Watch “The Fountain of Youth,” Orson Welles’ 1958 Pilot That Almost Reinvented TV

Americans say that they love creativity but in fact they don’t. As Jessica Olien notes in Slate, thinking outside the box tends to freak people out. Studies show that teachers favor dull but dutiful students over creative ones. In the corporate world, suggestions made by creative workers routinely get ignored by their superiors. As art critic Dave Hickey succinctly notes, “Everybody hates it when something’s really great.”

This is probably as good a way as any to understand Orson Welles’s stunted career. Here was a man of such genius that he radically transformed just about every creative medium he touched. His 1937 production of Julius Caesar, set in contemporary Fascist Italy, was the toast of Broadway. His notorious radio adaptation of War of the Worlds was so effective in creating a sense of unfolding calamity that it caused an actual public panic. And his masterpiece Citizen Kane was so original that it perplexed audiences when it came out. Now, of course, Kane is widely considered one of the best movies ever made. In spite of Welles’s terrific natural talents – he made Kane at age 25 – he consistently found himself shut down by the powers that be. The studio butchered Welles’s follow up movie The Magnificent Ambersons, and he struggled with studios and financiers for artistic control of just about every movie since.

In the 1950s, Welles tried to transform another medium – television. As Dangerous Minds recently unearthed, Welles made a pilot for The Orson Welles Show in 1956, an anthology series backed by Lucille Ball’s production company Desilu. The series was never picked up ostensibly because it was (and still is) nothing like what you’ve ever seen on TV. Welles incorporated noirish lighting, rear projection, photo stills, in-camera set changes and a host of other techniques borrowed from radio and the stage. Though the network dashed all hope of a series, NBC ultimately did air the pilot episode — “The Fountain of Youth” — on its Colgate Theater in 1958.

The story itself is a deliciously ironic fable adapted from a short story by John Collier. Dressed in a tuxedo and with a perpetual wry smirk on his face, Welles narrates. (Welles also wrote, directed, set designed the show along with arranging its music.) The less said about the story, the better, but it involves a self-obsessed actress, an equally narcissistic tennis star and an embittered scientist who claims to have discovered the secret to eternal youth. Watch it above and think about the fascinating road TV could have traveled.

via Dangerous Minds

Related Content:

Listen to Eight Interviews of Orson Welles by Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (1969-1972)

Watch Orson Welles’ The Stranger Free Online, Where 1940s Film Noir Meets Real Horrors of WWII

The Hearts of Age: Orson Welles’ Surrealist First Film (1934)

Orson Welles Explains Why Ignorance Was His Major “Gift” to Citizen Kane

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.


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