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The rest of Welles's story is all Mercury Theatre, but the Mercury Theatre was a lot of things before it became Broadway's wonder child. It was first just an idea, bounded north & south by hope, east & west by nerve. Crossing their Rubicon before they even started to march, Welles & Houseman leased the Comedy Theatre for five years, renamed it the Mercury, then started looking for their first play. When they found Julius Caesar, they started looking for the money to produce it. Houseman combed Wall Street, got dibs & drabs, enough to keep the cast stringing along and repair the Mercury toilets. He also got promises of $12,000; then the recession came and two of the Mercury's seven angels had their wings clipped. Though Caesar was already in rehearsal, it looked as if it might never open. But Archibald MacLeish came in as liaison officer, got some fresh backing for the Mercury from Playwright Clare Boothe, Theatre Lover George Hexter.
An advance sale of $8,000 finally saw the Mercury through the opening night of Caesar, which all told cost $16,000 to get under way. After that, finances were a pleasure. Today Welles & Houseman own 70% of the Mercury which, sticking to a $2.20 top, has had an average gross of $6,000 a week, an average net of $1,000.
In Person.With a voice that booms like Big Ben's but a laugh like a youngster's giggle, Orson Welles plays lead off stage as well as on. He loves the mounting Welles legend, but wants to keep the record straight. Stories of his recent affluencethe Big House at Sneden's Landing, N. Y., the luxurious Lincoln town car and chauffeurannoy him. First of all, Welles insists, this has nothing to do with his Mercury triumphs; for years he has had these things by virtue of his radio earnings; and second, the Big House isn't such a big house (eight rooms and four nooks, $115 a month), the car is secondhand, and the chauffeur exists because Welles himself doesn't drive. Says he: "I'm one of those fellows so frightened of driving that I go 80 miles an hourand the more frightened I get, the faster I go." At Sneden's Landing20 miles from Times Square across the HudsonWelles has for neighbors Katharine Cornell, Columnist Dorothy Thompson ("whom I do not admire"). Welles met his wife, dainty, blonde Virginia Nicolson Welles, while both were acting in a summer drama festival in 1934, married her that fall. Last month their first child was born. A girl, she was christened Christopher.
As active as a malted-milk mixer, Welles is for all that very heavyset, his adolescent moon face slowly beginning to resemble a Roman Emperor's. Told he looks Roman, he asks interestedly: "Do you mean sensual?" His own description of himself: "I look like the dog-faced boy." Troubled by his asthma, untroubled by his flat feet, Welles gets a little exercise walking and fencing, most by directing and rehearsing. He starts off a Falstaffian meal with a dozen oysters, tops it off with a big black 75¢cigar.