25 December 2014

Orson Welles and The Mercury Wonder Show -- More Wonderful Than We Thought

Friends in Another Place have expressed interest in this story about Orson Welles. Rita Hayworth, and Marlene Dietrich.
The boy-wonder in the 40s

As is well known, Orson Welles, on top of all his other talents, was an expert magician (how he found time to learn all this with all the other things he was expert in is a mystery). During World War 2, as the USO geared up and the Hollywood Canteen gathered steam as free entertainment for service personnel passing through California, he put together the Mercury Wonder Show to put on a full magic show for the troops.

At the time he was dating Rita Hayworth, and she acted as his glamorous assistant (and very welcome eye-candy for the boys), with the show culminating in her being sawed in half by the master magician. 

Welles would make Rita disappear from a box on one side of the stage and reappear on the  other side.

Now, Rita was under contract to Columbia Pictures, which had just been taken over by Harry Cohn. And Harry Cohn hated Welles, and particularly did not want Rita to marry him. So to stifle their relationship (and ill-naturedly ruin the magic show), he refused to allow Rita to perform in the evenings when she was shooting a movie, which she always was at that time.

Rita was disappointed. However, Orson Welles had a pretty big Rolodex (or whatever they used then) and made a few calls. And at the Mercury Wonder Show’s next performance, the exotic and lovely lady he he was sawing in half was Marlene Dietrich.
Marlene could reappear, too. 

So the show was saved, and Orson still married Rita. Years later, Marlene admitted ruefully that she had a serious crush on Welles then, but that he never looked at her because he only liked exotic brunettes. When he finally saw her in a black wig for Touch of Evil… “But then it was too late,” she said.