Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 22
October 10, 1985
Orson Welles dies

On this day in 1985, Orson Welles passed away at the age of 70, dying of a heart attack at his home in California. Welles’ death from a cardio pulmonary collapse was not a huge surprise to anyone who had seen around that time; he was massively overweight, and his dinners apparently consisted of two steaks, cooked rare, and a pint of scotch. Welles died at 4:30am, just after having completed an interview with Merv Griffin. Welles was a favorite guest of Griffin’s and had been on his show around 50 times, however on this occasion he especially told Griffin, "For this interview there are no subjects about which I won't speak." Usually reticent to speak about his past, Welles spoke warmly and openly about old friends and lovers, including Rita Hayworth, who Griffin noted had had her last appearance on his show. After the taping, Welles was driven to his favorite restaurant, Ma Maison, and died shortly after returning home. He famously voiced the character of Unicron (“a big toy who attacks a bunch of smaller toys," said Welles) in the cartoon Transformers: The Movie (1986). However his last screen role was in Somebody to Love (released 1987), directed by his friend Henry Jaglom. The movie, in which Welles essentially plays himself, opens with him saying these poignant lines: “You know, the great problem of movies is that they’re always old-fashioned. It takes too long to make a movie. By the time your idea is on the screen, it’s already… dead.”


More Flashbacks
Around the World in Eighty Days Dec. 22, 1956
Around the World in Eighty Days Premieres

Based on the novel by Jules Verne, the 1956 film Around the World in 80 Days, which opened in L.A. on December 22, 1956, was the kind of glorious cinematic jape that rarely is produced anymore.

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December 22, 1993
Philadelphia breaks the AIDS barrier

A few days before Christmas, Jonathan Demme’s groundbreaking AIDS melodrama hit screens, just in time for Academy consideration. A month later the film was duly rewarded, garnering five nominations, with Tom Hanks winning for Best Actor and Bruce Springsteen winning Best Song. But the road to Philadelphia was neither straight, nor clear. Years earlier, producer Scott Rudin worked with screenwriter Ron Nyswaner to get a film about AIDS started. The two looked at a range of stories, including that of Geoffrey Bowers, a New York City attorney who was fired after he showed signs of HIV in 1986. Rudin sold the concept to TriStar who worked with Jonathan Demme (who’d just won an Oscar for Silence of the Lambs in 1991). For Rudin and Nyswaner, both gay men who’d experienced the deaths of many friends, the issue was personal. Likewise for Demme, who dealt with illness and death of his wife’s best friend: “When Juan [Botas] said he was HIV positive, I reacted in the only positive way I could, which was to try to work somehow.” While Demme made Philadelphia to be “targeted for the malls," he wanted the set to be true to the people dealing with the epidemic. Of the 53 gay men cast in the film, nearly 43 died within the next year. At one point, Demme was forced into a fight with TriStar over casting openly gay actor Ron Vawter; the studio wanted to reject him because they could not take out insurance on him. Demme only had to point out the cruel irony of the studio firing an actor in a film about someone being fired for having HIV.

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