Morgan Grefe, Ph.D.
RIHS Executive Director
There are those people who you’ve known for years and never knew that he or she had a celebrity in the family. I am not one of those people. Sure, if you’re in the medical community, you might have heard of my grandmother. If you’re in the art scene in Philly, you might know my parents’ or brother’s work. But I’m talking real, big deal, capital “C” celebrity.
We don’t have that, though you never would have known that if you visited the house in which I grew up. If you came over you would have little doubt that I was related, probably closely, to Orson Welles. I mean, right there in the living room, nestled between my graduation picture and my brother’s, is a picture of Orson–small, tastefully framed, just like the rest. Then there’s the special section for his movies, his signatures, the section of the library dedicated to books about him and his work. We’re so very proud of our Uncle Orson.
And, when I finally got my own apartment, my dad gave me a framed picture of the Master for my very own. The picture I received was an undated handout photo of Welles by the Harry Warnecke Studio in 1939. And, it’s gone everywhere with me.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t grow up to think my father was silly for loving this man and his work. I love him, too! I can’t help myself. He was a genius who made films that changed filmmaking. Heck, he took on the theater and radio establishment before he was 30 years old! And, by the time of my childhood, he was the resonant, disembodied voice on my favorite television show, Mork and Mindy. Yeah, that might have been a breakthrough series for the great Robin Williams, but for me, it was a chance to hear the comforting, nearly magical voice of my friend Orson.
On this very day in 1938 Welles scared the bejesus out of America with his War of the Worlds broadcast. My maternal grandmother shared with me the story of that night, the scariest night of her life, when I was in high school. It made me love Orson even more!
So, on this anniversary, I couldn’t help but recollect my memories of my dear Orson Welles and the photo I have taken with me to every home I have inhabited. It’s not just a picture of a legend, it is a piece of my father that I take with me everywhere–a piece that reminds me of the importance of art, creativity, taking intellectual risks, and having some fun while you’re doing it! Thanks, Dad, and thanks Mr. Welles, too.