Master of Library Science student Michael Eshleman explored the Lilly collections for a manuscripts class. Part of the class requires students to go through the Lilly documents and curate a small exhibit for the library.
Eshleman said because of his interest in movies, he focused on Lilly’s collections dealing with films.
He came across documents that he recognized as part of the “Citizen Kane” controversy and started to look further into the ?collection.
“Citizen Kane” tells the story of millionaire newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane. The screenplay was written in the spring of 1940. When it was released one year later, the screenplay was credited to Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles.
A few years later, New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael published a story detailing the theory that Welles did not actually write the screenplay and instead just put his name on it.
The Lilly Library’s collection contains documents from Kael, Welles and the film director, Peter Bogdanovich.
Eshleman analyzed and curated different documents detailing the controversy and explored how Kael developed the accusations.
“She’s a very passionate writer,” Eshleman said. “When you read her stuff, it’s exhausting. She gushes. She has so much energy in her writing.”
According to documents in Lilly’s collection, Kael relied heavily on information that she obtained from a professor at UCLA who had conducted research and interviews with people involved.
After Kael’s story came out, Welles said she made no attempt to contact him and that the story was biased.
In the end, Welles still claimed that the screenplay was a joint work and that he had every right to put his name on the credit.
Eshleman began working on the exhibit a few weeks into the semester. Since then, he has read through many documents related to the case.
“There was a lot of material to work with,” he said. “There’s so much stuff and a lot of neat things. It was thrilling to touch all of these papers signed by famous people.”
Eshleman said one of the most interesting things he encountered while reading through the documents was how disorganized Welles’ company was.
In the collection, there are letters from many different lawyers complaining that bills had not yet been paid by the company.
The most interesting letter by far, Eshleman said, was from composer Aaron Copland himself complaining he had not been paid for his compositions for a play Welles commissioned.
Through the exhibit, Eshleman said he hopes viewers can gain a bit more understanding of the controversy surrounding the movie and learn about what Lilly has to offer.
“I hope they realize what really fascinating collections they have at Lilly,” he said. “I had no idea what kind of stuff was over there.”
The exhibit is open through the rest of this week and weekend.
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