Sunday Reading: Legendary First Encounters

In 1937, the New Yorker reporter A. J. Liebling visited a rising wunderkind named Orson Welles. The twenty-two-year-old actor and director had been wowing audiences with his productions overseas, and was rapidly making a name for himself in America. In “Et Tu, Shadow?,” Liebling recounts Welles’s precocious beginnings as a Midwestern teen-ager who moved to Ireland and proceeded to bluff his way into theatrical circles in Dublin. Then a budding radio and Broadway star, Welles displayed his puckish sense of humor, telling Liebling, “I don’t want to sound jaded, but this success here . . . isn’t a patch on my Dublin success.”

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This week, we’re bringing you a selection of pieces about legendary early encounters. In “Artful Dodger,” Ingrid Sischy reviews a provocative, gifted new fashion designer, Alexander McQueen. (“At sixteen, he pushed his way into a tailoring job with Anderson & Sheppard, on Savile Row. Even in that upper-crust environment he managed to sneak in a bit of McQueen wickedness: when he was bored, he would scrawl unprintable graffiti on the canvas that went into the lining of jackets for clients like the Prince of Wales.”) In “What Happens After That,” from 1938, Russell Maloney profiles Alfred Hitchcock, years before he directed some of his best-known films. In a Talk of the Town piece from 1947, Janet Flanner writes about a young Simone de Beauvoir’s visit to New York City and her intention to write “a very serious book about women.” (“I flew here on a Saturday,” de Beauvoir said. “I left my hotel, the Lincoln, the next morning at nine o’clock and walked downtown to the Battery, through an abandoned city with empty canyons. Even the drugstores and cafeterias were closed. Paris never seems so empty on Sundays.”) In “Survival,” John Hersey reports on the surprising heroism of a young naval lieutenant named John F. Kennedy, who rescued his crew after a frightening confrontation in the South Pacific. Lillian Ross talks with the playwright Lorraine Hansberry shortly after her stunning début, “A Raisin in the Sun,” premièred on Broadway, and John Brooks visits with Samuel Beckett, who came to New York from Paris to oversee the production of his first screenplay. Finally, Jane Boutwell profiles the dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov seven months after his defection from the Soviet Union, at the beginning of his career at the American Ballet Theatre. “He whirled around on one foot with incredible speed, tossed off a series of linked brisés volés,” she writes. “Then he circled the stage in a series of grands jetés that ended with a gravity-defying jump into the wings past the startled pianist.”

Erin Overbey, archive editor

Orson Welles, stagelit

A baby-faced Orson Welles, backstage.

A sketch of Alexander McQueen's designs

The British designer Alexander McQueen.

An illustration of Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock’s mind is full of plans; nothing else can get in.

A photograph of Samuel Beckett, looking lost in thought

The playwright peeks into the camera.

Simone de Beauvoir at a desk, with papers

The French novelist talks about her city walks and her writing plans.

Lorraine Hansberry

A couple of weeks after her hit show opened, the playwright reflected on how it had changed her life.

Mikhail Baryshnikov at a dance rehearsal in New York City

Mikhail Baryshnikov comes to America.

John F. Kennedy

Long before he became President, J.F.K. battled to save himself and his men while adrift in the South Pacific.

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