Orson Welles’s Diaries and Scripts Head to Archive


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Jeanne Moreau and Orson Welles in their 1965 film, “Chimes at Midnight.” Welles’s heavily annotated script for the film is among the items newly acquired by the University of Michigan from his youngest daughter, Beatrice Welles.

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Janus Films

Letters, postcards, diaries and doodles from a teenage Orson Welles, along with unpublished scripts of his many incomplete projects from the ’50s and ’60s, have been acquired by the University of Michigan. The items, which came from his youngest daughter, Beatrice Welles, add to the already extensive trove of Welles memorabilia that the university holds as part of its Screen Arts Mavericks & Makers collection.

The new acquisitions include heavily annotated scripts for well-known films like “Chimes at Midnight” and “The Immortal Story.” But also in the archive are screenplays that scholars and fans of Welles, who died in 1985, had heard about but never seen, from his many, many projects that didn’t reach the screen. Among them, scripts for “Ulysses,” “The Unthinking Lobster” and “Operation Cinderella.” There’s also a script for “Fountain of Youth,” the pilot for a television series for Desilu Productions; the pilot made it to the air and won a Peabody but the series was never produced.

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Welles’s annotated copy of his script for “Chimes at Midnight.”

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Estate of Orson Welles/University of Michigan Library, Special Collection

“It’s sort of the missing piece of the Welles puzzle, it documents a period people haven’t had the opportunity to see original material from,” said Philip Hallman, the curator of the collection, later adding: “It really shows just how productive he was during this period. It’s voluminous, the mountain of scripts he was writing.”

Ms. Welles, whose mother, the Italian actress and countess Paola Mori, was Welles’s third wife, said she had long wanted to house her father’s items in one place, even if he would not have been too happy about where they ended up.

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A letter with sketches from a teenage Welles, dated Aug. 8, 1930, and written aboard a ship in Hong Kong, which he described as “a wonderful surprise.”

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Estate of Orson Welles/University of Michigan Library, Special Collection

“He hated anything scholarly,” she said.

But the University of Michigan’s collection was already impressive, thanks to extensive donations from, among others, Chris Wilson, the son of Richard Wilson, Welles’s longtime associate. “When I saw what they had, I thought this is the place to add to, and hopefully people will follow suit,” Ms. Welles said. “With what I have given them, it’s probably the best collection in the world.”

Two years ago, the university bought, for an undisclosed sum, eight boxes of papers from Oja Kodar, a Croatian actress who was Welles’s partner and lover during the last years of his life.

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The first page of the diary-sketchbook that Welles took with him on a painting expedition to Ireland in 1931.

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Estate of Orson Welles/University of Michigan Library, Special Collections

The correspondence new to the collection paints a picture of an ebullient and eloquent teenage Welles, penciling sketches of donkeys during a painting trip to Ireland, and writing excitedly from aboard a ship in Hong Kong, which he described as “a wonderful surprise.”

“And gosh, what a ship this is!,” young Welles wrote. “They speak of floating hotels in reference to liners, but this is more.”

The university’s acquisition comes weeks after the production team working to complete Welles’s unfinished final project, “The Other Side of the Wind,” announced that it had teamed up with Netflix, and was on track, after years of fits and starts, to at last finish the picture.

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