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Orson Welles once had help financing a film thanks to Winston Churchill. The legendary filmmaker (and masterful raconteur), who was born this day in 1915, recounted the wild and hilarious tale to Dick Cavett in 1970.
Welles does not specify, but from the timeline he gives, it appears the incident happened in 1945 after the British statesman Churchill was voted out of the office of prime minister following the end of World War II.
“He had great humor and great irony,” recalled Welles, adding that when he starred in Othello in London years prior, Churchill came to the show and visited backstage afterward.
The two men would bump into each other years later during the Venice Film Festival. Welles was there to work and Churchill to recoup after his Conservative Party’s stinging defeat.
“So there he was in the hotel, the Toledo, with Clementine, his wife, alone,” Welles said, setting the stage for Cavett’s audience. “One day at lunch, I came in with a Russian businessman I was trying to hustle for some money for this picture, and as we passed Mr. Churchill’s table, Mr. Churchill saw me, and made that little (nod) gesture. And the Russian went out of his mind. When he saw that not only did Mr. Churchill know me, but gave a rather special acknowledgment — it was clear to me that I had the money for my picture.”
Welles does not say which film it was, but The Stranger, a film noir directed by and starring Welles came out the next year. “The creators of this one deserve their acclaim,” The Hollywood Reporter noted in its review in May 1946.
But as far as Churchill, that was only half of the amazing tale. The bookend happened the next day when Welles went for a swim and bumped into Churchill in the ocean where he explained with profound thanks just how much that little nod had meant to him and his project.
Then Welles delivered the story kicker: “And that day at lunch, I came in with the financier again. And Mr. Churchill rose from his chair — and bowed.”
Welles and his masterpiece Citizen Kane have been back in the news as of late after an old, poor review of the film tanked the picture’s perfect Rotten Tomatoes score. In doing so, only one movie now has a perfect score on the review aggregation site: Paddington 2 (2017). Some cinephiles took the change quite seriously, while others had fun with Paddington 2 holding the top spot alone.
Welles told Cavett in a separate interview he did not consider Citizen Kane to be the greatest film ever made, even if it was regarded as such by cinephiles.
Watch Welles tell his Churchill story below.
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