June 24, 2013 • 11:23:50 a.m.

Welles book includes Woodstock connection

By JAMI KUNZER – jkunzer@shawmedia.com

Legendary filmmaker Orson Welles always considered Woodstock home, and a new book reveals why.

Written in the form of a play, the book, “Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts,” tells the story of the relationship that developed when Welles attended the former Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, where Hill was headmaster.

Hill became a father figure to Welles, who actually created his first film on the Woodstock Square. He went on to star in and create numerous films, including “Citizen Kane,” a film consistently ranked as one of the all-time greatest films.

The book is written by Hill’s grandson, Todd Tarbox. Before his grandfather’s death in 1990, Hill gave Tarbox tapes that he had recorded of telephone conversations he’d had with Welles, who died in 1985.

The conversations were recorded with Welles knowledge to help both men write memoirs. But both Welles and Hill, known as “Skipper,” died before either had the opportunity to complete their literary projects.

The conversations were so engaging and revealing of Welles’ genius, compassion and warmth that they needed to be shared, Tarbox said.

“This book really is the very first book able to capture Welles’ private personal voice,” said Tarbox, of Barrington Hills. “He was viewed in various lights throughout his life. The real Orson, as captured in this book, is a delightful, charming, very witty, clever and proud fellow and he felt very comfortable in my grandfather’s presence.

“In essence, Skipper served as father to Orson starting at about age 11 when Orson arrived in Woodstock.”

Having lost both of his parents at a young age, Welles thought of Hill and his wife as his mentors. 

He’d come back to both stay in and visit Woodstock throughout his career as an actor, film and theater director, screenwriter, playwright and film producer. Because of this and the town’s influence on him, Woodstock Celebrates Inc. plans to host future events over the next couple years in his honor.

In February, the group hosted a dedication of the newly named “Orson Welles Stage” at the Woodstock Opera House. 

“My grandfather’s largest contribution was allowing Orson’s creativity to flourish,” Tarbox said. “There weren’t so many schools then and even now that had the depth of opportunity the Todd School provided.” 

The school closed in 1954 when Tarbox was 10 years old. Both of Tarbox’ parents worked as teachers at the school, and Tarbox had attended. 

Tarbox, who also is working on a book about his father, wrote this in the introduction of his book: “Orson’s attachment to my grandfather was instant, reciprocal, and developed into an enduring love. Their intimate conversations, at times frothy and at other times solemn, reflect their incalculable interests and abiding fascination with the human comedy.”

He said it’s a shame neither his grandfather nor Welles actually finished their own memoirs. 

Many publishers clamored for the rights to Welles’ memoir, but he resisted.

“As long as he could be making movies, he much preferred doing that instead of writing a book about himself,” Tarbox said. “He didn’t like looking in the mirror. He preferred looking out through a lens at the world itself.”

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