Final Years 1970-1985


During the last years of his life, Welles did very little directing, instead jumping in and out of many small, individual projects:

Television Appearances

“The Man Who Came To Dinner” Hallmark Hall of Fame, Nov. 29, 1972. Starring Welles, Lee Remick, Joan Collins, Don Knotts. Dir. Buzz Kulick

“It Happened One Christmas” Dec. 11, 1977. Starring Welles, Marlo Thomas, Chloris Leachman. Dir. Donald Rye

“A Woman Called Moses,” (TV movie) Narrator. Dec. 11, 1978. Starring Cicely Tyson

“Shogun” (miniseries) Narrator. Sept. 1980. Starring Anjin San, Richard Chamberlain. Dir. Jerry London.

“Tales of the Klondike” (miniseries) Narrator. May 16, 1981. Starring John Candy, Robert Carradine, Eva Gabor. Dir. David Cobham, et al.

“Wagner and Venice” (TV short) Richard Wagner (voice). 1982 (Italy).

“Magnum P.I.” Robin Masters, 2 episodes. 1983.

Movie Roles

Get To Know Your Rabbit. 1972. Dir. Brian DePalma. Welles played Mr. Delesandro, a magician. The film stars Tom Smothers and features M. Emmet Walsh

Necromancy. 1972. Dir. Bert I. Gordon. Welles played the male lead in this dark fantasy, Mr. Cato. Cato enlists a coven of witches in an attempt to raise his son from the dead.

Treasure Island. 1972. Dir. John Hough, Andrea Bianchi, Antonio Margheriti. Welles co-wrote the screenplay of the adaptation of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson story, as well as playing the lead role of Long John Silver. The film was aimed at a family audience. One can see that, while he was getting much less ambitious, artistically, Welles was as busy as ever in the 70’s.

Ten Little Indians. 1974. Dir. Peter Collinson. No longer doing much in the way of directing, Welles became much sought after as a voice-over actor. He played that role in this adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel. The character he voiced was U.N. Owen.

Voyage of the Damned. 1976. Dir. Stuart Rosenberg. Welles played the tiny role of Jose Estedes in this film starring Faye Dunaway.

Some Call It Greed. 1977. Narrator (voice). This 51-minute feature, directed by Tim Forbes, is based on the essay “Why Is America What It Is?” by Malcolm S. Forbes.

Rime of the Ancient Mariner. 1977. Narrator (voice). This 42-minute feature was directed by Larry Jordan.

Hot Tomorrows. 1977. Dir. Martin Brest. Parklawn Mortuary (voice). This quirky film starred Ken Lerner and Herve Villechaize.

The Muppet Movie. 1979. Dir. James Frawley. Why are there so many songs about rainbows? Welles played Lew Lord, an intimidating, bigshot studio exec approached by Kermit and the gang. His zinger is “Miss Tracy, prepare the standard ‘Rich and Famous’ contract for Kermit the Frog and company.” The Muppet Movie while naturally starring Jim Henson and Frank Oz as the main voices, contained many cameos from celebrities, including Bob Hope, Dom DeLuise, Charles Durning, Milton Berle, Elliott Gould, Bob Hope, and Madeline Kahn.

Double McGuffin. 1979. Dir. Joe Camp. Narrator (voice). Another voice role in a largely ineffectual movie. Vehicle for other aging stars Ernest Borgnine, Elke Sommer, and George Kennedy. Also featured Lisa Whelchel, Blair from “The Facts of Life.”

The Greenstone. (short) 1980. Dir: Kevin Irvine. Narrator (voice).

Tajna Nikole Tesla (The Secet of Nikola Tesla). 1980. One of the last serious projects Welles completed. He plays a big role as J.P. Morgan in this story based on the real life of inventor Nikola Tesla. Also stars Petar Bozovic, Strother Martin, and Dennis Patrick.

The Man Who Saw Tomorrow. 1981. Dir. Robert Guenette. A documentary with Welles as the narrator, presenting the material throughout.

History of the World: Part I. 1981. Dir. Mel Brooks. Narrator (voice). Not afraid to be typecast, Welles played the part of narrator once again, this time for the infamous satirist Brooks. The film starred Hollywood mainstays Gregory Hines, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Sid Caesar.

Butterfly. 1982. Judge Rauch. Dir. Matt Cimber. This was essentially Welles’s last hurrah, his last appearance, not quite four years before his death, in a relatively high-profile, “serious” film. The role of Judge Rauch was a major one, and in it Welles starred aside Stacy Keach and Pia Zadora. He was rewarded with the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actor in a Supporting Role. Interestingly, the film won or was nominated for several Razzie Awards, those given for “worst” attributes in film. Welles was actually nominated for a Razzie for his performance, a fact that would have to be more than made up for with the Golden Globe.

Slapstick (Of Another Kind) 1982. Dir: Steven Paul. Welles plays The Father of the Alien in another voice-only role. The IMDb description reads “a rich, beautiful couple give birth to deformed alien twins, who, when their heads are together, are the smartest kids on the planet.”

Hot Money. 1983. Dir. Zale Magder, George McCowan. Welles appears onscreen as Sheriff Paisley; Michael Murphy and Ann Lange also star.

The Enchanted Journey. 1984. Dir. Yakikoto Higuchi. Not everyone will direct a Citizen Kane, and not everyone will voice a carrier pigeon in a Japanese movie. Welles did both. In 1984, he played Pippo, a New York City pigeon who inspired a New York City chipmunk. IMDb tells us that
when Welles was told he was playing a pigeon who looked like an NYC bird, he launched into a Brooklyn accent only to be told that his character looked New York, he didn’t sound it.

Where is Parsifal? 1985. UK. Dir. Henri Helman. Klingsor.
Starring an improbable casserole of Tony Curtis, Erik Estrada, Donald Pleasence, and Peter Lawford.

The Transformers: The Movie. 1986. Dir. Nelson Shin. Based on a popular cartoon TV series, other actors lending a voice include Norman Alden, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, and Robert Stack.

Someone To Love. 1987. Dir. Henry Jaglom. Welles plays “Danny’s friend” in this film about a film director discussing love and loneliness with friends in an abandoned movie theater. It is his last credited role.

Commercials

Findus Frozen Foods--In Great Britain near the end of his life, Welles was given the task of reading a television commercial for frozen peas. Here’s a separate entry on the tirade that ensued.

Paul Masson Wine--”Sell no wine before its time” has become not only one of the most famous American advertising slogans, but has penetrated American vernacular so far that many aren’t aware of its origin: Paul Masson Wine TV commercials from the early 80’s, starring Orson Welles. The three or four variations show Orson sitting in front of a window overlooking a vinyard, explaining that a certain composer took years to write a symphony or that Margaret Mitchell took a decade to write “Gone With the Wind.”

The ads are arguably what Welles is most noted for outside of Citizen Kane, The Third Man, and the The War of the Worlds hoax.

Orson Welles tirade can be heard from Orson Welles Radio Shows Collection (Volume 1)

Recognition

In Feb. 1975, Welles became just the third person ever to win a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute. At the ceremony, the room was filled with Groucho Marx, Natalie Wood, Charlton Heston, and Johnny Carson. Frank Sinatra sang, and Ingrid Bergman spoke. Welles gave a slightly pugnacious, lengthy speech.

Personal Life

A major occupation for Welles in the late 1970’s when trying to scrape up funding for a movie called “The Other Side of the Wind.” This plight involved alliances with Iranians and fell apart when the Shah was pushed from power.

A true tragedy was the loss of many personal mementoes in a fire that destroyed Welles’s Prescott, AZ home.

In his last years, he frequented an L.A. restaurant, Ma Maison, where he’d hold court with various old acting cronies. The restaurant plays a role in a great story by Frank Beacham on Gizmodo.com, in which Welles is revealed to be very enamored of Betamax cameras. There, Welles unveiled a plan for a one-man show taped with an army of the new-fangled little cameras. The day the first episode was to be taped was the day after Orson’s death.

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