Reading the Future

Among the many legendary tales associated with the screen career of Orson Welles, perhaps the most intriguing story concerns the genesis of one of his most notable films. In 1946 Welles, perpetually short of money to fund projects bubbling out of his teeming brain, needed financing to keep a theatrical version of Around the World in 80 Days afloat. According to Orson, he promised Harry Cohn over the phone that if the Columbia kingpin sent the cash needed to keep the musical in tryouts, Welles would direct a picture based on a great book he had been reading. Asked for the name of the novel, resourceful Orson grabbed the first book that caught his eye and said, “If I Die Before I Wake.” Although crafty Cohn may have sensed a ruse, he sent the money. 80 Days hardly ran that long so Welles was on the hook to make some kind of a film out of a book he had not read. The movie was eventually released in 1948 as The Lady from Shanghai.

One (at least this one) cannot help but wonder what kind of picture would have resulted had Welles spotted a book with just a slightly different title. For instance, If I Cry Before I Wake might have been scripted as Lady, Weep for Me. If I Fly Before I Wake becomes The Lady Takes Wings. If I Dry Before I Wake turns into The Lady Comes Clean. If I Buy Before I Wake hits the screen as The Lady at Macy’s. If I Spy Before I Wake becomes the caper flick The Lady in the Closet. If I Wry Before I Wake has a comic twist as The Lady Makes a Face. If I Vie Before I Wake hits the courts as The Lady Meets Her Match. If I Sigh Before I Wake pauses as The Lady Takes a Breather. If I Pry Before I Wake has her back in action as The Lady Fixes a Flat. If I Guy Before I Wake crosses the line as The Lady Changes Gender. If I Lie Before I Wake sets up the predictable sequel The Lady Meets Fibber McGee. The fitting end to the series would be based on If I Fry Before I Wake as she walks the last mile in The Lady in the Death House.




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