Five Kings

The end of 1938 was a chaotic time for Welles. His radio career had been jump-started by the brouhaha surrounding “The War of the Worlds” and he was producing a radio series called Campbell Playhouse. He was no stranger to juggling projects, but and had done so with great success, but his luck in this regard would run out with Five Kings.

Biographer Charles Highman writes that Houseman recalls that Welles was tossing back multiple bottles of booze per night and still finding time for sexual exploits.

This time these things would prove toxic, leading to sloppy rehearsals featuring a late director with a nasty headache. In fact, they opened without having a proper dress rehearsal.

The play was long and unwieldy, and Welles insisted on including two intermissions. This meant it didn’t wind down until 1:00 a.m., at which time the majority of the audience had headed home. The usually effusive press didn’t fail to notice the lack of preparedness at the Feb. 24, 1939 Broadway opening.

Yet the troubles went with the show followed it to Boston and then to Philadelphia. Highman writes, “[j]ust before the opening in Philadelphia, (Welles) radically shifted all the positions of the cast and all the lighting arrangements of Jean Rosenthal. The dangerous lack of control that was soon to mark his career had manifest itself.”

To make matters worse, Welles was floundering financially. Funds to keep his poorly-reviewed play were dwindling. In an effort to get the show back to New York, Welles took the rather drastic measure of trying to get First National Trust and Savings Bank to release funds from his father’s trust that weren’t due to be available for another year. The bank refused.

Higham, Charles. Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of An American Genius. New York: St.
Martin’s. 1985.


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