I’ve read a lot of Orson Welles stories, but somehow I missed many of the gems in this fantastic NYRB essay by Gore Vidal. Here’s one of my favorites, where Vidal and Welles are analyzing “like a pair of Talmudic scholars” a draft of Rudy Vallée’s memoirs, which Vidal has managed to get his hands on:
As professional storytellers, we were duly awed by Rudy’s handling of The Grapefruit Incident, which begins, so casually, at Yale.
Ironically, the dean was the father of the boy who, nine years later, was to hurl a grapefruit at me in a Boston theater and almost kill me.
Then the story is dropped. Pages pass. Years pass. Then the grapefruit motif is reintroduced. Rudy and his band have played for the dean; afterward, when they are given ice cream, Rudy asks, “Is this all we’re having….”
Apparently one of [the dean’s] sons noticed my rather uncivil question…and resolved that some day he would avenge this slight. What he actually did later at a Boston theater might have put him in the electric chair and me in my grave but fortunately his aim was bad. But of that more later.
Orson thought this masterful. Appetites whetted, we read on until the now inevitable rendezvous of hero and grapefruit in a Boston theater where, as Rudy is singing, “Oh, Give Me Something to Remember You By,” “a large yellow grapefruit came hurtling from the balcony. With a tremendous crash it struck the drummer’s cymbal…” but “if it had struck the gooseneck of my sax squarely where it curves into the mouth it might have driven it back through the vertebra in the back of my neck.” Of this passage, the ecstatic Orson whispered, “Conrad”—what might have been if Lord Jim had remained on watch.
The ecstatic Orson, whispering the word Conrad….simply sublime.
You can ask the genie to transport you to whichever historical period you want. I’ll use one of my three wishes to go have lunch with these guys.
Onward and upward!