Orson Welles: Killer

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By Robert Patrick

The Herculean Orson Welles, was, when nestled into his element, a complete artisan. The director would plug more cigars into his mouth than wine bottles have corks. Talc and hubris, the orders of the morning. Yeah, Welles had a baritone delivery that would make a foghorn blush. He was, above all else, and when at the top of his game, a monolithic force void of humility and compromise. Is it so hard to believe, then, that Welles, the master of illusion, would, in order to fill his quota of wry smiles, murder someone? The ultimate theatrical journey, one might say. A auteur that would put out a film like “F is for Fake” would love to feverishly assimilate a crime of this magnitude into his repertoire of card tricks. One might think, upon looking at Welles’ devious stare, that if he had played a card, any one of the suits, it would have been the serpentine twist of the Joker’s smile. But no, it would be the King. Ornery, gloating, without reservation.

In 1947, Welles, still married to the fiery Rita Hayworth, was becoming increasingly agitated with married life. It would be the last full year that the two stars would be bonded together. The same year, one Elizabeth Short, known as “The Black Dahlia” to the bleeding keys of print media, was murdered in Los Angeles. The site where Short was truncated in two, according to sources, was the same place where the director had composed a magic act years earlier. Even more curious, Welles had, during the time when the murder occurred, a fascination with the bisection of bodies. Mary Pacios, who wrote a book on the subject of Welles’ alleged involvement in the crime, had also mentioned that the director left America, shortly after the murder, even though he had not completed creative endeavors stateside. Would Welles, someone known for his workaholic attitude, jettison a project, especially one as theater-based as MacBeth, to venture off to Europe for a ten month stay without suitable reason? Stranger is the fact that Mr. Welles and Ms. Smart frequented the same restaurant prior to her gruesome demise.

One year after Short’s death, in ‘48, Welles and Hayworth decided to terminate their marriage. Welles wasn’t able to sacrifice time and effort to keep things together, despite his affinity for Hayworth, and so the Hollywood couple became but a fleeting headline of their former love. The marriage’s disintegration was clearly a product of Welles’ guilt. Immediately after the marriage ended, Welles, who was forever insatiable, met Paola Mori, a dead-ringer for the late Elizabeth Short. Mori had jet-black locks, pronounced eyebrows, similar bone structure, and the same cursive smile as the Black Dahlia. One could say, though a complete guess, that Welles’ was infatuated with the image of his victim. Unable to quell the memory of a pitiable truth, a truth that he would have to live with forever (I’m surprised he didn’t kill again after Universal tampered with “Touch of Evil” in 1958).

Welles stayed with Mori until he died, though he saw other women during his later years. This behavior leads me to believe, while feeling close to Mori, Welles‘ guilt compelled him to stay with her. Why else prop up this facsimile of Short by his side? Years later there is little evidence that the behemoth Welles, known for his ennobled attitude, had mutilated the young Elizabeth Short. Other than gross coincidences and stock conspiracy theories that loosely tether together the macabre story, there is no hard evidence to bind together these weathered pages in history. But the magician, known for his roaring pomposity and egocentric guffaws, will forever be a decoupage of inspired madness, creativity, and proposed innocence (he clearly murderered Elizabeth Short).

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Author: Rob Patrick

A member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, Rob created Cinema Spartan after he stepped down as the editor of a weekly. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. He has also introduced films with the Pacific Arts Movement. He co-owns two dire wolves, Buckley and Ruffin. At any given time, he can tell you superfluous hockey statistics. He is the chancellor of Tapatio, an advocate of iced tea, and an owner of at least 70 pairs of Vans.

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