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Orson Welles, Vol. 1: The Road to Xanadu
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Orson Welles, Vol. 1: The Road to Xanadu

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  282 ratings  ·  25 reviews
In this first installment of his masterful biography, Simon Callow captures the chameleonic genius of Orson Welles as only an actor/director deeply rooted in the entertainment industry could. Here is Welles’s prodigious childhood; his youth in New York, with its fraught partnership with John Houseman and the groundbreaking triumph of his all-black Macbeth; the pioneering r ...more
Paperback, 688 pages
Published February 1st 1997 by Penguin Books (first published 1995)
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Thomas Gardner
I am a voracious reader of biographies, the most recent being the fantastic BOGART, by Ann Sperber. That one really made you feel that you were a fly on the wall, with visceral language and enough emotion to allow the reader to relate. This one, however, does not. Callow has a stilted, very colloquially British way of writing, which to say the least is off putting and not at all fluid. He also gets lost in the weeds frequently, telling us about people and situation in which we are just not inter ...more
Peter O'Brien
A thoroughly over-indulgent presentation (Callow’s prose style is insane) of the first twenty six years of Orson Welles life and career (everything preceding The Magnificent Ambersons). While Welles was a genius, he was equally a charlatan and it is hugely refreshing to be provided with an honest and highly critical examination of the man for the change. I look forward to reading the second volume!
I was disappointed to start this and realize it's just volume one. The author is an actor, so he has a lot of discussion about the craft, which is good if you're "in the business" but since I'm not I got kind of bored. Otherwise not a bad bio.
Well-researched, entertaining, and critically written. The most objective of the Welles biographies. Callow has a compelling voice, equally compassionate and unsparing in its examination of a remarkably gifted, flawed, and conflated subject.
Jack Gattanella
"For Pauline Kael, Citizen Kane is a magic show; for the present writer it is about size and the doomed quest for significance. The little boy versus the big man. getting more and feeling less; getting bigger and seeming smaller; projecting the image bigger and bigger, so the centre seems further and further from the surface. It is curious that it did not occur to Welles to make Kane grow fat." - Simon Cowell.

"YOU CAN'T BE LOVED - FOR THERE IS NO-TRUE-LOVE!" - Jack White ("The Union Forever)

As a
This exhaustive spotlight on Welles' life up until the release of Citizen Kane is triumphant; Callow's prose, highly theatrical (which is not unexpected considering his background), is charged, illuminating, vertiginous and mirth-thrilled.

Welles fans will love it; film fans and scholars will find it more than curious and quite fulfilling. Fans of the American theater and radio in the 1930s will also relish this work.

Some might find it bombastic, but the subject requires a high-flying style and
Dec 11, 2008 Bérénice rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: any fan of Orson Welles/broadway/theatre
This is a fantastic, very detailed and rather objective biography of the boy genius of the theatre world. 600 pages about Welles for only the first 26 years of his life is a lot, but definitly worth all the details.
The author basically tells Orson's early life around the plays he directed and that were his life at the time. It is amazing to me how a 14 year old kid was able to succesfully direct Shakespeare plays and even write a book on how to understand Shakerpeare's work.

The book gives great
I've been reading this book slowly over the past six months or so, which seems appropriate to a book that covers a long, diverse period in a fascinating career. The chapters about Orson's child-and-young-adulthood are enthralling, and do a lot to explain the man and artist he eventually became. The latter part of the book has the most to say about his career in theater (which was the part I knew least about) but also covers his work in radio, and has an involved, interesting account of his life ...more
Incredibly entertaining -- Callow is a delightful narrator -- but maybe a little too detailed in some places and not enough in others. If you have more than a little interest in Welles I recommend it highly.
This is a superb biography, albeit somewhat overdetailed for my tastes - do we really need to read every single review (as we do, seemingly) of every play the young boy genius put on in the 1930s? Otherwise, excellently written, erudite and balanced, and without the hagiographic strain so evident in many biographies of great artists (and he was a great film director, if a hammy actor). This book only takes us up to the making of Citizen Kane (the Greatest Film Ever Made of course), so there is p ...more
A larger than life personality like Orson Welles deserves a larger than life biography, and Simon Callow rises to the occasion. From the age of five, Orson Welles was lauded as a genius by his parents, teachers, colleagues and the media. While the greatness of Citizen Kane,The Mercury Theatre on the Air and his productions of Macbeth and Julius Caesar cannot be denied, Welles' true genius was creating the myth of Orson Welles. The Road to Xanadu chronicles his life from birth to the release of C ...more
Jan 02, 2008 Christian rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: theater enthusiasts
A biography of Welles that covers childhood to the release of Citizen Kane. He had some astonishing good fortune in his youth that made it possible to do some extraordinary things, and the second part of the book devotes about 200 pages to what he accomplished onstage with the Mercury Theater. These productions include The Cradle Will Rock, which is the subject of a movie of the same name that explores the intersection of art, business, and politics in the 40s. The author is also an actor and di ...more
Gary Green
An over-abundance of detail weighs down what otherwise would have been an engaging read.
Adam Watson
Covers Welles from birth to the premiere of Citizen Kane. Well-researched, witty, sometimes a bit long in the details, but rarely boring. Callow's expertise in theater and film -- he's starred in both -- wasn't a suprise, but I wasn't prepared for how Callow is a good writer. There's a lot of myth-making about Welles, and Callow is able to deliver the entertaining story while seeking out the truth.
Kent Huffman
One of the most fascinating biographies I've ever read about one of the most fascinating people ever involved in theater. The first volume covers his life from his birth and upbringing through his early rise through theater, radio, and Hollywood and the beginning of his disillusionment with the entertainment industry of the 30's and 40's.
Michael Locurto
A terrific biography of the larger-than-life Welles. This first volume of two covers the period up until the release of Citizen Kane in 1941, when Welles was only 27. Simon Calllow does a great job separate the fact from the myth, especially when you consider Welles loved self-mythology.
Edward Gero
An incredible insight to the audacious personality who excesses at such an early age made such an impact on the theater. The parallels to a certain Artistic Director in Washington, DC are uncanny.
alonso ruvalcaba
(sólo me inquietó que dos nombres de contactos mexicanos estuvieran mal escritos en una investigación tan impresionante. me alzó una pequeña ceja de duda.)
An unbelievably well-researched, complex biography of a complex artist. Certainly puts the train wreck of his later life into perspective.
Jonathan Butcher
I think Orson Welles is an interesting cultural/historical figure and Simon Callow does a good job of passionately telling his story.
May 29, 2007 Beth marked it as to-read
Shelves: biography
Looking forward to this; but with the third volume not likely to come out for many years, I don't feel much of a need to rush.
Travis Drow
Terrific. That's the only word to describe this one. This book is a total masterpiece.
In addition to being an extraordinary actor, Callow is a superb biographer.
I've read several O.W. biographies and these are my favorite.
Aug 30, 2007 Lee rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Welles fans and fans of literary biography
The best film/theater biography I've read - it's just wonderful.
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