A Long-Lost Orson Welles Book
During the Christmas of 1956, Orson Welles found the time to write and illustrate a special book for Rebecca, his 12-year-old daughter with Rita Hayworth. Until 1990, when Rebecca sold it at auction for $30,000 to a pair of television producers, not even Welles’ biographers knew about the book, Les Bravades, a collection of ink, crayon, and watercolor sketches detailing the spring festival of St. Tropez’s patron saint. ”I was lucky enough to be in St. Tropez during this holiday,” Welles wrote, ”and because I kept thinking of you… I’ve prepared this little picture book to give an idea of what it was like.”
”The illustrations are wonderful,” says Sally Kovalchick, the editor in chief at Workman Publishing, which is releasing Les Bravades: A Gift for His Daughter in November. ”It’s almost like looking at a movie. There are long shots, close-up shots, and there’s dramatic pacing to the storytelling as well.”
That shouldn’t surprise Welles aficionados: The director, who began his career as an art student, remained a gifted illustrator to the end of his life. And according to the book’s afterword, written by Welles biographer Simon Callow, Christmas 1956 really was a magical time. After endless setbacks — beginning with RKO’s mutilation of The Magnificent Ambersons in the early ’40s — Welles had finally gotten a break. He was set to direct Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil, in which he would also star.
”It’s not really a children’s book,” says Kovalchick, who sees Les Bravades more as a gift book for film buffs, and who has tried to keep the Workman version as close to a facsimile as possible, complete with Welles’ typos and misspellings. ”We’re reproducing it exactly as it was. Sometimes the drawings are on colored paper, sometimes on white paper. He used whatever he had at hand.” Welles the filmmaker — who had to fight for every crumb of financing — did just the same.