ORSON WELLES AND ROGER HILL: A FRIENDSHIP IN THREE ACTS (HARDCOVER EDITION) by Todd Tarbox
Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts chronicles the seven-decade relationship between Orson Welles and his mentor and treasured friend, the author’s grandfather, Roger Hill. Welles’s attachment to Hill was instant, reciprocal, and developed into an enduring love. Their intimate conversations and correspondence revealed in Friendship— at times frothy, and at other times solemn—reflect their incalculable interests and abiding fascination with the human comedy.
Orson was recognized by multitudes around the world, and his celebrity hasn’t diminished since his death in 1985. His public persona is widely known, admired, and debated, but very few knew the private Orson Welles. That fascinating and uncommonly warm persona is radiantly revealed in every page, as is the equally charismatic nature of Roger Hill.
Reflecting on the book, fellow director and author of This is Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich observed: “I found Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts fascinating, touching, and revealing of Orson and Roger. It certainly is the Orson I knew in all his complexity and brilliance.”
English actor, writer, director, and author of Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu, and Orson Welles: Hello Americans, the first two of an eventual three-volume Welles biography, Simon Callow, asserted: I read Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts with absolute delight. At last I have what I have been looking for in vain till now: the sound of Welles’s private voice, the warmth, easiness, modesty, fantasy of which so many have spoken but which none have been able to reproduce. Here it is at last, along with the moving revelation of the depth of feeling between Orson Welles and Roger Hill: the undeviating, unconditional, but intelligent love in which Orson clearly rejoices, and by which he is so evidently sustained, even through the worst reverses and most bitter disappointments.”
American film critic and author of Discovering Orson Welles, Jonathan Rosenbaum, said of Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts: “The major and longest-lasting close friendship of Orson Welles’s life was with one of his earliest role models—his teacher, advisor, and theatrical mentor at the Todd School who later became the school’s headmaster, Roger Hill. Hill’s grandson, Todd Tarbox, has given us invaluable and candidly intimate glimpses into many of its stages.”
About the Author: Todd Tarbox was born in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of See the World, Imagine, and co-editor of Footprints of Young Explorers. Tarbox lives in Barrington Hills, Illinois.
The 2013 calendar year has provided enough new Welles material to make the case for his lasting iconography… Welles managed to know so many people and go so many places that the very narrative of his existence provides a rich conduit to any number of eras and topics in twentieth century history. Todd Tarbox’s Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts tracks the writer-director-actor-thinker through a series of warm conversations with his lifelong mentor, whom he met while attending the Woodstock, Illinois boys’ school where the actor developed his many trades… Tarbox plays up the eloquence that emerges from the synthesis of two active minds in conversation and strikes a nostalgic tone by tracking the decline of educated approaches to artistic creation. Welles and Tarbox seemingly exist in an echo chamber divorced from the rush of the commercial world.
— Cineaste Magazine, Winter 2013, http://www.cineaste.com
The more recently published Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts (Bear Manor Media, 2014) by Hill’s grandson Todd Tarbox, shows a completely different side of Welles. Hill was Welles’ headmaster, teacher and mentor at the Todd School for Boys in Woodstock Illinois. The relationship between the two continued throughout Welles’ life. Even though Hill was Welles’ senior by twenty years, the teacher outlived the student by another five. This volume allows us to appreciate the full scope of Welles’ intellect, in part because with Hill, Welles was speaking to an intellectual equal. Jaglom, no doubt, fell into the category of “Hollywood friend”.
This is a volume that Welles admirers will treasure. Written as a scripted three-act play, Tarbox uses the recorded phone conversations that Welles and Hill conducted over a three-year period to sketch a portrait of two men who shared a strong love of theater, literature and history. Tarbox’s stage and lighting directions add little to the book, but the conceit that we are watching a two-man play never distracts from the personalities front and center. It is unlikely ever to be staged, but it would make a hell of an entertaining recorded book if the right actors could be found to inhabit the two roles.
In the course of the interviews, Hill makes the distinction between ORSON WELLES! and Orson Welles. This is the more relaxed, contemplative, lower-case Welles. Readers looking for salacious Hollywood gossip will be disappointed. Even when Welles recalls the final years of John Barrymore, it is with admiration and fondness for a former genius of the theater. Lovers of golden-age radio will appreciate Welles’ cherished memories of the medium: “Radio is what I love most of all. The excitement of could happen in live radio, where everything that could go wrong did go wrong…I wouldn’t want to return to those frenetic twenty-hour working days, but I miss them because they are so irredeemably gone.”
The Welles in this book is more optimistic than Jaglom’s. The great director has no illusions about the uphill climb he is facing as he tries to secure adequate financing and the all-important right of final cut. But as he tells his mentor, “Disappointments continue to affect my confidence, but never my resolve.”
Although Hill and Welles made these recordings with the idea of using them in planned memoirs, sadly neither came to fruition. Anyone looking for a straight chronological history of Welles’ life and career will be better served looking elsewhere. The first two volumes of Simon Callow’s biographical trilogy are highly recommended, especially his coverage of Welles’ radio years in Vol. 1.
Whenever the two agree to explore a later aspect of Welles’ career, they invariably return to tales of their beloved Todd School or become happily sidetracked into discussing Shakespeare. For both men, their years at Todd were clearly the happiest of their lives. This is not a weakness of the book, for within these conversations we meet the real Orson Welles, and he is a much warmer, wittier companion than the bitter old man Jaglom took to lunch.
-- Robb Farr – Radio Recall
The Dennis Miller Show
After Hours with Rick Kogan
WGN Radio, Chicago, IL
"Orson Welles: An “unfinished artist” in an unfinished century"—Event marks 80 years since theater festival in Woodstock, Illinois
Welles managed to know so many people and go so many places that the very narrative of his existence provides a rich conduit to any number of eras and topics in twentieth century history. Todd Tarbox’s “Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts” tracks the writer-director-actor-thinker through a series of warm conversations with his lifelong mentor, whom he met while attending the Woodstock, Illinois boys’ school where the actor developed his many trades… Tarbox plays up the eloquence that emerges from the synthesis of two active minds in conversation and strikes a nostalgic tone by tracking the decline of educated approaches to artistic creation.
— Cineaste Magazine
“Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts” is a remarkable glimpse into cultural history… Welles and Hill were individuals of considerable intellect and culture. They belonged to a generation steeped in the classics of Western literature. Lines from Shakespeare, Poe, Ben Jonson and others form an organic element of their conversations. It is a moving moment when Hill recites Christ’s entire “Sermon on the Mount” from memory… Todd Tarbox’s book is a genuine contribution to our understanding of a critical historical period and two remarkable personalities.
—David Walsh, WSWS
Here are refreshingly candid conversations between two adoring friends who shared an abiding interest in language, literature, theater, and art. We learn of Welles’ current and forever-frustrated projects (such as untangling the ownership of The Other Side of the Wind), his everyday activities, his beloved canine companion, and much, much more. Both he and Hill are apt to break into long quotes from famous poets and playwrights at the drop of a hat: these are no ordinary phone calls.
—Leonard Maltin, Movie Crazy
The author gives equal attention to the world-famous Orson Welles and the accomplishments of his non-celebrity grandfather, who went on to serve as the Todd School’s headmaster for three decades… “Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Act” is free of any sensational, viral-ready quotes… in Welles’s conversations with Hill, you get the sense of a brilliant person who doesn’t feel any need to be “on.”
—Everett Jones, Publishers Weekly
In 1926, shortly after his mother's death, the 11-year-old Welles entered the Todd School for Boys, an independent boarding school in Woodstock. One of his teachers there was Roger Hill, and a better student-teacher match may not have been made since Plato met Socrates. Todd Tarbox, Roger Hill's grandson and the author of a compelling and captivating new book, "Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts," is cleverly, inventively constructed in the form of a three-act play of candid conversations adapted from the many letters and tape-recorded conversations between Welles and Hill.
—Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune
I've been thinking about Welles a lot recently because as the great genius of American directors he is never far from cineastes' minds. For one thing, interesting new books about him are constantly coming out: "Orson Welles In Italy" by Alberto Anile and "Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts" by Todd Tarbox are but two recent examples.
—Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
Todd Tarbox’s “Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts” is superbly edited from telephone transcriptions and other relevant documents – public speeches, private letters, and Welles’ youthful journal entries. Presented in the form of a play script, the book is a delightful and amusing record of intelligent conversation, a moving testament to Welles’ longest friendship.
—Matthew Asprey Gear, Senses of Cinema
It is difficult to think of anyone in our contemporary world of arts and letters who could match Welles's mastery of so many realms of expression—theater, film, radio, acting, writing, oratory, magic—and deep knowledge of politics, literature, music and history. Much of this took root and blossomed during his five years at the eminent and progressive Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, Illinois, where, under the guidance of Hill, 20 years his senior, the prodigy took part in many theatrical productions and co-edited the successful Everybody's Shakespeare series. Above all, what is so important and--for those of us who strongly connected with the man and his work during his lifetime—moving about “Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts” is that, for the first time, I felt I was hearing the true, unadulterated voice of Orson Welles… Theirs was a relationship of lifelong love, amity and mutual respect, and coursing through their talks is a quality of friendship and generosity of spirit rare in this life. As the conversations move inexorably toward the end—on the night before he is to die, Welles tells Hill, “I'm feeling very mortal these days”--one feels the curtain slowly coming down on a profoundly felt comedy-drama one wishes had several more acts to go.
—Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
The subjects tend toward personal recollections and nostalgic delights, and Welles is aware of the nostalgia… The tone is warm and mutually avuncular. Hill, the elder man, looks fondly at Welles as a perpetual gifted youth in the radiance of promise and with a modest pride at his own association with him… The reminiscences of school days, long-departed friends, and early, naïvely audacious adventures conjure a scaled-down Welles, whose cracker-barrel warmth reminds us that his mighty creations have a core of nostalgic yearning for an unforgotten modesty that lay forever just out of reach. (After all, Rosebud.)… The anchored and sentimental protagonist of Tarbox’s book brings an important new facet to our view of Orson Welles, one of the two greatest characters in the history of cinema.
—Richard Brody, New Yorker
This is Welles at his best.
—Scott Eyman, Palm Beach Post Staff
Friendships were thorny in both Welles’s work – think of Kane and Leland, Othello and Iago, Quinlan and Menzies, Falstaff and Hal, Harry Lime and Holly Martins – and his life. Curdled love was one of his leitmotivs. Welles and Hill survived early professional collaboration (they wrote a play and co-edited Shakespeare when Welles was a teenager) to enjoy six decades of affection; there’s real poignancy to the duo’s comparisons of their elderly ailments (Hill died in 1990, aged 95). But most poignant is the letter Skipper wrote to the 25-year-old Orson on the occasion of his first divorce. “Your real need, I feel, is not for fewer ties; it is for greater ones,” Hill wrote: “Welles, as a solo wonder-worker, will never be truly happy.”
—Ben Walters, Sight&Sound