Local Author Patrick McGilligan’s Indispensible ‘Young Orson’

Milwaukee author Patrick McGilligan makes an appearance at Boswell Books to discuss his formidable new biography, “Young Orson: The Year of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane.” Plus: the Downer Theatre celebrates 100 years, and more.

YoungOrsonThere are no shortages when it comes to the world of Orson Welles-centric biographical works. With the third volume in Simon Callow’s extensive portrait of the famed artist due in April of 2016 and a host of recent releases examining Welles’ life, one could be forgiven for thinking the field of study had been well covered — or, to meet my personal requisite dad joke per article, that the Welles had run dry.

But then comes along a work so fastidious in its recreation of the early years of one of cinema’s most important figures that it upends that belief and becomes a truly indispensable piece of work, deepening and illuminating one’s own appreciation of Welles. Patrick McGilligan’s Young Orson: The Year of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane is just such a book.

Orson Welles was born in Kenosha (his centennial was celebrated there earlier this year) and spent much of his youth pinballing between Chicago and Wisconsin. McGilligan sets the table of Welles’ childhood masterfully, painting a portrait of his mother and father, Beatrice and Dick Welles, both before and after Orson’s birth. An inkling of the restless impulses that guided Orson throughout life (and numerous stopped and started projects) can be glimpsed in his mother’s tireless appreciation of the arts and championing of social issues. And McGilligan’s observation that his father’s Kenosha-based funeral, “full of rituals he found unfamiliar and peculiar,” forever shaded his opinion of his hometown feels revelatory and sympathetic, whereas coverage of his Wisconsin years were purely perfunctory in earlier biographies.

While many biographical works mistakenly try and guess at the mindset of its subject , leading to baseless speculation and armchair psychoanalysis, McGilligan’s “just the facts, miss” approach to his writing manages to give you a more vivid portrait of Welles’ interior life than any amount of junior sleuthing or needless postulating ever could. Any time McGilligan can call into question stories or anecdotes that may be apocryphal or products of wholesale invention, he does. It’s a miraculous feat of investigation and research, digging deeper and providing a more persuasive explanation of the young artist ascendant that previously thought possible.

As mentioned earlier, this is genuinely indispensable knowledge for those interested in the life and career of Welles, and we’re lucky enough to have the Milwaukee-based McGilligan making an appearance at Boswell Books tonight (Tuesday, Dec. 8) at 7 p.m. to discuss this formidable work. I hope to see you there.


Tuesday, December 8: Chantal Akerman: In Remembrance

7 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema (FREE)

Wednesday, December 9: A Murder in the Park

7 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema ($5 gen. ad./FREE for students & members)

Wednesday, December 9: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

7 p.m. @ Select local Marcus Theatres (Purchase tickets here)

Thursday, December 10: Infinite Happiness

6:30 p.m. @ SC Johnson’s Golden Rondelle Theater (Reservations Required)

***CRITIC’S CHOICE*** Thursday, December 10: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in celebration of the Downer’s 100th anniversary

7 p.m. @ Downer Theatre (Purchase tickets here)

Thursday, December 10:  Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll

7 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema ($5 gen. ad./FREE for students & members)

Friday, December 11: In the Heart of the Sea & Macbeth open locally

Check local listings for showtimes/pricing

***CRITIC’S CHOICE*** Friday, December 11 through Sunday, December 13:  The Mend & Cries and Whispers

12/11:  7 & 9:30 p.m., 12/12: 9 & 7 p.m. and 12/13: 5 & 7:30 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema ($5 gen. ad./FREE for students & members)

Saturday, December 12: Four Men and a Prayer

7 p.m. @ The Church in the City, 2648 N. Hackett Ave. ($3)

Sunday, December 13: It’s a Wonderful Life

12 p.m. @ Select local Marcus Theatres (Purchase tickets here)



Tom Fuchs is a Milwaukee-based film writer whose early love for cinema has grown into a happy obsession. He graduated with honors in Film Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has since focused on film criticism. He works closely with the Milwaukee Film Festival and has written reviews and ongoing columns for Milwaukee Magazine since 2012. In his free time, Tom enjoys spending time with his wife and dogs at home (watching movies), taking day trips to Chicago (to see movies), and reading books (about movies). You can follow him on Twitter @tjfuchs or email him at tjfuchs@gmail.com.