The familiar part of the Welles saga, his rapid rise to the pinnacle of Kane, has been told many times, most stylishly in Simon Callow’s 1995 book, Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu—the first of three biographical volumes to date, with a fourth to follow. But Patrick McGilligan’s Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane, the product of years of meticulous research, may be the definitive account.
...[a] remarkable, eye-opening biography...McGilligan’s book vibrates with uncertainty and risk, and it hums with the possibility that talented people actually can realize their dreams in the forms they choose.
Young Orson is an audacious book: To spend more than 700 pages telling the story of only a third of one man’s life may seem excessive, but McGilligan justifies it with richly detailed portraits of the people who made Welles what he became.
Mr. McGilligan’s labors, like his subject’s, are as prodigious as they are, at times, infuriating. He is no great stylist, and he does not pretend to be engaged in any searching analysis of Welles’s place in modern culture. But he manages almost entirely to steer clear of both Welles the monster conjured by those who came to hate him and Welles the extravagant self-mythologizer. This is the work of an old-fashioned chronicler, who sifts evidence with a steady hand and an eye toward nothing but the truth.
As chronicled by McGilligan, a skilled film historian, Welles’ rise is colorful and remarkably industrious, and though this book is on the far side of 800 pages, it never tips over into tedium...the definitive portrait of Welles in his youth.