John Lennon was never shy to speak his mind. Sometimes this would get him into trouble, and he knew it. Still, there was always more than a grain of truth to most things he said such as a brutal tirade he unleashed on Orson Welles.
The Beatle always took pleasure in ruffling feathers and dropping verbal grenades at every opportunity. Lennon knew that he had the musical capabilities to warrant whatever slander he threw in anybody else’s direction and was more than happy to duke it out if needed. However, it wasn’t just musicians that Lennon had it in for, as Hollywood legend Orson Welles found out the hard way when the former Beatle spoke his mind on him in 1970.
Welles is one of the most important cultural figures in the history of Hollywood. As the creator of cinematic masterpieces like Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil, the legacy of Welles has been immortalised in the very fabric of cinema itself. However, the latter years of his career were less glittering, and he was clinging to the success of his earlier work. Welles was no longer the most in-demand name in Hollywood by the time that The Beatles became the new cultural zeitgeist in the ’60s. Welles had become yesterday’s hero.
Lennon, of course, was a fan of films like Citizen Kane, but what Welles became was something that he never wanted for himself. Speaking to Jann Wenner in 1970 for Rolling Stone, the bespectacled Beatle opened up about his love of film but couldn’t resist throwing in a dig in Welles’ direction. “[Citizen Kane] is something else too,” Lennon commented. “Poor old Orson [Welles], though, he was troubled. He goes on [The] Dick Cavett Show and he’s sort of ‘Please love me, I’m a big fat man now and I’ve eaten all this food and I did do well when I was younger and I can act, I can direct, and you’re all very kind to me but at the moment I don’t do anything.'”
These comments by Lennon might have been throwaway and delivered in jest, but they do provide a glimpse into his psyche. Growing old and fat, not just in a physical sense but from a creative perspective too, was Lennon’s worst nightmare.
He saw people like Welles, who were still appearing on chat shows because of what he’d done decades prior rather than for the strength of his current work, and Lennon never wanted that for himself. Lennon’s progressive, creative spirit; to carry on moving with the times and remaining relevant purely on the strength of his art is why he’s revered so highly today.
It would have been an easy life for Lennon to have never shied away from The Beatles to focus on his new love, The Plastic Ono Band. Lennon couldn’t resist staying true to his artistic integrity and creating music that represented where he was in life at any given moment. If Lennon hadn’t been tragically murdered, there are no question marks that he’d have kept that attitude surging until he was old and fat.