Moby Dick—Rehearsed (lost Orson Welles footage of London stage play performance; 1955)

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Orson Welles and Joan Plowright during a rehearsal for Moby Dick-Rehearsed.

Status: Lost

Moby Dick—Rehearsed is a stage play drama written by Orson Welles (who was known for such movies as 1941's Citizen Kane) and based on Herman Melville's novel of the same name. The play was first performed at the Duke of York's Theatre in London from June 16th-July 9th, 1955. Orson Welles had attempted to film part of the performance in the hopes of making Moby Dick-Rehearsed into a multi-part TV series or TV movie. Either due to lack of funds or to Orson Welles not being pleased with the final result, the footage has never been released and many speculate that the footage was destroyed.


Moby Dick-Rehearsed is unconventional as it is about a play within a play. The play starts with a group of actors who are not content about performing William Shakespear's play King Lear. The group of actors eventually convince their boss to let them perform Moby Dick instead. The boss of the theater company gives in and allows the actors to perform Moby Dick. The rest of the play is a performance of Herman Melville's Moby Dick.[1]


Orson Welles had filmed around 40 to 75 minutes of the London performance in hopes to pitch it as a TV series or TV movie. In a biography by Barbara Leaming, Welles stated: "We shot for three days and it was obvious it wasn't going to be any good, so we stopped,". In the same interview, Welles stated "We only did one and a half scenes. I said, 'Let's not go on and waste our money because it's not going to be any good.'" It is unknown if anyone else aside from Orson Welles ever viewed the footage. Actor Patrick McGoohan did recall watching around 40 minutes of the footage that Orson Welles had filmed, but this claim was made in 1986.[2]


Moby Dick-Rehearsed had performances in both London and New York City. The footage that Welles filmed was of the performance in London. The cast in London was different from the cast used in the New York City production.

  • Young Actor / Ishmael played by Gordon Jackson
  • Stage Manager / Flask played by Christopher Lee
  • Middle-aged Actor / Stubb played by Wensley Pithey
  • Young Actress / Pip played by Joan Plowright
  • Actor Manager / Father Mapple / Ahab played by Orson Welles
  • Very Serious Actor / Elijah played by Kenneth Williams


It is unknown what happened to the footage the Orson Welles had filmed in London. Given the fact that Welles was not pleased with the outcome of the film, it is possible he threw the footage away. Claims have arisen that there is a badly decomposed copy at the Munich Film Museum where most of Welles' films went upon his death, though museum director Stefan Drössler has debunked this and has offered up a theory that the footage is somewhere in Italy. The footage of the London performance has yet to resurface.

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