Friday, September 23, 2005

Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles

Joseph Cotten writes about a radio studio encounter he had with Orson Welles and Ray Collins in his autobiography, "Vanity Will Get You Somewhere" (Avon Books, 1988) on page 33:
We [Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles] were rehearsing for one of CBS's "School of the Air" series (this one was about rubber trees in the jungle), when a couple of the lines suddenly took on a double meaning and very rude connotations. Instead of biting our tongues and ignoring the moment, Orson and I lost control and broke into choirboy giggles. Knowles [Entrekin] stopped the rehearsal and warned us. He used words like schoolchildren, nonprofessional, and bad manners.
"I see nothing funny about the line 'barrels and barrels of pith,'" he said. Thick silence in Studio Two. Eyes of all actors remained glued to their scripts. Knowles continued, "WIll Mr. Cotten or Mr. Welles please tell us what is funny about the line 'barrels and barrels of pith' so that we may all join in with their laughter?"
The atmosphere of the studio made Grant's Tomb seem like a boiler factory, and then Knowles made the mistake of the day. "And now, ladies and gentlemen, if indeed that is what we all are"--glares at you know who--"we will now go back to the beginning of the scene."
(Courtesy of
Back to the beginning we did go, and when Ray Collins read the line, "Barrels and barrels of pith," there was an explosion of laughter in Studio Two at CBS that would have rocked the very timbers of Madison Square Garden. Ray Collins himself never finished the word pith. His manuscript simply slid from his helpless fingers. Most of the other actors doubled over, the sound man hid behind his bulky equipment, the orchestra sought refuge in the shadow of the bass fiddle, and the two culprits fled the building in hysterical tears.
After a few days, when Knowles's face had lost its angry crimson color, he allowed it to smile as he shook hands and accepted apologies.
It was a damaging experience for Orson and me, however, as we were now considered an unreliable influence and were never cast in parts on the same show. It was not until some years later when CBS gave Orson his own show that we worked together on the air again.
. . .
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