in knowing Kodar since early 1986, when we met at a Welles tribute in Rotterdam shortly after his death.
The 55-page Welles dossier assembled by Benamou in Michigan Quarterly Review starts off with a 1942 letter from Robert Wise to Welles about the editing of The Magnificent Ambersons, drawn from the Kodar collection. The remaining documents, all drawn from the Wilson papers, are letters relating to Welles’ Macbeth (the film), all written between 1947 and 1949 — four of them by Welles, if one also includes a memorandum to Republic Pictures — followed by an eight-page “Portfolio of Graphics”. The latter starts with 1944 instructions by RKO’s Jim Wilkinson (in charge of their film vaults) to RKO’s Sid Kramer in New York to “instruct the Brazilian office to junk” one print of Journey into Fear (10 reels) and two prints of The Magnificent Ambersons (10 reels and 14 reels). (The remaining seven pages all relate to Macbeth.) [5/28/09]