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Interview with Orson Welles PDF

By Michael Parkinson

alt   BBC Television, 1974



Transcript of interview about Hemingway and bullfighting between Michael Parkinson and Orson Welles in 1974.

altMICHAEL PARKINSON: Are you still interested in bullfighting?
ORSON WELLES: Yes, I’m interested in what I remember, but I don’t like it much anymore.
ORSON WELLES: Well, two things. First of all, bullfighting is, as somebody once said very well, is indefensible and irresistible. It is irresistible when everything is at it ought to be, both with the sacrificial beast and with the brave man who meets that brave animal for that ritualistic encounter. I’m not going to go into all that mystique, which has been pretty worn out by now, but the fact is, it has become an industry which depends on its existence by the tourist trade. So it’s become folkloric, and I hate anything which is folkloric. But I haven’t turned against bullfighting because it needs a lot of Japanese in the front row to keep going, and it does. But I’ve turned against it for very much the same reason that my father, who was a great hunter, suddenly stopped hunting. He said, “I’ve killed enough animals and I’m ashamed of myself.” I was a bad torero for awhile myself, and I’ve seen too many hundreds of bullfights, thousands of them, I suppose, and wasted a lot of my life, now that I look back on it and although it’s been a great education to me in human terms and in many other ways, I began to think that I’ve seen enough of those animals die.
MICHAEL PARKINSON: Was it a waste? I should have thought it would have been very exciting. 
ORSON WELLES: It was all of that, but wasn’t I living second hand through the lives of those toreros, who were my friends? Wasn’t I living and dying second hand? Wasn’t there something finally voyeuristic about it? I suspect my aficion. I still go to bullfights, I’m not totally reformed. I can’t ask for the approval of the people who have very good reasons for stopping it. By the way, almost all Spanish intellectuals have been against bullfighting for the last 150 years. Lorca is one of the few Spanish intellectuals who ever approved of bullfighting. Was it a waste, waste, waste? you asked me. A waste because I wasn’t doing anything. My short little period of doing it was just for the fun of it. As a kid, I didn’t think I was going to grow up to be the (Juan) Belmonte of my generation. The rest of my life that I spent among bull breeders and bullfighters was enormous fun, but what have I extracted from it that’s of any value to anybody?
MICHAEL PARKINSON: What were the qualities in them that you admired that attracted you to them?
ORSON WELLES: Well, there are two kinds of people who follow the bulls, as they say in Spanish. There are those people who follow because they love the bullfighters, and there is a very small minority who are interested in the bulls, and I was always most interested in the bulls. Now that will be incomprehensible to an English audience, that somebody could be fundamentally interested in the animal who is going to be killed. But my interest in bulls was like the interest of somebody who is very keen and very knowledgeable about horses. I know a great deal about bulls, and I’m much more interested in them, than in the men who fight them, in spite of the fact that some of the dearest friends I have in my life have been bullfighters.
MICHAEL PARKINSON: This passion was something you shared with millions of other people and one other famous American, Hemingway. Did you ever meet him?
ORSON WELLES: He was a very close friend of mine. I knew him on and off for many years. We had a very strange relationship. I never belonged to his clan, because I made fun of him, and nobody ever made fun of Hemingway, but I did and he took it, but he didn’t like me to do it in front of the club. We met in the projection of a movie he made, which he wanted me to narrate. He had written the commentary, and we hadn’t seen each other, this was in a dark projection room. I was reading the text and I said, “Is it really necessary to say this, wouldn’t it be better just to see the picture?” and things like that. Then I heard this growl from the darkness, “Some damn faggot who runs an art theater trying to tell me how to write narration,” and so on. So I began to camp it up. I thought, “if that’s what I’m dealing with…”  So I said, “Oh, Mr. Hemingway, you think because you’re so big and strong and have hair on your chest that you can bully me.” So this great figure stood up and swung at me, so I swung at him. Now you have the picture of the Spanish civil war being projected on a screen and these two heavy figures swinging away at each other and missing most of the time. The lights came up and we looked at each other and burst into laughter and became great friends. Not a friendship that was renewed every year, but over many years at different times. I saw him again, the last year that he was entirely in control of himself, quite a lot. But we never discussed bullfighting, because except on the subject of (Antonio) Ordoñez we disagreed profoundly on too many points. He thought he invented it, you know. He really did think he invented it. Maybe he did. His book (The Sun Also Rises) is superb. He’s a great, great, great artist. My admiration for him…   I was enormously fond of him as a man, because the thing you never get from his books, was his humor. There is hardly a word of humor in a Hemingway book, because he is so tense and solemn and dedicated to what is true and good and all of that. But when he relaxed, he was riotously funny. That was the level that I loved about him. I enjoyed being with him. I used to go out and keep him company when he went duck shooting in Venice in the autumns. I have many strange memories of him like that. I was enormously fond of him. But as an artist, I think that there are very few important writers, with the exception of Nabokov, who have not been influenced to some degree by him. I think it’s impossible to write the same as we did before he wrote.
MICHAEL PARKINSON: Yet, do you not sense now, that in the past ten years he has become a somewhat old-fashioned figure?
ORSON WELLES: He’s come back again, although I don’t know in England, because these things vary in different countries. In America he was in total eclipse for the last ten years, but the sun is rising again critically for him, a little bit. He’s been dead long enough. I think it’s mainly true isn’t it, that writers do go into total eclipse right after their death. I wonder why that is, but it seems to be true.
MICHAEL PARKINSON: He was also a tragic figure, in that his end was in complete counterpoint to all he stood for and had written about.
ORSON WELLES: He was sick, but he did talk about suicide. You know, his father killed himself with a gun in the same way. And he talked to me about it several times in a sort of obsessive way. But he was a sick man. He was not well mentally, so he’s not to be judged as himself. In other words, the Hemingway we are talking about did not choose his death. He might have, but he wasn’t that man.


BBC Television