Josh Karp’s new book Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind has just been published by St. Martin’s Press. It is the first detailed account of the production of this most unorthodox of film projects. Based on interviews with surviving participants and in-depth research of primary documents, Karp tells an often amusing tale of 1970s Hollywood. It’s a story of creative genius, irresistible chicanery, devastating betrayal, and wild times with some of the era’s most interesting personalities.
I first met Karp in Chicago during the winter of early 2014. To coincide with the publication of his new book, we continued our conversation on Welles by long distance email for a new piece at Bright Lights Film Journal called Orson’s Charmed Circle of Fragments
Orson Welles and the Death of Sirhan Sirhan
Part II: The Safehouse
Part I of this article at Bright Lights Film Journal told the story of how Orson Welles, while directing his legendary and never-finished Other Side of the Wind, took time out in early 1975 to accept a leading role in an independent conspiracy thriller called Sirhan Sirhan or RFK Must Die. The film, scripted by Donald Freed and to be produced by Ananke Productions, was intended to exonerate the Palestinian refugee Sirhan Sirhan as the lone assassin of Robert F. Kennedy. In fact, it dramatized Sirhan’s duping by a network of intelligence “programmers.” Welles was asked to play the chief conspirator, Dr. William A. Must Jr.
Welles’ co-stars would have been Sal Mineo (as Sirhan) and football legend Jim Brown. The project should have been an easy $125,000 paycheck for Welles, but it didn’t turn out that way. He quickly became the project’s central creative figure. He demanded contractually assured approval of director, script, and cast, completely rewrote the screenplay, and installed his Yugoslavian lover and collaborator Oja Kodar in a starring role.
Part II continues the story in early July 1975. Welles’s reluctance to sign his contract has put the project in doubt. Welles leaves Hollywood for Europe.