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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