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Craig's Book Club
Book Review

Spotlight on: Me and Orson Welles by Robert Kaplow


To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.


Buy Me and Orson Welles by Robert Kaplow Robert Kaplow, Me and Orson Welles

I've been a huge fan of actor / writer / director Orson Welles ever since the first time I saw his terrific, groundbreaking debut film, Citizen Kane and heard him on old-time radio as The Shadow. After I'd watched all his films I could find, and listened to all his radio appearances I could get my hands on (two things I'm still achieving, albeit at a much slower rate than at the beginning), I started on books featuring the man himself.

I read biographies, criticism, and, most recently, novels featuring him as a main character, like Max Allan Collins' The War of the Worlds Murder. The latest on my list of Wellesian fiction: Robert Kaplow's terrific coming-of-age historical novel, Me and Orson Welles. Here is the endlessly intriguing opening paragraph (so much so, it is used on the back-cover blurb):

This is the story of one week in my life. I was seventeen. It was the week I slept in Orson Welles's pajamas. It was the week I fell in love. It was the week I fell out of love. And it was the week I changed my middle name -- twice.
Kaplow lets you know right away that Me and Orson Welles is a book that is going to cover a lot of ground in a short time (and relatively few pages). I dove right in.

It is a golden age of Broadway -- the era of Kaufman, Rodgers, Porter, Berlin, Gielgud, and Barrymore. But there's one rising star who is determined to outshine them all: Orson Welles. With his "Voodoo Macbeth" (with its all-black cast) a huge success, its newly famous director prepares to capitalize on his popularity with his new Mercury Theatre (the novel features John Houseman, Joseph Cotten, Norman Lloyd, and George Coulouris among others as supporting characters) modern-dress version of Julius Caesar (with himself as Brutus).

But here I am babbling on about Orson Welles when the real star of Me and Orson Welles is the "Me" of the title. Richard Samuels is a seventeen-year-old aspiring actor and student of record (the long-playing kind, that is -- his favorite is a recording of John Gielgud playing Hamlet) who lucks into the part of Lucius in Welles' new production. It is a chance happening that changes his life in many ways, as he learns a lot about the unpredictability of creative people.

I first came into contact with Robert Kaplow's work through his gloriously bawdy parody of the mystery genre (and one author in particular), The Cat Who Killed Lilian Jackson Braun. Needless to say (though I'll say it anyway), Me and Orson Welles is nothing like that book. In fact, it is often hard to see how they could have been written by the same author, a fact I always find fascinating in a time where authors are practically required to keep churning out the same book time and again just to continue being published. Kudos to Kaplow for getting his name in different sections of the bookstore.

For a book that is being marketed as Young Adult fiction (though this is likely just because of the age of the protagonist), Kaplow shows no qualms at discussing sex frankly. In his search for romance among theatricals, Richard laments how he is seen as harmless by the opposite sex (something this reviewer can regrettably relate to). This relatability makes the reader want to root for Richard's success in everything he tries. Kaplow mixes humor and pathos deftly, and captures the period and the theatrical environment impeccably (I assume he must have at least some acting experience), culminating in a moving portrait of a week in the life of a character who begins the week a boy and ends it a man.


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