Six Damn Fine Degrees #94: The Great Orson Welles Hoax

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

Hollywood. The Dream Factory. And what is a dream but a story that never happened? (Or, if you believe in the MCU, things that happen in alternate universes – which means that these alternate universes have a hell of a lot of lectures and speeches made, and lessons taught, by people who suddenly find that they’re actually naked.)

One of the greatest such ‘dreams’ brought forth by Hollywood – or, to be more frank and forthright, one of its greatest lies – is that of Orson Welles: director, actor, writer, and, if we are to believe IMDB, also Editor, Costume Designer, Script and Continuity Department, and (ironically) Self. In short, a Hollywood wunderkind supreme.

How ironic, then, that Orson Welles… play the ominous dun-dun! sound… never actually existed.

Like so many of the greatest lies, it’s not even that this one was particularly subtle or well hidden. We are not only to believe that this man directed, produced, co-wrote and starred in Citizen Kane, the Hollywood masterpiece that apparently all video games worthy of being described as art aspire to emulate, at the age of 25, we are also supposed to ignore that this boy:

Would turn into this man:

In just about 17 years? If so: what, dear god, happened in those 17 years!

Obviously it’s clear why Hollywood would like such a story, even if it is a complete fabrication: the movie industry likes its fairy tales. And once a whopper of a lie has been told, it’s embarrassing to confirm it. After all, people lapped it up. They believed in this “Orson Welles” person. They believed that he would go and do all these amazing things. And they didn’t even bat an eye when the person acting out the part of “Orson Welles” then directed, wrote (take that, William Shakespeare!) and starred in Othello – as Othello, the Moor of Venice, i.e. as a man of African extraction. It is amazing that no one ever questioned the wild inconsistencies in the Welles narrative, but the bigger the lie etc. etc.

The world probably came closest to a full reveal of the Great Orson Welles Hoax in 1974, when F for Fake came out, a docudrama supposedly co-written and directed by, and starring, Welles. The film is about a professional art forger, but the longer it goes on it becomes a meditation on forgery, hoaxes and authenticity. Certainly one of the most audacious cinematic confessions, topped only by Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which included cryptic hints that Kubrick had faked all the scenes set in the Overlook Hotel and that they’d been actually shot on the moon!

Sadly, we will never know who the men were that performed the role of ‘Orson Welles’. The supposedly final performance of what most Orsonians acknowledge to be the proto-Welles came in 1986, one year after the man supposedly died – and children the world over heard a voice not unlike that of Charles Foster Kane emanating from a planet-size robot called Unicron:

Was this the real Orson Welles, a visitor from outer space the size and shape of a planet? Or are any of these men have a claim to being the real Welles?

Is “Vincent D’Onofrio” an anagram of “Frozen Peas”?
Is “Christian McKay” “Orson Welles” in the original Aramaic?
“Jack Black”… has there ever been a more obvious alias? (“Jack White”, perhaps, but who’d give themselves this name?) (The supposed Welles is on the left side of the still.)
Liev Schreiber, so visually unconvincing as “the Welles” that they needed to put a Citizen Kane caption in the background.

In the end, it is likely that we will never solve the Welles conundrum. Who invented him? Why? To what effect? Or was it all the kind of hoax that is almost accidental: you put someone on the movie screen, you give him a name, and hey presto, people will believe they are real? Obviously we want Welles to have exist… but if we were to accept his existence, what would come next? Would we start believing that Tom Cruise is anything other than an extended, decades-long special effect? That Keanu Reeves was dreamed up inside a computer? That Brad Pitt isn’t just a cleverly filmed matte painting? That Martians didn’t land on Earth in 1938 and almost conquered our planet?

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