In theory, great men deserve great biographers. In practice, it seldom happens. As in so many aspects of his life, Orson Welles is the exception. A plethora of writers have spent great amounts of time on the life of Welles as well as the art of Welles. Preeminent among them is Simon Callow’s two volume biography. Volume one, The Road to Xanadu traces Welles from birth to his first successes in his early twenties; volume two, Hello Americans deals with the problems of success and the struggles, financial, emotional and financial, that plagued him until his death. It is often overly minute but never dull. Joseph McBride, Who is Orson Welles? : A Portrait of An Independent Career discusses the European years.

Jonathan Rosenberg’s Discovering Orson Welles is an excellent single volume study which draws from personal knowledge. Rosenberg and Peter Bogdanovich and Welles taped long conversations and interviews with Welles which later became an outstanding Documentary and resulted, with additions by Welles, in a biography, This is Welles.

In My Father’s Shadow: A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles by Chris Welles Feder is not, thank goodness, the usual Hollywood whine, nor is it sentimental fund raising on past fame. It is an articulate and touching study of the man, his work, his life with mature and compassionate but clear eyed and objective judgment.

Orson Welles at Work by Francois Thomas and Jean Pierre Berthoma is homage, but well done by film experts while an outstanding effort to understand Welles as a magnificent if often disconcerting interpreter of Shakespearean theater is provided in Michael A. Anderegg’s Orson Welles, Shakespeare And Popular Culture and Orson Welles On Shakespeare: The W.P.A. and Mercury Theater Play scripts; both of these remind us of a time when Americans could still read.

By E. Deanne Malpass.