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The Lion in Winter: Gossipy Lunches with Orson Welles, Hollywood's Original Badboy Filmmaker

Just as he did on those long-ago talk shows, Welles serves up stories about himself some of which can seem, well, just a bit too good to be true. He claims to have attended parties in his youth with William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory. He claims to have put up money for two legendary L.A. restaurants – the return on which would have made him rich – but to have been stiffed in both cases. He claims to have written the script for Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux. He claims he was the first to be offered the job of directing The Glass Menagerie on Broadway. He claims to have seen a New York cop – any not just any cop, but the one on whom the Lieutenant Branigan character in Guys and Dolls was based – “put Charlie [Lucky] Luciano, head first, into a garbage can outside of Reuben’s [a legendary Manhattan eatery], at five thirty in the morning.”

The list goes on. Recalling the 1942 wartime plane crash in Nevada in which actress Carole Lombard died, Welles claims that people in the know have told him it was shot down by Nazis. He claims that MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer “offered me his studio” because he “was madly in love with me....Twice he brought me over— spent all day wooing me....Whenever he sent for me, he burst into tears, and once he fainted....The deal was, I’d have the studio but I’d have to stop acting, directing, and writing— making pictures.” Great story – but does it even make sense?

At times it can seem that Welles was best friends with everyone. “I knew [Arthur] Rubinstein for forty years, very well.” He knew the gangster Meyer Lansky “very well.” Lombard was “a very close friend of mine.” He was, he says, alone with FDR several times during his presidency: “I kept him up too late. He liked to stay up and talk....He was free with me....He used to say, 'You and I are the two best actors in America.'” He dated Marilyn Monroe, he says, and took her “to parties before she was a star.” Each of Welles's stories, taken individually, may be plausible enough – and many of them may be absolutely true – but all of them, every last one?