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Orson Welles Auction offers Insight to Famed Actor & Director

by Allan Maurer (04/08/14).

Orson Welles’ Bell & Howell 240 16-mm movie camera, will be among the 70 lots put up for auction by his daughter Beatrice at Heritage Auctions.

Welles used the camera in 1962 to film his documentary “The Land of Don Quixote,” although the movie wasn’t released until 2000 in Spain.

Want to see the world the way legendary movie actor and director Orson Welles did when he shot home movies? Someone will get that opportunity if they make a winning bid for the Bell and Howell camera Welles used to shoot home movies.. It’s one of 70 lots his daughter, Beatrice, discovered in old boxes and trunks that Heritage Auctions will offer on April 26.

“This is not a chance that is going to come along again anytime soon,” said Margaret Barrett, Heritage’s director of Entertainment Auctions. “Orson Welles is a Hollywood legend. His work continues to influence directors, writers and actors of all genres. This is an opportunity for many film lovers to have a piece of cinema royalty.”

While Welles masterpiece, “Citizen Kane,” is listed at the very top of many critics lists of the best movies ever made, he was not so fortunate in all of his directorial outings. The memorabilia up for auction includes evidence of that as well: two scripts for “The Magnificent Ambersons,” which he wrote and directed in 1942. They reveal two alternate endings Welles considered—neither of which made it into the final film. The final version featured and ending Wells did not approve; a studio hack re-edited into a shorter version.

Movie fans have longed to see the missing sections of “The Magnificent Ambersons,” shot—like “Kane”—in Greg Toland’s luscious black and white deep focus photography.

These scrap books are about the response to the 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast—notorious and infamous radio broadcast that took place on October 30, 1938 — an event that American school children still learn about 75 years later—compiled specifically for Welles himself by a professional clipping service. Each book has approximately 140 pages , filled with hundreds of newspaper clippings from various publications around the United States; a rare and comprehensive collection of fantastic information about this scandalous event that was associated with Welles for the rest of his life.

‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast scrapbooks
The auction also includes two scrapbooks Welles kept that are filled with newspaper clippings about the national “panic” caused by his 1938 radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds,” staged like an interruption of regular programming.

Beatrice Welles says that her father would have preferred to see these items go to collectors or film fans rather than to a museum or academic institution.

The auction is a one-time opportunity to grab items Welles actually held in his hands, but posters from the films he directed and starred in can bring a wide range of prices. Anything from the original “Citizen Kane” sells for premium prices. A title lobby card that’s 11-inches by 14-inches sold for $3,465.50 at Heritage Auctions in 2006. Non-title cards showing scenes from the film sell for less. Heritage auctioned one for $517 in 2006 and most sell in that $500 range.

Good prices for ‘Touch of Evil’ posters
One-sheets from “Citizen Kane” sell in the $9,000 range. If you want to talk stratospheric prices, a quite large three-sheet poster—that’s 41 inches by 81 inches—sold for a whopping $39,100 in 2002.

While it bombed in 1947, Welles only film with his then-wife Rita Hayworth, “The Lady from Shanghai,” which he both directed and starred in, will set you back more than a few bucks if you want posters from the film. A one-sheet sold for $4,481.25 this year (2014) at Heritage. An Italian “Foglio” (39 inches by 55 inches) sold for $28,680 last year (2013).

Another of his films whose posters draw prices on the high side is 1958’s “Touch of Evil.” Unlike “The Magnificent Ambersons,” you can now see the restored version of “Touch of Evil” edited the way Welles wanted it, although it too had been re-edited by the studio on its initial release.

A one sheet from “Touch of Evil” sold for $1,035 at Heritage, also in 2006, while another sold for $2,530 back in 2003.

On the other hand, a buyer grabbed a really nice one-sheet from his under-funded Shakespearean drama, “Falstaff” for a paltry $45 in 2007 and an attractive insert from 1955’s “Othello,” sold for $31 the same year.

Touch of Evil” poster.

The Third Man” poster.

Welles the actor
Many of Welles acting roles produced memorable films as well. In an interview with director, actor and film historian Peter Bogdanovitch, Welles chided him for always talking so much about film directors.

“Film is an actor’s medium, really,” Welles said.

Think about that. Most people don’t go to see a film by a certain director, they go to a Tom Cruise movie or a Julia Roberts film. In the past, you’d say you were going to a Bogie or Cagney or Gable movie.

The Stranger,” from 1946, also starring Loretta Young and Edward G. Robinson, portrayed Welles as a menacing figure, as did “The Third Man,” in which he played the despicable Harry Lyme. A one-sheet from “The Stranger,” sold for $460 in 2002. Posters from “The Third Man,” which Welles apparently almost co-directed with Carol Reed, go for considerably more. A British one-sheet sold for $5,750 in 2006 and others routinely sell for from $500 to more than $1,000 depending on their art. An insert from that movie (14 inches by 36 inches) sold for $1,195 in 2011.

“This is not a chance that is going to come along again anytime soon,” said Margaret Barrett, Heritage’s director of Entertainment Auctions. “Orson Welles is a Hollywood legend. His work continues to influence directors, writers and actors of all genres. This is an opportunity for many film lovers to have a piece of cinema royalty.”

A group of working script pages from “Citizen Kane.”

A group of production stills from “Citizen Kane.”

While the 70 lots consigned by Beatrice Welles does not include any posters, there are several lots of ephemera and other items belonging to the actor and director, including a group of working script pages and production stills from “Citizen Kane,” as well as personal possessions, such as a humidor, a 1970s-era Smith-Corona electric typewriter, housewares and clothing.


Allan Maurer is a Worthologist who specializes in Hollywood and movie memorabilia and the publisher of the web site BestFilmFests.

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