Monday, August 1, 2016

His Honor

Between the time of production's end and the Hearst empire's failed coast-to-coast drive to prevent the release (and the continuing existence) of Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles formed The Free Company -- a leftist combine of artists and writers affirming, at a time of reactionary retrenchment and impending war, the basic beliefs in populist democracy. The idea was to illustrate by a series of radio plays the meaning of freedom and particularly those civil and economic rights which make freedom possible.

Welles's contribution, His Honor, the Mayor, was transmitted on April 6, 1941, the month before Kane's tentative premiere. Unlike most other of his radio work, here Welles's manner is homespun, mild in tone, and all the more telling for its absence of tub-thumping: Welles as narrator insists that "you can draw your own conclusions; I hope you do." He quietly and cunningly builds the dramatic tension by maintaining the evenness of mood. No sooner had the play been broadcast than it was immediately and vehemently denounced in the Hearst press as communist propaganda. The American Legion held meetings to denounce it.

The attacks backfired. This time Hearst and his men had gone too far, succeeding only in arousing public support for Welles and the release of Citizen Kane by methods of vilification transparent even to Hearst's natural supporters, giving backbone to RKO Studio's previously timid board of directors. There would now be four Kane premieres: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. The advertising campaign was immediately mounted, exceeding in extravagance any movie launch that had gone before.