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MassLive - August 3, 2019

An unearthed play written by a young Orson Welles about the life of abolitionist John Brown is being published more than 85 years after it was written.

Brown, who lived in Springfield between 1846 to 1849, advocated the use of armed insurrection to end slavery in the United States. He was tried and found guilty of inciting a slave insurrection, treason and the murder of five men. He was hanged in 1859.

The previously unpublished Welles play, Marching Song, recounts Brown’s life through multiple, sometimes contradictory recollections — a narrative framing device he used nearly a decade later in the landmark film Citizen Kane. Welles, then 17, wrote Marching Song in 1932 with an assist from Roger Hill, the headmaster of his former school in Woodstock, Illinois.

Hill’s grandson, Todd Tarbox, a former Springfield resident, has edited the play into a 200-page book for Rowman & Littlefield. The book, due out on Aug. 9, includes a foreword by noted Welles biographer Simon Callow, and two illuminating essays by Tarbox that put the play into context.

Tarbox said that his grandfather and Welles, who had made his professional stage debut in Dublin a year earlier, were unable to find backing for the play on Broadway.

“Their timing was less than ideal,” said Tarbox from his Colorado home. “When Orson and my grandparents drove from Woodstock, Illinois, to New York in the fall of 1933, the Great Depression was in its third year. Broadway theaters were closing in record numbers. Two hundred and thirty-three stage productions were produced in New York during the 1929-30 season; three years later, less than half that number of plays were mounted.” ...
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