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Mr. Arkadin: Une Grosse Legume

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In my last post I wondered offhandedly who wrote the novelization of Mr. Arkadin. As you can see clearly on the book’s cover, it is attributed to the one and only Orson Welles. But as usual with him, things are not always what they seem. Numerous times, Welles is quoted denying involvement with the creation of the novel. Most famously in This Is Orson Welles, he tell Peter Bogdanovic, “I didn’t write one word of that novel. Nor have I ever read it. Somebody wrote it in French to be published in serial form in the newspapers. You know — to promote the picture. I don’t know how it got under hardcovers, or who got paid for that.” Jonathan Rosenbaum, in his thorough if out of date essay, “The Seven Arkadins” posits that due to the majority of the dialogue’s sentence structure, it was most likely written from translation. This supports Welles’ claim that the book was originally a French adaptation of his film. The general consensus is that Maurice Bessy, Welles’ collaborator on The Adventures of Harry Lime, was the true author.

Bessy was born in France to the owner of a movie theater and began his career as a journalist covering films and industry news. He began working with Orson Welles on the Adventures of Harry Lime radio broadcasts, and rumor has it, collaborated with Welles on a French novelization of an episode that became Une Grosse Legume (in English – The Big Shot, and what I like to imagine was Orson Welles’ nickname). Chances are, in 1953, he ghostwrote the novelization of Mr. Arkadin as a publicity support for the film. In addition, Bessy ran the Cannes Film Festival from 1971 -1977 and published many books on a variety of subjects ranging from Charlie Chaplin to A Pictorial History of Magic and the Supernatural. The latter is reported to be exactly as the title would imply. It is now occupying the only spot on my Hanukkah wish list.