One of the curses of writing a biography is that you spend the rest of your life remembering things you meant to put in but somehow forgot at the last minute.
In honor of the current Broadway revival of Julius Caesar, as well as in the no doubt vain hope of cooling off my overheated head, I’ve been rereading Simon Callow’s Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu, to my way of thinking one of the best theatrical biographies ever written (it covers Welles’ life up through the release of Citizen Kane). Not only is it every bit as good as I remembered, but it also contains two fascinating snippets of information that I intended to include in my Mencken and Balanchine books. Alas, they slipped through the cracks, so I’ll share them with you now, ruefully:
– Why did Welles and John Houseman call their company the Mercury Theatre? Says Callow: “The new venture’s name–so perfectly apt–was casually assumed after their first planning meal when their eyes idly lit on a two-year-old copy of the bracingly radical magazine edited by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, American Mercury; their winged feet barely hit the ground thereafter.”
– I mentioned in All in the Dances that Welles was at one point romantically entangled with Vera Zorina, George Balanchine’s second or third wife (depending on whether you count Alexandra Danilova, to whom everyone wrongly thought he was married). I forgot to add, however, that Welles referred to Balanchine in passing in his very first radio show for CBS, a Mercury Theatre of the Air adaptation of Dracula. As Callow explains, “There is the odd private joke: in Dracula, one of the men overboard is called Balanchine, a jest for the personal amusement of the ballerina Vera Zorina…