The question people usually ask about Orson Welles is, “What went wrong?” Wellesnet is there to help. “It’s easy to argue that he sabotaged his own Hollywood career, and that outside forces ruined it,” says the site’s creator Jeff Wilson. “But the answer to me is that it’s a mix of both.” One thing Wilson knows with certainty is that Welles wasn’t a one-hit wonder. The biggest misunderstanding, he says, “is that he did nothing after Citizen Kane and wasted his life making wine commercials.”
It was the artist’s final on-camera performance, that caught Wilson’s attention. “My first memory of seeing Welles and being curious about him personally was when he introduced Moonlighting’s noir pastiche episode in 1985.” The episode, “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice,” was dedicated to Welles who died days before it aired. Wilson began studying the star and in 2001, after failing to find a worthwhile web resource for the legendary figure, started one himself. “I figured I could do better, and it went from there.” Today, Wellesnet has grown to include news and discussion and gets several hundred hits a day. That number will likely increase when a new generation is introduced to him by Zac Efron in Me and Orson Welles, scheduled for release in 2009. “He continues to hold the interest of people because he did so many things across multiple artistic fields,” explains Wilson, adding, “His personal story is, of course, quite compelling.”
The site is enhanced by those that knew Welles and have generously shared information. “I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Welles’ oldest daughter, Christopher,” he says. “She’s been hugely supportive.” Wilson and site contributor Lawrence French, have done interviews with many that knew him personally, most recently with Peter Bogdanovich. There are other surprise contributions like “a set of photos from Chimes at Midnight sent by a man who was a child extra on the film.” The most rewarding experience for him personally was going to the 2005 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. “I gave a lecture on Welles’ radio career, which is a particular interest of mine,” he explains. The festival was hosting a major Welles retrospective so, not only did the self described “amateur scholar” have something to offer, he was able to gather new information for the site.
His favorite Welles film? The Lady From Shanghai. It’s not his best, says Wilson, but it’s the one he enjoys the most. He can’t help but wonder how the maverick, independent filmmaker would have done today, with film festivals and outlets providing artists with alternatives to the studio system. “In terms of Hollywood, Welles failed because the films he made and wanted to make simply weren’t commercial,” he explains. “If he were working today, he’d be in heaven, what with the technology available to anyone for a relative pittance.”