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Me and Orson Welles [Hardcover]

Robert Kaplow
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 3 2003
Set in the 1930s, this is the story of 17-year-old Richard Samuels whose theatrical dreams are answered when Welles offers him a small role in his Broadway debut of Julius Caesar.

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From Publishers Weekly

"This is the story of one week in my life. I was seventeen. It was the week I slept in Orson Welles's pajamas. It was the week I fell in love. It was the week I fell out of love." Thus does the precocious protagonist of Kaplow's first adult novel summarize his adventures as a bit-part player in the landmark 1937 Mercury Theater production of Julius Caesar that helped catapult the 22-year-old Welles to the top of the entertainment world. Kaplow wastes no time setting up his unlikely scenario; after an impromptu sidewalk audition, Richard Samuels, a New Jersey high school student, lands the part of Lucius, a minor character. The conceit forms a nice counterpoint to the coming-of-age material, as Kaplow alternates scenes about Samuels's high school and home life with a series of rehearsal passages that bring the brilliant but mercurial Welles to life. Samuels falls in love more than once: first with fellow high school actress Caroline, then with a lovely, flighty production assistant named Sonja who is also involved with Welles, and finally with Gretta, an aspiring writer. The climax features a colorful showdown between Samuels and Welles after the boy confronts the married Welles about his affair with Sonja. Kaplow doesn't quite capture the dark side of the enigmatic Welles, but his bright, enthusiastic writing about Samuels's introduction to the world of high-stakes theater makes this an entertaining offering.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-In November, 1937, Richard Samuels, 17, a high school senior drifting relatively painlessly through school and relationships, feels there might be more to life. The New Jerseyite spends weekends wandering in Manhattan looking for a connection, preferably theatrical, that would excite him. He happens upon the yet to open Mercury Theatre and is noticed by its mercurial muse, Orson Welles. He is given a small part in Julius Caesar, which is ultimately a grand success, and spends a week in a fantastic whirl as part of the troupe. The following few days are exciting, frustrating, and, finally, both triumphant and devastating to the would-be thespian. Kaplow brings the New York of the late 1930s vividly to life, especially the theatrical world. The novel is fast paced and very funny, and the brilliant but unpredictable Welles is a perfect foil for the sardonic but inexperienced young man. Welles at 22 is close to Richard's age, but far from the center of his moral compass. Incidents of anti-Semitism and misogyny distress the teen, yet the actor/producer's brilliance and daring are like a magnet. Richard's dreams of a Broadway career soon fade, but he emerges from the experience with a desire to write, possibly a new romance, and certainly an important new friendship. This unusual coming-of-age story will intrigue teens; while the circumstances and time are very different from today, the feelings and ideas are universal.
Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Kaplow's wonderful lullaby May 25 2004
Robert Kaplow's Me and Orson Welles is not a coming of age story. It's a Manhattan tale of an age that slipped through our fingers. A Times Square that only exists in the memory of old Broadway troopers, colored in with characters straight from the files of a dozen or so New York newspapers that have met their own expiration dates. But this book, the story of how Richard Samuels, a New Jersey teenager manages to brass his way into Orson Welles' avant garde 1937 production of Julius Caesar and then survive for seven full days is every bit the Broadway tale. Come along and listen to Kaplow's lullaby of Broadway as seen through Richie Samuels's eyes. This is the Broadway that Damon Runyon wrote about in "Guys and Dolls". And while Richie is working his bit part with the great Orson Welles, you can be sure that not far away, Sammy Glick from Budd Shulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? is conning his way from copyboy to Hollywood. It might seem a bit unorthodox to mention Runyon or Shulberg's classics but author Robert Kaplow has recreated the Manhattan they described so superbly and then dropped Richie Samuels right into it. This author is masters of subtext because you know what the major characters like Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton and John Houseman will go on to do in later years. We, the readers, know the secret and we relish in it every bit as much as Walter Winchell might bark, "Wynta gimmee a few words?" This is young Richie Samuels, who knows everything there is to know about the theatre, names of all the greats and the shows in which they appeared as well as the songs they sang.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Richard is no Holden May 13 2004
I picked up this book because a review on the back caught my eye. It described the main character, Richard Samuels, as a combination between Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn. Considering The Catcher in the Rye and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are two of my favorite books, I couldn't pass this one up. I really enjoy books of this genre (I am comparing it to Carter Beats the Devil or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) where modern authors revisit early 20th century events. Plotwise, this novel was great. It was exciting and well-paced, and the minor characters were well-developed and interesting. However, the reason I did not love the book is that Richard is probably the my least favorite character in literature. He is self-obsessed and pompous. He talks like the characters on Dawson's Creek talked; that is, at a level that his actions in no way reflect or support. He always seemed to know the right thing to say and somehow managed to charm everyone around him. To me, he seemed unrealistic, the kind of character an author wishes existed instead of one who really would. So, really, if Kaplow could have kept Richard within the bounds of reality for a seventeen-year-old, I would have enjoyed the book a lot more.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fun fiction about the young Mr. Welles March 16 2004
This book is for adults but would be a great read for older teens. It is set in 1937 New York, and Richard Samuels is a 17 year old who can't get any attention at school, least of all from girls. But that's ok, because Richard knows one day he'll be a famous actor. That day turns out to be very soon. Richard happens to meet a loud young man on the street named Orson Welles. Orson is a 22 year old mad genius about to direct Julius Caesar, and he casts Richard in his play. Quickly Richard becomes involved in the world of Broadway, with its beautiful young starlets, Orson brown-nosers, New Yorker critics, and torrid affairs. Richard ditches school to devote his all to the play and to Orson, who he idealizes. But Richard's dreams of fame and riches may come to a crashing halt as he discovers that being close to Orson Welles also means that you'll be run over by the bulldozer that is his ego.
For any fan of Orson Welles or WWII era historical fiction, this is a short, fun novel about a what-if situation of a young boy's dreams of stardom alongside Orson Welles.
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5.0 out of 5 stars MERCURY RISING March 16 2004
By A Customer
In August 1937, theater wunderkind Orson Welles announced the formation of a new theater for the common man. The Mercury Theatre, inspired in name and spirit by H.L. Mencken's audacious (and popular) American Mercury magazine, promised to serve "people on a voyage of discovery in the theatre ... people who had either never been to the theatre at all or who, for one reason or another, had ignored it for many seasons." This was four years before Welles made his indelible mark on Hollywood with the classic film Citizen Kane.
         Though he was only twenty-two, Welles had already directed and starred in a handful of hugely popular radio dramas. He had impressed New York critics and audiences with his stage productions of, among others, Doctor Faustus (playing the title role as well as directing), Horse Eats Hat (a musical based on Eugene Labiche and Marc Michel's An Italian Straw Hat), and especially Macbeth (presented at a Harlem theater with an all-black cast). Welles not only directed all these productions but adapted the texts as well, with the intent of making them more accessible and vital to general audiences. He planned to do the same for the Mercury's inaugural production, a modern-dress version of Julius Caesar. He would also play the pivotal role of Brutus. The show went into rehearsal in October, with an announced opening night of November 11.
         Waiting in the wings
         Enter, literally, Richard Samuels, the hero and first-person narrator of Robert Kaplow's snappy new coming-of-age novel, Me and Orson Welles. Though the action spans only a week in young Richard's adolescence, he learns enough lessons to last a lifetime, about love and honor and theater, and love and honor in the theater.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars OUTSTANDING
I met Mr. Robert Kaplow at one of the book signings. I was pushing my books and he was working on his. Frankly, we were not too busy. Read more
Published on June 30 2004 by Boris Zubry
5.0 out of 5 stars AWARD WINNER
This novel was just selected for inclusion on the Books for the Teen Age 2004 List from the New York Public Library, and well it deserves the award. Read more
Published on March 24 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Authentic?? Sounds "corny" to me!!
This book is said to make one feel the texture, smells and sounds of NYC in the 30's so I was put off by corn appearing as a "street food" - maybe in other cities - ( I... Read more
Published on March 21 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Lights, Curtin, Action. . . .
The novel is set in late 1930's New York City. The story covers a week in the life of Richard Samuels, a seventeen year old suburban high school student who, by chance, lands a... Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2004 by Maurice Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars NOMINATED
I see that this title has just been nominated as an ALA BEST BOOK for young adults, and I'm glad to see it get some notice. Read more
Published on Feb. 4 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Heard it on AP Radio News
Heard the author interviewed with Warren Levinson on AP Radio News last weekend. Picked the novel up and devoured it in two sittings. It made me want to be young again! Read more
Published on Jan. 30 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical and funny
This is a sweetly-sad tale: beautifully evocative of a lost time. I read an interview with the author in the SUNDAY NEW YORK TIMES (1/11/04) and bought the novel. Read more
Published on Jan. 30 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Heard the Interview on NPR
I heard the interview with Kaplow on MORNING EDITION last week and knew I had to get the novel. Read it in one sitting. A little gem. Funny, lyrical, and extremely entertaining. Read more
Published on Dec 16 2003 by Harry Hodes
5.0 out of 5 stars Life, Love and Youth...Who Could Ask For More?
I've read a lot of books recently, but I don't think there's one that can top "Me and Orson Welles" for the sheer pleasure it provided. Read more
Published on Dec 3 2003 by W. C HALL
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