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Michael Lindsay-Hogg's life of luck, circumstance

Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg reckons with a childhood spent among the stars and the late-in-life revelation of his connection to Orson Welles.

November 23, 2011|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg is the author of the autobiography, "Luck and Circumstance."
Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg is the author of the autobiography, "Luck… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

In his recently published memoir, "Luck and Circumstance," Michael Lindsay-Hogg discusses his long, storied career as a director of film ("Let It Be," "The Object of Beauty"), theater ("The Normal Heart," "Agnes of God") and TV ("Brideshead Revisited"), his Oscar-nominated actress-mother Geraldine Fitzgerald ("Wuthering Heights"), and his romantic liaisons.

But at the heart of the book is his search for his real father. Though his mother was married to Edward Lindsay-Hogg when he was born in 1940, Michael Lindsay-Hogg learned from his mother when he was 16 that there was talk that his father was Orson Welles, the seminal writer-director of 1941's "Citizen Kane." Fitzgerald and Welles had worked together on Broadway in the late 1930s in the Mercury Theatre production of George Bernard Shaw's "Heartbreak House." His mother told him that the rumor wasn't true.

But the boy quickly realized he looked a lot more like the corpulent Welles than the tall, thin Edward Lindsay-Hogg, who left the family in 1943 to return to Ireland. The rumor dogged him for years, from people telling him how much he looked like Welles to having the man himself drift in and out of his life. But never was there a word uttered between Welles and Lindsay-Hogg about the matter.

In 2009, Lindsay-Hogg sent the draft of his book to family friend — and former flame — Gloria Vanderbilt, who told him that he was indeed Welles' progeny. Vanderbilt wrote, "When G told you that she 'never had an affair with Orson,' it was because your 'father' was still alive, and she wanted to protect you in those years when you were coping with growing up. She did tell me that Orson was your father…. The important thing now is to once and for all find peace. And I know this is what she would want for you."

Lindsay-Hogg, now 71, is contemplating how to answer the question of how his life has changed since the mystery was solved while sitting at the dining room table of the warm and whimsical West Hollywood house he shares with his wife, Lisa, and three cats.

"I haven't actually answered the question before," he said. "I completely trust Gloria Vanderbilt. I have always found her very honest. But it has come too late, in a way, in that I have no time to spend with him any more. There is no way I could find what the relationship truly would have been with him because he came in and out of my life in so many strange ways. I bumped into him once at a restaurant in London and then I didn't hear from him for three years. When I heard from him when the Beatles' movie 'Let it Be' came out, I hadn't heard from him in four years."

Welles died in 1985. And Lindsay-Hogg never really was able to cultivate a normal relationship with his mother, who died of Alzheimer's in 2005 at age 91.

"Like many women these days, she was working all the time," he said — especially after her husband left. "She was the bread winner, and in order to win bread she was over at Warner Brothers at 7 in the morning until 8 at night. Then my mother remarried and we went to New York, so her focus was on her relationship with her second husband."

As a youngster, Lindsay-Hogg had a hard time fitting in. He was dyslexic and didn't learn how to read until he was 9. He was also short and heavy. When he went to boarding school at Choate at 14, he was 5-foot-2 and weighed 200 pounds. But that same year, he discovered the theater when he accompanied his mother to a rehearsal of the Sidney Lumet-directed production of George Bernard Shaw's "The Doctor's Dilemma."

"I fell in love with the theater," said Lindsay-Hogg, who lost weight as he grew older and taller. Until then, "I didn't know where to live. Not meaning in what room or what house, but I didn't know what world to live in. I didn't have the equipment for the regular world of being a lawyer. I didn't have the imagination for that. I did have a funny kind of ambition, but I didn't know where to put it."

One of his first major jobs was directing the British rock 'n' roll series, "Ready, Steady Go." Then in 1966 he was invited by the Beatles to direct the videos for the "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" single, culminating in the 1970 documentary "Let It Be," which chronicled the 1969 recording of that album. He also directed videos for the Rolling Stones, including 1967's "She's a Rainbow" and 1968's "Jumpin' Jack Flash."

Lindsay-Hogg says it was a lot easier working with the Stones than the Beatles. "I found Mick Jagger … very bright. I always liked him very much and still do." The Fab Four were a "different dish."

"Going into the room with them for the first time, you felt like you were in a griddle or something…. You had to prove yourself to them because they had proved themselves to each other and the world. I was much more nervous to start with the Beatles. Also, the Beatles were difficult …. With Mick Jagger, the exchange of ideas was very even but with them, it was like an idea was like a piece of meat tossed into a cage. They'd pick it up, sniff it, paw it, take a bite and then toss it one to the other and see if it was safe to go ahead with it."

susan.king@latimes.com

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