Me and Orson Welles

I will finish off this Wellesian week with a novel titled, Me and Orson Welles, written by Robert Kaplow.

Kaplow was a Rutgers student who "never stopped writing: songs, plays, sketches, novellas." Like myself, he spent a lot of time on campus "writing or prowling through the Alexander Library" and maybe he was also a fellow browser and buyer at the Old Yorke bookshop too.

Kaplow attended Rutgers at the same time as me, graduating a year after me in 1976. He was also an English major and we certainly must have crossed paths and may have had a class together and sat through a Scott Hall lecture a few times.

He published Me and Orson Welles in 2003 and director Richard Linklater made a film adaptation with the same title in 2008.

The story revolves around Orson Welles who was a big hero of mine in my college days. It is set in his Mercury Theatre days before Citizen Kane.

His theater group pulled off the famous 1938 radio War of the Worlds that had New Jerseyeans and many others in the area in a panic over an alien invasion. Many radio listeners who heard only a portion of the broadcast took it to be a real news broadcast and that aliens had landed in New Jersey. Newspapers reported that panic ensued, people fleeing the area, others thinking they could smell poison gas or could see flashes of lightning in the distance. Welles played a fictional astronomer and Princeton professor who refutes talk about life on Mars just as a "cylindrical meteorite" lands in Grover's Mill, N.J.

In the novel, Orson Welles is 22 and about to have his debut production of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theatre on Broadway in 1937.

The book's protagonist is Richard Samuels, 17, a high school senior with senioritis. He escapes New Jersey and wander New York City on weekends trying to connect as a writer or something creative.

Welles' Julius Caesar

He stumbles into the about-to-open Mercury Theatre and gets noticed by Welles. he gets a very small part in the production.

Richard says "This is the story of one week in my life. I was seventeen. It was the week I slept in Orson Welles's pajamas. It was the week I fell in love. It was the week I fell out of love."

Welles’ Broadway production of Julius Caesar, was staged in modern dress and was intended as a polemic against the fascist forces growing in Europe. But this story is not concerned with politics. It's about

You can read the first chapter online.

The film adaptation, Me and Orson Welles, stars Zac Efron as Richard, the wonderful Christian McKay as Welles, and Claire Danes as the third part of a little triangle they form. The film received good reviews. ( “One of the best movies about the theater I've ever seen.” said Roger Ebert)

Mckay and Efron

Kaplow was inspired while flipping through old magazines in the basement of the Alexander Library (a place I often visited to escape real studying - great old leather easy chairs back then) and coming across a photo of Welles on the Julius Caesar stage sitting next to a young boy who was playing the lute. Richard becomes that bit part lute player.

Another Kaplow connection - he became an English teacher in New Jersey, as I did.

Kaplow also wrote Alessandra in Love and Alex Icicle: A Romance in Ten Torrid Chaptersand two interestingly-titled literary parodies, The Cat who Killed Lilian Jackson Braun and Who’s Killing the Great Writers of America?   His website is

1 comment:

  1. That radio program that first made Welles famous