The Citizen Kane Mutiny

orson wellesFor years I had heard the rumors, but like most journalists I had discounted them as yet another conspiracy theory. After all, how could have someone as well known, as uniquely recognizable to millions, have possibly remained in hiding for years without being spotted? Impossible... and yet the clues continued to accrue year by year. A whisper here, an offhand remark there at some film festival or other, or the hushed conspiratorial table talk at one of filmdom's elite watering holes. Individually they could easily be discounted, but taken together they inexorably led me one startling conclusion.

Orson Welles was still alive.

But how? Wasn't his body discovered by an old friend? An old friend who would have said or done anything his lifelong comrade would have asked? Wasn't there a police report? Certainly. In fact the officer in charge was none other than the son of the detective Welles had employed decades before as a consultant for his film "A Touch of Evil." What about the coroners report? Surely the forensic pathologist who Welles had recommended to his old friend, actor Jack Klugman, who was looking for an advisor to work on his long-running "Quincy" TV series wouldn't forge a document for his benefactor, would he?

And then there was Orson himself. Would the man who had delighted in fooling the entire nation with his famous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast want to do it again as the ultimate comeback for a career in decline for decades? Wouldn't faking one's own demise and watching your own funeral be the perfect punchline? As they say, "Revenge is a dish best served cold"; especially for a man who loved magic and illusion above all.

I became obsessed. My search led me to a New York-based insurance company, where I discovered that Welles' four million dollar insurance policy had been paid to a non-profit film preservation society headquartered in the Cayman Islands. Upon arrival there, I discovered that it was nothing more than a post office box. Finally, two months later, I found myself aboard a fourstar cruise ship en route from Tahiti to Bali and looking into the bemused face of the late, great, Orson Welles.

"Do you know why I agreed to this interview, young man?" he asked, raising one eyebrow in that familiar expression which long ago became a trademark.

"Because you've decided to let the world know that you're still alive?" I hazarded.

orson welles"Because I knew no one on earth would ever believe you!" he laughed. It was a deep basso chuckle that rose into a diabolic glee worthy of the Devil himself. The stateroom was among the largest the cruise line had to offer. The floor to ceiling mahogany bookshelves gave it the air of a billionaire's private library, as did the renaissance statuary and artwork adorning the walls. Beyond the portholes the sun was about to dip below the receding silhouette of the distant mountains of Tahiti. The sunset promised to be a spectacular one. As I had expected, he was dressed entirely in black with the exception of the red silk handkerchief peeking from the breast pocket of his dinner jacket.

He moved slowly across the room to the wet bar and, unstoppering the crystal decanter, poured two generous portions into the large snifters beside it and handed me one. I gestured admiringly toward the familiar image of Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" on the far wall of the stateroom. "That's one of my favorites," I remarked, adding that I had seen the original at the Guggenheim when the collection was on a world tour.

"What you saw was a very convincing fake, young man." He smiled impishly. I looked dubious. His smile broadened. He now resembled an extremely large cat who had recently eaten several hundred canaries. "I know, you see because I painted the amusing little fraud you saw at the Guggenheim." He gazed lovingly at the canvas. "This... is the Van Gogh." He sipped the brandy with slow relish.

"How did you manage the switch?" I challenged.

"One of my rather nefarious friends in the art underworld, a brilliant mind; several years ago he engineered on of the greatest thefts in history. You'll never hear of it, of course, it would be far too embarrassing for Holy Mother Church to reveal that someone had tunneled into a secret vault deep beneath the Vatican and removed millions in treasures they had never admitted to possessing, eh?"

"Such as?" I asked.

"Such as a seven-ton, twelve foot- high disk of pure gold taken from the ancient Aztec capitol of Tenochtitlan; such as this drawing by Leonardo DaVinci." He handed me a faded sepia-toned drawing. I looked at it and gaped.

"But this... this is obviously..." I stammered.

"The Space Shuttle," he finished the sentence for me. "Why don't we order up a little snack from the galley?" he suggested.

"Why not go up on deck? The sunset looks fantastic," I asked.

Welles smiled, arching the trademark eyebrow at me, then he sighed and moved ponderously to the doorway of the stateroom and stood beside it.

"I am, I fear, a prisoner of mine own device." The problem was obvious. There was no way he could fit through it. "Perhaps if I'd had the foresight to choose a stateroom with a balcony things would be different." I asked if the doorway couldn't simply be enlarged. "Alas, this bulkhead is eight inch thick steel," he replied.

He gestured to the porthole. "The hull itself is ten inch steel. Perhaps when the ship is in dry dock for servicing, I am told, something could be done, but that isn't scheduled for another five years." When I mentioned the possibility of a diet he became livid.

"Has it ever entered your pathetic little reporter's brain that the word diet begins with the word die?! At my age a gourmet meal is one of the few pleasures left to me! Get out!"

"I'm sorry, sir. Please forgive my incredible lack of tact. I can't believe I said something so insensitive to a man whose work I have idolized all of my life." This seemed to mollify him slightly; now he was only glaring at me. "Before I go may I ask you just one question, sir?"

"Very well," he said after a very long moment.

"It's about 'Citizen Kane'," I said.

"Of course it is," he sighed in disgust. "What about it?"

"Well... in the opening scene... how did they know he said 'Rosebud'?"

He looked at me coldly. "What on earth do you mean?" he queried.

"Well, it's just that there was no one in the room with him. I mean, the nurse was there, but she left thirty seconds before he said it, so I was just wondering how anyone knew he said it?" He simply stared at me. The stateroom was silent except for the hiss of the warm Tahitian waters against the hull and the distant cry of an albatross. Then without warning he sprang at me with surprising speed, arms outstretched, murder in his eyes. I jumped backwards through the stateroom doorway a second before his immense bulk lodged tightly in it, leaving him completely immobilized except for his impotently flailing arms.

"You bastard!!" he screamed as I ran down the companionway.