Here’s Orson Welles appearing on Dean Martin’s TV show in the mid 1960s; they’re both having some fun. Welles was a true magician at heart.


By Richard Kaufman

Have you ever had a recurring nightmare where people who have no business performing magic are suddenly on TV performing magic they have no business doing?

Me, too. There were quite a few of those TV specials in the distant past.

But thankfully, mercifully, this particular one-hour TV special from 1982 is actually a time capsule of great magic. Appearing are David Copperfield, Harry Anderson, Norm Nielsen, Richiardi, Johnny Thompson, Carlton and Company, The Miracle Factory, all hosted by Orson Welles (who was, genuinely, a magician).

Celebrities who are non-magicians, some of whom are merely hosts (in addition to Welles) include Loni Anderson, Scott Baio, Barbi Benton, Cathy Lee Crosby, Tony Curtis, Dom Delouise, Erik Estrada, Linda Evans, Morgan Fairchild, Norman Fell, Scott Baio, Robert Guillaume, Jack Klugman, Martin Mull, Vincent Price, Jacklyn Smith, Cindy Williams, and Martin Mall. Some of these folks also do magic. The humor is forced at best.

Interesting things to note about Welles’ appearance: all of his hosting sequences appear to have been shot at a different time and location than the rest of the show. And the illusions he performs at the end of the special are actually pieces he shot and edited for a film he was working on at the time, The Magic Show (which remained uncompleted at the time of his death). 

And here it is, straight from 1982, Magic with the Stars.

Orson Welles wasn’t just a revolutionary and iconic film director. He also had a long-running interest in magic and deception, even filming a television special on the topic. A new stage show pays tribute to his magical aspirations.

Orson the Magnificent: The Magic of Orson Welles is a one-man show written, directed, and performed by Lars Klores in Fairfax, Virginia. The production combines both theater and magic, such as card tricks and mind reading. Klores takes the stage performing as Welles, and his banter in between tricks is all about the history of famous magicians and his own character.

“Orson Welles was not the most skilled magician, but it is fair to call him one of the greatest magicians,” Klores said in a Q&A session following a recent performance. He clarified that Welles’ magic is in his ability to read and react to an audience, whether in a magic show or a radio play or a feature film.

Orson the Magnificent: The Magic of Orson Welles will be staged at the the Old Town Hall in Fairfax through May 6. Tickets are available here. You can also follow the play on Facebook to get more information about where the show will go next; it has played around the DC Metro area for the past several months.

While Orson Welles might be best known for landmark film Citizen Kane (and getting angry at a bag of frozen peas), he long held a fascination for trickery, illusion, and magic. Allegedly taught magic at a young age by Harry Houdini, Welles performed fantastic feats of deception throughout his career in live magic shows with his Mercury Theatre troupe, and even on television as a solo act.

In fact, one of his final works – a television special about magic – went unfinished at the time of his death, and was nearly lost forever. Filmed over the course of nearly a decade, Orson Welles’ Magic Show was to be a compilation of Welles’ obsession with magic, featuring illusions performed by Welles himself (promising no trick photography) and musings on the nature of the art. When Welles died in 1985, his partner Oja Kodar donated all of his unreleased work to the Munich Film Museum, who then recompiled the unfinished clips into a single 27-minute presentation.

It’s been featured on television and at film festivals around the world, but you can watch it in its entirety below thanks to the magic of YouTube.