The Fountain of Youth (film)

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The Fountain of Youth
Orson Welles presenting The Fountain of Youth
Directed by Orson Welles
Produced by Desi Arnaz
Screenplay by Orson Welles
Based on Youth from Vienna
by John Collier
Narrated by Orson Welles
Cinematography Sidney Hickox
Edited by Bud Molin
Orson Welles Enterprises, Inc.
Desilu Productions
Release date
  • September 16, 1958 (1958-09-16)
Running time
25 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $54,896 total cost

The Fountain of Youth is a 1956 television pilot directed by Orson Welles for a proposed Desilu Productions anthology series that was never produced. Based on a short story by John Collier, the short film narrated onscreen by Welles stars Dan Tobin, Joi Lansing and Rick Jason. The Fountain of Youth was televised once, on September 16, 1958, on NBC's Colgate Theatre. It received the prestigious Peabody Award for 1958, the only unsold television pilot ever to be so honored.


The Fountain of Youth is a 1956 television pilot for an anthology series that was never produced. It was broadcast once, on September 16, 1958, on NBC's Colgate Theatre. The short film was written and directed by Orson Welles, based on the short story "Youth from Vienna" by John Collier. Joi Lansing and Rick Jason star as a narcissistic couple faced with an irresistible temptation concocted by a scientist (Dan Tobin). Welles himself is also much in evidence as onscreen narrator.

"It was intended to inaugurate a series of short stories Welles would narrate and direct in the First Person Singular style of his Mercury Theatre on the Air and Campbell Playhouse radio series, but with his innovative radio techniques adapted for the visual intimacy of the newer medium," wrote Welles biographer Joseph McBride. "Welles described it to me as his only 'film conceived for the box'. The vaudeville-show tone and blackout style, suited to the 1920s setting, lend unsettling dark humor to this fable about human vanity … As the faintly sinister host, Welles is so ubiquitous a presence, sometimes even mouthing the characters words, that he becomes their puppet master, darkly amused by their self-destructive foibles."[1]:124

Desi Arnaz conceived the series and proposed that Welles host and narrate every episode — combining his gift for storytelling with the intimacy of television. "When I made my deal with Orson for the pilot, I was trying to develop an anthology series which would include The Fountain of Youth," Arnaz wrote, "and the kind of stories Edgar Allan Poe is famous for, like 'The Pit and the Pendulum'."[2]:306 Working with Desilu art director Claudio Guzmán, Welles used an innovative process of stills and live action, Arnaz recalled:

We used still pictures and "hold frames," and a lot of the stuff they think is so new today. If we wanted to show a guy making a successful play for a girl, we would use four still pictures: he looking, she looking, he winking, she winking, hold frame. It was almost a comic-strip technique and hadn't been used on television.[2]:306

"I was very fond of it, that way of doing it," Welles recalled. "It was based entirely on back projection, there was no scenery. We just took the props from the prop department and put them behind the screen, and a few little things in front. It was entirely ad lib. … And of course it's the only comedy I've ever made on film. I used to do an awful lot of comedy in the theatre, and radio. But in film I've always been pretty solemn."[3]:518

Most published reports that the pilot was costly and over schedule were refuted by Welles scholar Bill Krohn, who studied the Desilu files. Filming took five days, May 8–11 and 14, 1956.[4] The total cost was $54,896 — nearly $5,000 over budget but about half the cost of the first episode of I Love Lucy.[3]:518 Before signing the deal Arnaz had clarified the finances with Welles: "I am not RKO. This is my 'Babalu' money," Arnaz told him. "I never had any trouble with Orson," Arnaz wrote.[2]:307

Arnaz reported that CBS gave the series a slot, with General Foods as a sponsor, but the challenges in getting Welles to commit to a series lasting 30 to 38 weeks daunted them and the series did not go on the air.[2]:306

Leading man Rick Jason devoted a chapter called "Orson Welles and Feet of Clay" in his online autobiography, Scrapbooks of My Mind, to the making of the film, carefully detailing the unique approaches Welles employed to arrive at the film's striking result.[5] In a May 2000 discussion at the Paley Center for Media Jason described his difficulties in working with Welles.[6]

The Fountain of Youth remains available for viewing at the Paley Center for Media in New York City and Los Angeles.[7] Paramount Pictures owns the film and reportedly believes there is no market for it on home video.[8]


In order of onscreen credits:



The Fountain of Youth was broadcast September 16, 1958, on NBC-TV's Colgate Theatre.[3]:424–425 It received a special 1958 Peabody Award, announced in April 1959 by Peabody board chairman Bennett Cerf:[9]

To Orson Welles, for the wit, originality, and insouciance of The Fountain of Youth, NBC, one of the merriest, most irreverent half-hours of the year 1958, this special Peabody Award is given.[10]

"It was the only unsold pilot ever to win the then most coveted award in television," wrote executive producer Desi Arnaz.[2]:307

Subsequent recognition[edit]

"Hollywood at this time was just getting into film production for TV", said Ron Simon, curator of the Museum of Television & Radio in Beverly Hills, California, where the film screened in 2000. "Welles obviously had a much greater vision. It would have been interesting if he could have tried to do this on a weekly basis."[11]

"The best measure of how far ahead of its time this experimental but unpretentious program was in 1958 is that it still seems avant-garde compared with anything yet seen on American commercial television," wrote biographer Joseph McBride.[1]:124

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b McBride, Joseph. What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? A Portrait of an Independent Career. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2006. ISBN 9780813124100
  2. ^ a b c d e Arnaz, Desi. A Book. New York: William Morrow, 1976. ISBN 0688003427
  3. ^ a b c Welles, Orson, and Peter Bogdanovich, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum, This is Orson Welles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers 1992 ISBN 0-06-016616-9
  4. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Discovering Orson Welles. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. ISBN 9780520247383
  5. ^ "Orson Welles and Feet of Clay". Jason, Rick, Scrapbooks of My Mind. Retrieved 2014-08-02. 
  6. ^ "Working with Orson Welles". Paley Center for Media, May 16, 2000. Retrieved 2014-08-02. 
  7. ^ "Colgate Theatre: The Fountain of Youth". Paley Center for Media. Retrieved 2014-08-02. 
  8. ^ "Orson Welles' TV pilot 'The Fountain of Youth'". Wellesnet, July 27, 2014. Retrieved 2014-08-02. 
  9. ^ Adams, Val, "Peabody Awards for 1958 Listed". The New York Times, April 8, 1959.
  10. ^ "Fountain of Youth". Peabody Awards. Retrieved 2014-07-20. 
  11. ^ "TV Museum Unearths Welles' 'Fountain of Youth' Show". King, Susan, Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2000. Retrieved 2014-08-12. 

External links[edit]