Orson Welles
Broadcaster, director, actor
Orson Welles
George Orson Welles was an American actor, director, writer and producer who worked extensively in theater, radio and film.
Biography
Orson Welles's personal information overview.
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Photo Albums
Popular photos of Orson Welles
News
News abour Orson Welles from around the web
Karl Rove, the movie? Texan Richard Linklater will film it. - Orlando Sentinel (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
Linklater, a Texan himself, directed “School of Rock” and “The Newton Boys” and the terrific “Me & Orson Welles.” This would be his most overtly political picture, by a far piece. Wonder what his take on Rove, the subject of the documentary “Bush's
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Dark Matters: Twisted But True Series Premiere - PopMatters
Google News - over 5 years
The same can be said for John Noble's ersatz Orson Welles voice-over, a magisterial baritone with hints of jocularity just beneath the surface. These elements perfectly suit a series that evokes sci-fi camp—you can imagine an old EC comic emblazoned
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Photographer Diane Arbus: A 'Slow Motion' Analysis - NPR
Google News - over 5 years
Like Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock or Tennessee Williams, Arbus is the kind of complex, ambitious, taboo-smashing artist whose life and work — and the connection between the two — are endlessly fascinating. Her photographs — particularly those of
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The Glorious Tragedy of Julia Caesar - Wall Street Journal
Google News - over 5 years
The modern-dress "Julius Caesar" that Orson Welles brought to Broadway in 1937 continues to cast a long shadow. By turning the play into a contemporary parable of fascism on the march, Mr. Welles raised the curtain on the high-concept
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Orson Welles' home now sold - Detroit Free Press
Google News - over 5 years
Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune BY LAUREN BEALE The gated compound of legendary film director Orson Welles has sold. The Sunset Strip-area home came on the market at $1.3 million late last month, and in less than two weeks, a sale was pending
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Joan's World: Orson Welles' last screenplay - San Jose Mercury News
Google News - over 5 years
There's a quote -- "If you want a happy ending, it depends where you stop the story" -- attributed to Orson Welles, who may or may not have been the first to use it. But where does it originate? Is it from a film?
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Orson Welles on TCM: THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, THE THIRD MAN, TOUCH OF EVIL - Alt Film Guide (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
Orson Welles' career as an actor was both fruitful and frustrating. From Citizen Kane (1941) to Someone to Love (1987), Welles appeared — mostly in supporting roles — in about 70 features made in various parts of the world
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Cape art picks: July 29 2011 - Mail & Guardian Online
Google News - over 5 years
Webb's long-standing love affair with spectral art and radio as a mediUM resurrects American film and radio legend Orson Welles. Like Webb, Welles was an eccentric, noted for his innovative creative technique and a distinctive personality
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Wilmington on DVDs. Pick of the Week: Classic and Blu-ray. A Clockwork Orange - Movie City News
Google News - over 5 years
2. still think Kubrick was great, but now he seems more of a semi-tragic hero: someone who lost his way and who, in the end, didn't quite fulfill his destiny, someone who –like Orson Welles, the director to whom, as a young man, Kubrick was repeatedly
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New to Market - Curbed SF
Google News - over 5 years
Formerly the home of legendary actor/director Orson Welles, it's now owned by Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters. And as mentioned in a 2008 LA Times interview with Waters, the property has also served as a shooting location for numerous porn films
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When 'Midnight' Struck Orson Welles' Career - Pajamas Media
Google News - over 5 years
Terry Teachout writes in the Wall Street Journal that Chimes at Midnight, released in 1965, just as Orson Welles' career as a film director would go into a long period of freefall, is being re-released in a “brand-new, never-seen-before restoration”
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'War of the Worlds' faux doc and 'Casablanca' highlight special films - The Seattle Times
Google News - over 5 years
Classic revivals and special film offerings in the Seattle area this week (July 22-28) include "War of the Worlds: The True Story," inspired by the famous 1938 Orson Welles radio broadcast; outdoor movie nights (weather permitting); and "Casablanca,"
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Just deserts for 'Citizen Murdoch' - Washington Post
Google News - over 5 years
It's a pity Orson Welles is no longer with us. He would be the perfect one to play Rupert Murdoch in the movie about the current newspaper scandal in Britain. Welles, of course, played the newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane
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Orson Welles' rarely seen masterpiece is restored and re-released - The Independent
Google News - over 5 years
It was Orson Welles' favourite among his own films and many critics bracket it alongside Citizen Kane as his masterwork, yet Chimes At Midnight (1965) has been impossible to see for many years. This is why there is such excitement
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Timeline
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Orson Welles
    LATE_ADULTHOOD
  • 1985
    Age 69
    Died in 1985.
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    On the evening of October 9, 1985, Welles recorded his final interview on the syndicated TV program, The Merv Griffin Show, appearing with biographer Barbara Leaming. "Both Welles and Leaming talked of Welles's life and the segment was a nostalgic interlude," wrote biographer Frank Brady.
    More Details Hide Details Welles returned to his house in Hollywood and worked into the early hours typing stage directions for the project he and Gary Graver were planning to shoot at UCLA the following day. Welles died sometime on the morning of October 10, following a heart attack. He was found by his chauffeur at around 10 a.m.; the first of Welles's friends to arrive was Paul Stewart. Welles was cremated by prior agreement with the executor of his estate, Greg Garrison, whose advice about making lucrative TV appearances in the 1970s made it possible for Welles to pay off a portion of the taxes he owed the IRS. A brief private funeral was attended by Paola Mori and Welles's three daughters—the first time they had ever been together. Only a few close friends were invited: Garrison, Graver, Roger Hill and Prince Alessandro Tasca di Cuto. Chris Welles Feder later described the funeral as an awful experience.
    As presented by Charles Higham in a genealogical chart that introduces his 1985 biography of Welles, Orson Welles's father was Richard Head Welles (born Wells), son of Richard Jones Wells, son of Henry Hill Wells (who had an uncle named Gideon Wells), son of William Hill Wells, son of Richard Wells (1734–1801).
    More Details Hide Details Peter Noble's 1956 biography describes Welles as "a magnificent figure of a man, over six feet tall, handsome, with flashing eyes and a gloriously resonant speaking-voice". Welles said that a voice specialist once told him he was born to be a heldentenor, a heroic tenor, but that when he was young and working at the Gate Theatre he forced his voice down into a bass-baritone. Even as a baby Welles was prone to illness, including diphtheria, measles, whooping cough and malaria. From infancy he suffered from asthma, sinus headaches, and backache that was later found to be caused by congenital anomalies of the spine. Foot and ankle trouble throughout his life was the result of flat feet. "As he grew older," Brady wrote, "his ill health was exacerbated by the late hours he was allowed to keep and an early penchant for alcohol and tobacco".
  • 1983
    Age 67
    "During a White House dinner," Welles recalled in a 1983 conversation with his friend Roger Hill, "when I was campaigning for Roosevelt, in a toast, with considerable tongue in cheek, he said, 'Orson, you and I are the two greatest actors alive today'.
    More Details Hide Details In private that evening, and on several other occasions, he urged me to run for a Senate seat either in California or Wisconsin. He wasn't alone." For several years, he wrote a newspaper column on political issues and considered running for the U.S. Senate in 1946, representing his home state of Wisconsin (a seat that was ultimately won by Joseph McCarthy). Welles' name and political activities are reported on pages 155–157 of Red Channels, the anti-Communist publication that, in part, fueled the already flourishing Hollywood Blacklist. He was in Europe during the height of the Red Scare, thereby nullifying more reasons for the Hollywood establishment to ostracize him.
  • 1982
    Age 66
    In April 1982, when interviewer Merv Griffin asked him about his religious beliefs, Welles replied, "I try to be a Christian.
    More Details Hide Details I don't pray really, because I don't want to bore God." Near the end of his life Welles was dining at Ma Maison, his favorite restaurant in Los Angeles, when proprietor Patrick Terrail conveyed an invitation from the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, who asked Welles to be his guest of honor at divine liturgy at Saint Sophia Cathedral. Welles replied, "Please tell him I really appreciate that offer, but I am an atheist." "Orson never joked or teased about the religious beliefs of others," wrote biographer Barton Whaley. "He accepted it as a cultural artifact, suitable for the births, deaths, and marriages of strangers and even some friends—but without emotional or intellectual meaning for himself." Welles was politically active from the beginning of his career. He remained aligned with the left throughout his life, and always defined his political orientation as "progressive". He was a strong supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, and often spoke out on radio in support of progressive politics. He campaigned heavily for Roosevelt in the 1944 election.
    Welles provided narration for the tracks "Defender" from Manowar's 1987 album Fighting the World and "Dark Avenger" on their 1982 album, Battle Hymns.
    More Details Hide Details His name was misspelled on the latter album, as he was credited as "Orson Wells". During the 1980s, Welles worked on such film projects as The Dreamers, based on two stories by Isak Dinesen and starring Oja Kodar, and Orson Welles' Magic Show, which reused material from his failed TV pilot. Another project he worked on was Filming The Trial, the second in a proposed series of documentaries examining his feature films. While much was shot for these projects, none of them was completed. All of them were eventually released by the Filmmuseum München. In 1984, Welles narrated the short-lived television series Scene of the Crime. During the early years of Magnum, P.I., Welles was the voice of the unseen character Robin Masters, a famous writer and playboy. Welles's death forced this minor character to largely be written out of the series. In an oblique homage to Welles, the Magnum, P.I. producers ambiguously concluded that story arc by having one character accuse another of having hired an actor to portray Robin Masters. He also, in this penultimate year released a music single, titled "I Know What It Is To Be Young (But You Don't Know What It Is To Be Old)", which he recorded under Italian label Compagnia Generale del Disco. The song was performed with the Nick Perito Orchestra and the Ray Charles Singers and produced by Jerry Abbott who was father to famed metal guitarist Dimebag Darrell.
    In 1982, the BBC broadcast The Orson Welles Story in the Arena series.
    More Details Hide Details Interviewed by Leslie Megahey, Welles examined his past in great detail, and several people from his professional past were interviewed as well. It was reissued in 1990 as With Orson Welles: Stories of a Life in Film.
  • 1981
    Age 65
    In 1981, Welles hosted the documentary The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, about Renaissance-era prophet Nostradamus.
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  • 1979
    Age 63
    Also in 1979, Welles appeared in the biopic The Secret of Nikola Tesla, and a cameo in The Muppet Movie as Lew Lord.
    More Details Hide Details Beginning in the late 1970s, Welles participated in a series of famous television commercial advertisements. For two years he was on-camera spokesman for the Paul Masson Vineyards, and sales grew by one third during the time Welles intoned what became a popular catchphrase: "We will sell no wine before its time." He was also the voice behind the long-running Carlsberg "Probably the best lager in the world" campaign, promoted Domecq sherry on British television and provided narration on adverts for Findus, though the actual adverts have been overshadowed by a famous blooper reel of voice recordings, known as the Frozen Peas reel. He also did commercials for the Preview Subscription Television Service seen on stations around the country including WCLQ/Cleveland, KNDL/St. Louis and WSMW/Boston.
    In 1979, Welles completed his documentary Filming Othello, which featured Michael MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards.
    More Details Hide Details Made for West German television, it was also released in theaters. That same year, Welles completed his self-produced pilot for The Orson Welles Show television series, featuring interviews with Burt Reynolds, Jim Henson and Frank Oz and guest-starring The Muppets and Angie Dickinson. Unable to find network interest, the pilot was never broadcast.
  • 1977
    Age 61
    Frank D. Gilroy was signed to write the television script and direct the TV movie on the assurance that Welles would star, but by April 1977 Welles had bowed out.
    More Details Hide Details In 1980 the Associated Press reported "the distinct possibility" that Welles would star in a Nero Wolfe TV series for NBC television. Again, Welles bowed out of the project due to creative differences and William Conrad was cast in the role.
  • 1976
    Age 60
    In 1976, Paramount Television purchased the rights for the entire set of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe stories for Orson Welles.
    More Details Hide Details Welles had once wanted to make a series of Nero Wolfe movies, but Rex Stout—who was leery of Hollywood adaptations during his lifetime after two disappointing 1930s films—turned him down. Paramount planned to begin with an ABC-TV movie and hoped to persuade Welles to continue the role in a mini-series.
  • FIFTIES
  • 1975
    Age 59
    Also in 1975, the American Film Institute presented Welles with its third Lifetime Achievement Award (the first two going to director John Ford and actor James Cagney).
    More Details Hide Details At the ceremony, Welles screened two scenes from the nearly finished The Other Side of the Wind.
    In 1975, Welles narrated the documentary Bugs Bunny: Superstar, focusing on Warner Bros. cartoons from the 1940s.
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  • 1974
    Age 58
    The year 1974 also saw Welles lending his voice for that year's remake of Agatha Christie's classic thriller Ten Little Indians produced by his former associate, Harry Alan Towers and starring an international cast that included Oliver Reed, Elke Sommer and Herbert Lom.
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  • 1973
    Age 57
    His brief introductions to the 26 half-hour episodes were shot in July 1973 by Gary Graver.
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    Welles hosted a British syndicated anthology series, Orson Welles's Great Mysteries, during the 1973–74 television season.
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    In 1973, Welles completed F for Fake, a personal essay film about art forger Elmyr de Hory and the biographer Clifford Irving.
    More Details Hide Details Based on an existing documentary by François Reichenbach, it included new material with Oja Kodar, Joseph Cotten, Paul Stewart and William Alland. An excerpt of Welles's 1930s War of the Worlds broadcast was recreated for this film; however, none of the dialogue heard in the film actually matches what was originally broadcast. Welles filmed a five-minute trailer, rejected in the U.S., that featured several shots of a topless Kodar.
  • 1972
    Age 56
    In 1972, Welles acted as on-screen narrator for the film documentary version of Alvin Toffler's 1970 book Future Shock.
    More Details Hide Details Working again for a British producer, Welles played Long John Silver in director John Hough's Treasure Island (1972), an adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, which had been the second story broadcast by The Mercury Theatre on the Air in 1938. This was the last time he played the lead role in a major film. Welles also contributed to the script, his writing credit was attributed to the pseudonym 'O. W. Jeeves'. In some versions of the film Welles' original recorded dialog was redubbed by Robert Rietty.
  • 1971
    Age 55
    In 1971, Welles directed a short adaptation of Moby-Dick, a one-man performance on a bare stage, reminiscent of his 1955 stage production Moby Dick—Rehearsed.
    More Details Hide Details Never completed, it was eventually released by the Filmmuseum München. He also appeared in Ten Days' Wonder, co-starring with Anthony Perkins and directed by Claude Chabrol, based on a detective novel by Ellery Queen. That same year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave him an honorary award "For superlative artistry and versatility in the creation of motion pictures". Welles pretended to be out of town and sent John Huston to claim the award, thanking the Academy on film. Huston criticized the Academy for awarding Welles, even while they refused to give Welles any work.
  • 1970
    Age 54
    Although Welles had actually completed the film by 1970 the finished negative was later mysteriously stolen from his Rome production office.
    More Details Hide Details A restored and reconstructed version of the film, made by using the original script and composer's notes, premiered at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival alongside Othello as part of the pre-opening ceremonies. In 1970, Welles began shooting The Other Side of the Wind. The film relates the efforts of a film director (played by John Huston) to complete his last Hollywood picture and is largely set at a lavish party. By 1972 the filming was reported by Welles as being "96% complete", though it is likely that Welles had only edited about 40 minutes of the film by 1979. In that year, legal complications over the ownership of the film forced the negative into a Paris vault. In 2004 director Peter Bogdanovich, who acted in the film, announced his intention to complete the production. As of 2009, legal complications over the Welles estate had kept the film from being finished or released.
    In 1970, Welles narrated (but did not write) a satirical political record on the administration of President Richard Nixon titled The Begatting of the President.
    More Details Hide Details He was also an early and outspoken critic of American racism and the practice of segregation.
    Welles portrayed Louis XVIII of France in the 1970 film Waterloo, and narrated the beginning and ending scenes of the historical comedy Start the Revolution Without Me (1970).
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    Welles's primary focus during his final years was The Other Side of the Wind, an unfinished project that was filmed intermittently between 1970 and 1976.
    More Details Hide Details Written by Welles, it is the story of an aging film director (John Huston) looking for funds to complete his final film. The cast includes Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Norman Foster, Edmond O'Brien, Cameron Mitchell and Dennis Hopper. Financed by Iranian backers, ownership of the film fell into a legal quagmire after the Shah of Iran was deposed. While there have been several reports of all the legal disputes concerning ownership of the film being settled, enough disputes still exist to prevent its release.
    Drawn by the numerous offers he received to work in television and films, and upset by a tabloid scandal reporting his affair with Kodar, Welles abandoned the editing of Don Quixote and moved back to America in 1970.
    More Details Hide Details Welles returned to Hollywood, where he continued to self-finance his film and television projects. While offers to act, narrate and host continued, Welles also found himself in great demand on television talk shows. He made frequent appearances for Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, Dean Martin and Merv Griffin.
  • 1969
    Age 53
    Also in 1969 he played a supporting role in John Huston's The Kremlin Letter.
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    In 1969, Welles authorized the use of his name for a cinema in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
    More Details Hide Details The Orson Welles Cinema remained in operation until 1986, with Welles making a personal appearance there in 1977.
    In 1969 Welles called again the Film Editor Frederick Muller to work with him re-editing the material and they set up cutting rooms at the Safa Palatino Studios in Rome.
    More Details Hide Details Funding for the show sent by CBS to Welles in Switzerland was seized by the IRS. Without funding, the show was not completed. The surviving film clips portions were eventually released by the Filmmuseum München.
  • 1968
    Age 52
    In 1968 Welles began filming a TV special for CBS under the title Orson's Bag, combining travelogue, comedy skits and a condensation of Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice with Welles as Shylock.
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  • 1967
    Age 51
    In 1967, Welles began directing The Deep, based on the novel Dead Calm by Charles Williams and filmed off the shore of Yugoslavia.
    More Details Hide Details The cast included Jeanne Moreau, Laurence Harvey and Kodar. Personally financed by Welles and Kodar, they could not obtain the funds to complete the project, and it was abandoned a few years later after the death of Harvey. The surviving footage was eventually edited and released by the Filmmuseum München.
  • 1966
    Age 50
    In 1966, Welles directed a film for French television, an adaptation of The Immortal Story, by Karen Blixen.
    More Details Hide Details Released in 1968, it stars Jeanne Moreau, Roger Coggio and Norman Eshley. The film had a successful run in French theaters. At this time Welles met Oja Kodar again, and gave her a letter he had written to her and had been keeping for four years; they would not be parted again. They immediately began a collaboration both personal and professional. The first of these was an adaptation of Blixen's The Heroine, meant to be a companion piece to The Immortal Story and starring Kodar. Unfortunately, funding disappeared after one day's shooting. After completing this film, he appeared in a brief cameo as Cardinal Wolsey in Fred Zinnemann's adaptation of A Man for All Seasons—a role for which he won considerable acclaim.
    He continued taking what work he could find acting, narrating or hosting other people's work, and began filming Chimes at Midnight, which was completed in 1966.
    More Details Hide Details Filmed in Spain, Chimes at Midnight was based on Welles's play, Five Kings, in which he drew material from six Shakespeare plays to tell the story of Sir John Falstaff (Welles) and his relationship with Prince Hal (Keith Baxter). The cast includes John Gielgud, Jeanne Moreau, Fernando Rey and Margaret Rutherford; the film's narration, spoken by Ralph Richardson, is taken from the chronicler Raphael Holinshed. Welles held the film in high regard: "It's my favorite picture, yes. If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie, that's the one I would offer up."
  • FORTIES
  • 1962
    Age 46
    In 1962, Welles directed his adaptation of The Trial, based on the novel by Franz Kafka and produced by Michael and Alexander Salkind.
    More Details Hide Details The cast included Anthony Perkins as Josef K, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Paola Mori and Akim Tamiroff. While filming exteriors in Zagreb, Welles was informed that the Salkinds had run out of money, meaning that there could be no set construction. No stranger to shooting on found locations, Welles soon filmed the interiors in the Gare d'Orsay, at that time an abandoned railway station in Paris. Welles thought the location possessed a "Jules Verne modernism" and a melancholy sense of "waiting", both suitable for Kafka. To remain in the spirit of Kafka Welles set up the cutting room together with the Film Editor, Frederick Muller (as Fritz Muller), in the old un-used, cold, depressing, station master office. The film failed at the box-office. Peter Bogdanovich would later observe that Welles found the film riotously funny. Welles also told a BBC interviewer that it was his best film. While filming The Trial Welles met Oja Kodar, who later became his mistress and collaborator for the last 20 years of his life.
  • 1961
    Age 45
    In 1961, Welles directed In the Land of Don Quixote, a series of eight half-hour episodes for the Italian television network RAI.
    More Details Hide Details Similar to the Around the World with Orson Welles series, they presented travelogues of Spain and included Welles's wife, Paola, and their daughter, Beatrice. Though Welles was fluent in Italian, the network was not interested in him providing Italian narration because of his accent, and the series sat unreleased until 1964, by which time the network had added Italian narration of its own. Ultimately, versions of the episodes were released with the original musical score Welles had approved, but without the narration.
  • 1960
    Age 44
    In 1960, in Paris he co-starred in Richard Fleischer's film Crack in the Mirror.
    More Details Hide Details In Yugoslavia he starred in Richard Thorpe's film The Tartars and Veljko Bulajić's Battle of Neretva. Throughout the 1960s, filming continued on Quixote on-and-off until the decade, as Welles evolved the concept, tone and ending several times. Although he had a complete version of the film shot and edited at least once, he would continue toying with the editing well into the 1980s, he never completed a version film he was fully satisfied with, and would junk existing footage and shoot new footage. (In one case, he had a complete cut ready in which Quixote and Sancho Panza end up going to the moon, but he felt the ending was rendered obsolete by the 1969 moon landings, and burned 10 reels of this version.) As the process went on, Welles gradually voiced all of the characters himself and provided narration. In 1992, the director Jesús Franco constructed a film out of the portions of Quixote left behind by Welles. Some of the film stock had decayed badly. While the Welles footage was greeted with interest, the post-production by Franco was met with harsh criticism.
  • 1959
    Age 43
    He continued shooting Don Quixote in Spain and Italy, but replaced Mischa Auer with Francisco Reiguera, and resumed acting jobs. In Italy in 1959, Welles directed his own scenes as King Saul in Richard Pottier's film David and Goliath.
    More Details Hide Details In Hong Kong he co-starred with Curt Jürgens in Lewis Gilbert's film Ferry to Hong Kong.
  • 1958
    Age 42
    Welles stayed on at Universal to direct (and co-star with) Charlton Heston in the 1958 film Touch of Evil, based on Whit Masterson's novel Badge of Evil.
    More Details Hide Details Originally only hired as an actor, Welles was promoted to director by Universal Studios at the insistence of Charlton Heston. The film reunited many actors and technicians with whom Welles had worked in Hollywood in the 1940s, including cameraman Russell Metty (The Stranger), makeup artist Maurice Seiderman (Citizen Kane), and actors Joseph Cotten, Marlene Dietrich and Akim Tamiroff. Filming proceeded smoothly, with Welles finishing on schedule and on budget, and the studio bosses praising the daily rushes. Nevertheless, after the end of production, the studio re-edited the film, re-shot scenes, and shot new exposition scenes to clarify the plot. Welles wrote a 58-page memo outlining suggestions and objections, stating that the film was no longer his version—it was the studio's, but as such, he was still prepared to help with it. In 1978, a longer preview version of the film was discovered and released.
  • 1957
    Age 41
    Welles's next feature film role was in Man in the Shadow for Universal Pictures in 1957, starring Jeff Chandler.
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  • 1956
    Age 40
    In 1956, Welles returned to Hollywood.
    More Details Hide Details He began filming a projected pilot for Desilu, owned by Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz, who had recently purchased the former RKO studios. The film was The Fountain of Youth, based on a story by John Collier. Originally deemed not viable as a pilot, the film was not aired until 1958—and won the Peabody Award for excellence. Welles guest starred on television shows including I Love Lucy. On radio, he was narrator of Tomorrow (October 17, 1956), a nuclear holocaust drama produced and syndicated by ABC and the Federal Civil Defense Administration.
    In 1956, Welles completed Portrait of Gina.
    More Details Hide Details The film cans would remain in a lost-and-found locker at the hotel for several decades, where they were discovered after Welles's death.
  • THIRTIES
  • 1955
    Age 39
    In 1955, Welles married actress Paola Mori (née Countess Paola di Girifalco), an Italian aristocrat who starred as Raina Arkadin in his 1955 film, Mr. Arkadin. The couple had embarked on a passionate affair, and they were married at her parents' insistence. They were wed in London May 8, 1955, and never divorced.
    More Details Hide Details Croatian-born artist and actress Oja Kodar became Welles's longtime companion both personally and professionally from 1966 onwards, and they lived together for some of the last 20 years of his life. Welles had three daughters from his marriages: Christopher Welles Feder (born March 27, 1938, with Virginia Nicolson); Rebecca Welles Manning (December 17, 1944 – October 17, 2004, with Rita Hayworth); and Beatrice Welles (born November 13, 1955, with Paola Mori). Welles is thought to have had a son, British director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (born May 5, 1940), with Irish actress Geraldine Fitzgerald, then the wife of Sir Edward Lindsay-Hogg, 4th baronet. When Lindsay-Hogg was 16 his mother reluctantly divulged that there were pervasive rumors that his father was Welles, and she denied them—but in such detail that he doubted her veracity. Fitzgerald evaded the subject for the rest of her life. Lindsay-Hogg knew Welles, worked with him in the theatre and met him at intervals throughout Welles's life. After he learned that Welles's oldest daughter Chris, his childhood playmate, had long suspected that he was her brother, Lindsay-Hogg initiated a DNA test that proved inconclusive. In his 2011 autobiography Lindsay-Hogg reported that his questions were resolved by his mother's close friend Gloria Vanderbilt, who wrote that Fitzgerald had told her that Welles was his father. A 2015 Welles biography by Patrick McGilligan, however, reports the impossibility of Welles's paternity: Fitzgerald left the U.S. for Ireland in May 1939 and her son was conceived before her return in late October, while Welles did not travel overseas during that period.
    In 1955, Welles also directed two television series for the BBC.
    More Details Hide Details The first was Orson Welles' Sketch Book, a series of six 15-minute shows featuring Welles drawing in a sketchbook to illustrate his reminiscences for the camera (including such topics as the filming of It's All True and the Isaac Woodard case), and the second was Around the World with Orson Welles, a series of six travelogues set in different locations around Europe (such as Venice, the Basque Country between France and Spain, and England). Welles served as host and interviewer, his commentary including documentary facts and his own personal observations (a technique he would continue to explore in later works).
  • 1954
    Age 38
    In 1954, director George More O'Ferrall offered Welles the title role in the 'Lord Mountdrago' segment of Three Cases of Murder, co-starring Alan Badel.
    More Details Hide Details Herbert Wilcox cast Welles as the antagonist in Trouble in the Glen opposite Margaret Lockwood, Forrest Tucker and Victor McLaglen. Old friend John Huston cast him as Father Mapple in his 1956 film adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, starring Gregory Peck. Welles's next turn as director was the film Mr. Arkadin (1955), which was produced by his political mentor from the 1940s, Louis Dolivet. It was filmed in France, Germany, Spain and Italy on a very limited budget. Based loosely on several episodes of the Harry Lime radio show, it stars Welles as a billionaire who hires a man to delve into the secrets of his past. The film stars Robert Arden, who had worked on the Harry Lime series; Welles's third wife, Paola Mori, whose voice was dubbed by actress Billie Whitelaw; and guest stars Akim Tamiroff, Michael Redgrave, Katina Paxinou and Mischa Auer. Frustrated by his slow progress in the editing room, producer Dolivet removed Welles from the project and finished the film without him. Eventually five different versions of the film would be released, two in Spanish and three in English. The version that Dolivet completed was retitled Confidential Report. In 2005 Stefan Droessler of the Munich Film Museum oversaw a reconstruction of the surviving film elements.
  • 1953
    Age 37
    Welles briefly returned to America to make his first appearance on television, starring in the Omnibus presentation of King Lear, broadcast live on CBS October 18, 1953.
    More Details Hide Details Directed by Peter Brook, the production costarred Natasha Parry, Beatrice Straight and Arnold Moss.
    In 1953, the BBC hired Welles to read an hour of selections from Walt Whitman's epic poem Song of Myself.
    More Details Hide Details Towers hired Welles again, to play Professor Moriarty in the radio series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson.
  • 1952
    Age 36
    In 1952, Welles continued finding work in England after the success of the Harry Lime radio show.
    More Details Hide Details Harry Alan Towers offered Welles another series, The Black Museum, which ran for 52 weeks with Welles as host and narrator. Director Herbert Wilcox offered Welles the part of the murdered victim in Trent's Last Case, based on the novel by E. C. Bentley.
  • 1949
    Age 33
    During this time, Welles was channeling his money from acting jobs into a self-financed film version of Shakespeare's play Othello. From 1949 to 1951, Welles worked on Othello, filming on location in Europe and Morocco.
    More Details Hide Details The film featured Welles's friends, Micheál Mac Liammóir as Iago and Hilton Edwards as Desdemona's father Brabantio. Suzanne Cloutier starred as Desdemona and Campbell Playhouse alumnus Robert Coote appeared as Iago's associate Roderigo. Filming was suspended several times as Welles ran out of funds and left for acting jobs, accounted in detail in MacLiammóir's published memoir Put Money in Thy Purse. The American release prints had a technically flawed soundtrack, suffering from a drop-out of sound at every quiet moment. Welles's daughter, Beatrice Welles-Smith, restored Othello in 1992 for a wide re-release. The restoration included reconstructing Angelo Francesco Lavagnino's original musical score, which was originally inaudible, and adding ambient stereo sound effects, which were not in the original film. The restoration went on to a successful theatrical run in America.
    Welles appeared as Cesare Borgia in the 1949 Italian film Prince of Foxes, with Tyrone Power and Mercury Theatre alumnus Everett Sloane, and as the Mongol warrior Bayan in the 1950 film version of the novel The Black Rose (again with Tyrone Power).
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  • 1948
    Age 32
    In Italy he starred as Cagliostro in the 1948 film Black Magic.
    More Details Hide Details His co-star, Akim Tamiroff, impressed Welles so much that Tamiroff would appear in four of Welles's productions during the 1950s and 1960s. The following year, Welles starred as Harry Lime in Carol Reed's The Third Man, alongside Joseph Cotten, his friend and co-star from Citizen Kane, with a script by Graham Greene and a memorable score by Anton Karas. A few years later, British radio producer Harry Alan Towers would resurrect the Lime character in the radio series The Adventures of Harry Lime.
    Prior to 1948, Welles convinced Republic Pictures to let him direct a low-budget version of Macbeth, which featured highly stylized sets and costumes, and a cast of actors lip-syncing to a pre-recorded soundtrack, one of many innovative cost-cutting techniques Welles deployed in an attempt to make an epic film from B-movie resources.
    More Details Hide Details The script, adapted by Welles, is a violent reworking of Shakespeare's original, freely cutting and pasting lines into new contexts via a collage technique and recasting Macbeth as a clash of pagan and proto-Christian ideologies. Some voodoo trappings of the famous Welles/Houseman Negro Theatre stage adaptation are visible, especially in the film's characterization of the Weird Sisters, who create an effigy of Macbeth as a charm to enchant him. Of all Welles's post-Kane Hollywood productions, Macbeth is stylistically closest to Citizen Kane in its long takes and deep focus photography. Republic initially trumpeted the film as an important work but decided it did not care for the Scottish accents and held up general release for almost a year after early negative press reaction, including Lifes comment that Welles's film "doth foully slaughter Shakespeare." Welles left for Europe, while co-producer and lifelong supporter Richard Wilson reworked the soundtrack. Welles returned and cut 20 minutes from the film at Republic's request and recorded narration to cover some gaps. The film was decried as a disaster. Macbeth had influential fans in Europe, especially the French poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, who hailed the film's "crude, irreverent power" and careful shot design, and described the characters as haunting "the corridors of some dreamlike subway, an abandoned coal mine, and ruined cellars oozing with water."
  • 1947
    Age 31
    The film that Welles was obliged to make in exchange for Harry Cohn's help in financing the stage production Around the World was The Lady from Shanghai, filmed in 1947 for Columbia Pictures.
    More Details Hide Details Intended as a modest thriller, the budget skyrocketed after Cohn suggested that Welles's then-estranged second wife Rita Hayworth co-star. Cohn disliked Welles's rough cut, particularly the confusing plot and lack of close-ups, and was not in sympathy with Welles's Brechtian use of irony and black comedy, especially in a farcical courtroom scene. Cohn ordered extensive editing and re-shoots. After heavy editing by the studio, approximately one hour of Welles's first cut was removed, including much of a climactic confrontation scene in an amusement park funhouse. While expressing displeasure at the cuts, Welles was appalled particularly with the musical score. The film was considered a disaster in America at the time of release, though the closing shootout in a hall of mirrors has since become a touchstone of film noir. Not long after release, Welles and Hayworth finalized their divorce.
  • 1946
    Age 30
    The last broadcast of Orson Welles Commentaries on October 6, 1946, marked the end of Welles's own radio shows.
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    In 1946, Welles began two new radio series—The Mercury Summer Theatre on the Air for CBS, and Orson Welles Commentaries for ABC.
    More Details Hide Details While Mercury Summer Theatre featured half-hour adaptations of some classic Mercury radio shows from the 1930s, the first episode was a condensation of his Around the World stage play, and is the only record of Cole Porter's music for the project. Several original Mercury actors returned for the series, as well as Bernard Herrmann. Welles invested his earnings into his failing stage play. Commentaries was a political vehicle for him, continuing the themes from his New York Post column. Again, Welles lacked a clear focus, until the NAACP brought to his attention the case of Isaac Woodard. Welles brought significant attention to Woodard's cause.
    In the summer of 1946, Welles moved to New York to direct the Broadway musical Around the World, a stage adaptation of the Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days with a book by Welles and music by Cole Porter.
    More Details Hide Details Producer Mike Todd, who would later produce the successful 1956 film adaptation, pulled out from the lavish and expensive production, leaving Welles to support the finances. When Welles ran out of money he convinced Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn to send enough money to continue the show, and in exchange Welles promised to write, produce, direct and star in a film for Cohn for no further fee. The stage show soon failed due to poor box-office, with Welles unable to claim the losses on his taxes.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1945
    Age 29
    He wrote a political column called Orson Welles' Almanac (later titled Orson Welles Today) for The New York Post January–November 1945, and advocated the continuation of FDR's New Deal policies and his international vision, particularly the establishment of the United Nations and the cause of world peace. On April 12, 1945, the day Franklin D. Roosevelt died, the Blue-ABC network marshalled its entire executive staff and national leaders to pay homage to the late president. "Among the outstanding programs which attracted wide attention was a special tribute delivered by Orson Welles", reported Broadcasting magazine.
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    He wrote of the Holocaust footage in his syndicated New York Post column May 7, 1945.
    More Details Hide Details Completed a day ahead of schedule and under budget, The Stranger was the only film made by Welles to have been a bona fide box office success upon its release. Its cost was $1.034 million; 15 months after its release it had grossed $3.216 million. Within weeks of the completion of the film, International Pictures backed out of its promised four-picture deal with Welles. No reason was given, but the impression was left that The Stranger would not make money.
    The Stranger was the first commercial film to use documentary footage from the Nazi concentration camps. Welles had seen the footage in early May 1945 in San Francisco, as a correspondent and discussion moderator at the UN Conference on International Organization.
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    In the fall of 1945 Welles began work on The Stranger (1946), a film noir drama about a war crimes investigator who tracks a high-ranking Nazi fugitive to an idyllic New England town.
    More Details Hide Details Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young and Welles star. Producer Sam Spiegel initially planned to hire director John Huston, who had rewritten the screenplay by Anthony Veiller. When Huston entered the military, Welles was given the chance to direct and prove himself able to make a film on schedule and under budget—something he was so eager to do that he accepted a disadvantageous contract. One of its concessions was that he would defer to the studio in any creative dispute. The Stranger was Welles's first job as a film director in four years. He was told that if the film was successful he could sign a four-picture deal with International Pictures, making films of his own choosing. Welles was given some degree of creative control, and he endeavored to personalize the film and develop a nightmarish tone. He worked on the general rewrite of the script and wrote scenes at the beginning of the picture that were shot but subsequently cut by the producers. He filmed in long takes that largely thwarted the control given to editor Ernest J. Nims under the terms of the contract.
    Welles was an advisor and correspondent for the Blue-ABC radio network's coverage of the San Francisco conference that formed the UN, taking place April 24 – June 23, 1945.
    More Details Hide Details He presented a half-hour dramatic program written by Ben Hecht on the opening day of the conference, and on Sunday afternoons (April 29 – June 10) he led a weekly discussion from the San Francisco Civic Auditorium.
  • 1944
    Age 28
    On November 21, 1944, Welles began his association with This Is My Best, a CBS radio series he would briefly produce, direct, write and host (March 13 – April 24, 1945).
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    Welles campaigned for the Roosevelt–Truman ticket almost full-time in the fall of 1944, traveling to nearly every state to the detriment of his own health and at his own expense.
    More Details Hide Details In addition to his radio addresses he filled in for Roosevelt, opposite Republican presidential nominee Thomas E. Dewey, at The New York Herald Tribune Forum broadcast October 18 on the Blue Network. Welles accompanied FDR to his last campaign rally, speaking at an event November 4 at Boston's Fenway Park before 40,000 people, and took part in a historic election-eve campaign broadcast November 6 on all four radio networks.
    Welles campaigned ardently for Roosevelt in 1944.
    More Details Hide Details A longtime supporter and campaign speaker for FDR, he occasionally sent the president ideas and phrases that were sometimes incorporated into what Welles characterized as "less important speeches". One of these ideas was the joke in what came to be called the Fala speech, Roosevelt's nationally broadcast September 23 address to the International Teamsters Union which opened the 1944 presidential campaign.
    Welles was placed on the U.S. Treasury payroll on May 15, 1944, as an expert consultant for the duration of the war, with a retainer of $1 a year.
    More Details Hide Details On the recommendation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau asked Welles to lead the Fifth War Loan Drive, which opened June 12 with a one-hour radio show on all four networks, broadcast from Texarkana, Texas. Including a statement by the President, the program defined the causes of the war and encouraged Americans to buy $16 billion in bonds to finance the Normandy landings and the most violent phase of World War II. Welles produced additional war loan drive broadcasts on June 14 from the Hollywood Bowl, and June 16 from Soldier Field, Chicago. Americans purchased $20.6 billion in War Bonds during the Fifth War Loan Drive, which ended on July 8, 1944.
    A half-hour variety show broadcast January 26 – July 19, 1944, on the Columbia Pacific Network, The Orson Welles Almanac presented sketch comedy, magic, mindreading, music and readings from classic works.
    More Details Hide Details Many of the shows originated on U.S. military camps, where Welles and his repertory company and guests entertained the troops with a reduced version of The Mercury Wonder Show. The performances of the all-star jazz group Welles brought together for the show were so popular that the band became a regular feature and was an important force in reviving interest in traditional New Orleans jazz.
  • 1943
    Age 27
    Welles married Rita Hayworth on September 7, 1943. They were divorced on November 10, 1947.
    More Details Hide Details During his last interview, recorded for The Merv Griffin Show on the evening before his death, Welles called Hayworth "one of the dearest and sweetest women that ever lived … and we were a long time together—I was lucky enough to have been with her longer than any of the other men in her life."
    Del Río returned to México in 1943, shortly before Welles married Rita Hayworth.
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    At intermission September 7, 1943, KMPC radio interviewed audience and cast members of The Mercury Wonder Show—including Welles and Rita Hayworth, who were married earlier that day.
    More Details Hide Details Welles remarked that The Mercury Wonder Show had been performed for approximately 48,000 members of the U.S. armed forces. The idea of doing a radio variety show occurred to Welles after his success as substitute host of four consecutive episodes (March 14 – April 4, 1943) of The Jack Benny Program, radio's most popular show, when Benny contracted pneumonia on a performance tour of military bases.
    The development of the show coincided with the resolution of Welles's oft-changing draft status in May 1943, when he was finally declared 4-F—unfit for military service—for a variety of medical reasons. "I felt guilty about the war," Welles told biographer Barbara Leaming. "I was guilt-ridden about my civilian status."
    More Details Hide Details He had been publicly hounded about his patriotism since Citizen Kane, when the Hearst press began persistent inquiries about why Welles had not been drafted. The Mercury Wonder Show ran August 3 – September 9, 1943, in an 80-by-120-foot tent located at 9000 Cahuenga Boulevard, in the heart of Hollywood.
    Filming also had wrapped on the 1943 film adaptation of Jane Eyre and that fee, in addition to the income from his regular guest-star roles in radio, made it possible for Welles to fulfill a lifelong dream.
    More Details Hide Details He approached the War Assistance League of Southern California and proposed a show that evolved into a big-top spectacle, part circus and part magic show. He offered his services as magician and director, and invested some $40,000 of his own money in an extravaganza he co-produced with his friend Joseph Cotten: The Mercury Wonder Show for Service Men. Members of the U.S. armed forces were admitted free of charge, while the general public had to pay. The show entertained more than 1,000 service members each night, and proceeds went to the War Assistance League, a charity for military service personnel.
    In early 1943, the two concurrent radio series (Ceiling Unlimited, Hello Americans) that Orson Welles created for CBS to support the war effort had ended.
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  • 1942
    Age 26
    Hello Americans, a CBS Radio series broadcast November 15, 1942 – January 31, 1943, was produced, directed and hosted by Welles under the auspices of the Office of the Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs.
    More Details Hide Details The 30-minute weekly program promoted inter-American understanding and friendship, drawing upon the research amassed for the ill-fated film, It's All True. The series was produced concurrently with Welles's other CBS series, Ceiling Unlimited (November 9, 1942 – February 1, 1943), sponsored by the Lockheed-Vega Corporation. The program was conceived to glorify the aviation industry and dramatize its role in World War II. Welles's shows were regarded as significant contributions to the war effort. Throughout the war Welles worked on patriotic radio programs including Command Performance, G.I. Journal, Mail Call, Nazi Eyes on Canada, Stage Door Canteen and Treasury Star Parade.
    On October 12, 1942, Cavalcade of America presented Welles's radio play, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, an entertaining and factual look at the legend of Christopher Columbus.
    More Details Hide Details "It belongs to a period when hemispheric unity was a crucial matter and many programs were being devoted to the common heritage of the Americas," wrote broadcasting historian Erik Barnouw. "Many such programs were being translated into Spanish and Portuguese and broadcast to Latin America, to counteract many years of successful Axis propaganda to that area. The Axis, trying to stir Latin America against Anglo-America, had constantly emphasized the differences between the two. It became the job of American radio to emphasize their common experience and essential unity." Admiral of the Ocean Sea, also known as Columbus Day, begins with the words, "Hello Americans"—the title Welles would choose for his own series five weeks later.
    Welles returned to the United States August 22, 1942, after more than six months in South America.
    More Details Hide Details A week after his return he produced and emceed the first two hours of a seven-hour coast-to-coast War Bond drive broadcast titled I Pledge America. Airing August 29, 1942, on the Blue Network, the program was presented in cooperation with the United States Department of the Treasury, Western Union (which wired bond subscriptions free of charge) and the American Women's Voluntary Services. Featuring 21 dance bands and a score of stage and screen and radio stars, the broadcast raised more than $10 million—more than $146 million today—for the war effort.
    Later in 1942 when RKO Pictures began promoting its new corporate motto, "Showmanship In Place of Genius: A New Deal at RKO", Welles understood it as a reference to himself.
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    Welles left for Brazil on February 4 and began filming in Rio February 8, 1942.
    More Details Hide Details At the time it did not seem that Welles's other film projects would be disrupted, but as film historian Catherine L. Benamou wrote, "the ambassadorial appointment would be the first in a series of turning points leading—in 'zigs' and 'zags,' rather than in a straight line—to Welles's loss of complete directorial control over both The Magnificent Ambersons and It's All True, the cancellation of his contract at RKO Radio Studio, the expulsion of his company Mercury Productions from the RKO lot, and, ultimately, the total suspension of It's All True. In 1942 RKO Pictures underwent major changes under new management. Nelson Rockefeller, the primary backer of the Brazil project, left its board of directors, and Welles's principal sponsor at RKO, studio president George Schaefer, resigned. RKO took control of Ambersons and edited the film into what the studio considered a commercial format. Welles's attempts to protect his version ultimately failed. In South America, Welles requested resources to finish It's All True. Given a limited amount of black-and-white film stock and a silent camera, he was able to finish shooting the episode about the jangadeiros, but RKO refused to support further production on the film.
    Required to film the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro in early February 1942, Welles rushed to edit The Magnificent Ambersons and finish his acting scenes in Journey into Fear.
    More Details Hide Details He ended his lucrative CBS radio show February 2, flew to Washington, D.C., for a briefing, and then lashed together a rough cut of Ambersons in Miami with editor Robert Wise. Welles recorded the film's narration the night before he left for South America: "I went to the projection room at about four in the morning, did the whole thing, and then got on the plane and off to Rio—and the end of civilization as we know it."
  • 1941
    Age 25
    Their relationship was kept secret until 1941, when del Río filed for divorce from her second husband.
    More Details Hide Details They openly appeared together in New York while Welles was directing the Mercury stage production, Native Son. They acted together in the movie Journey into Fear (1943). Their relationship came to an end, among other things, due to the infidelities of Welles.
    In a telegram December 20, 1941, Whitney wrote Welles, "Personally believe you would make great contribution to hemisphere solidarity with this project."
    More Details Hide Details The OCIAA sponsored cultural tours to Latin America and appointed goodwill ambassadors including George Balanchine and the American Ballet, Bing Crosby, Aaron Copland, Walt Disney, John Ford and Rita Hayworth. Welles was thoroughly briefed in Washington, D.C., immediately before his departure for Brazil, and film scholar Catherine L. Benamou, a specialist in Latin American affairs, finds it "not unlikely" that he was among the goodwill ambassadors who were asked to gather intelligence for the U.S. government in addition to their cultural duties. She concludes that Welles's acceptance of Whitney's request was "a logical and patently patriotic choice". In addition to working on his ill-fated film project, It's All True, Welles was responsible for radio programs, lectures, interviews and informal talks as part of his OCIAA-sponsored cultural mission, which was regarded as a success. He spoke on topics ranging from Shakespeare to visual art at gatherings of Brazil's elite, and his two intercontinental radio broadcasts in April 1942 were particularly intended to tell U.S. audiences that President Vargas was a partner with the Allies. Welles's ambassadorial mission was extended to permit his travel to other nations including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay. Welles worked for more than half a year with no compensation.
    In late November 1941, Welles was appointed as a goodwill ambassador to Latin America by Nelson Rockefeller, U.S. Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs and a principal stockholder in RKO Radio Pictures.
    More Details Hide Details The mission of the OCIAA was cultural diplomacy, promoting hemispheric solidarity and countering the growing influence of the Axis powers in Latin America. John Hay Whitney, head of the agency's Motion Picture Division, was asked by the Brazilian government to produce a documentary of the annual Rio Carnival celebration taking place in early February 1942.
    In December 1941, the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs asked Welles to make a film in Brazil that would showcase the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro.
    More Details Hide Details With filming of "My Friend Bonito" about two-thirds complete, Welles decided he could shift the geography of It's All True and incorporate Flaherty's story into an omnibus film about Latin America—supporting the Roosevelt administration's Good Neighbor policy, which Welles strongly advocated. In this revised concept, "The Story of Jazz" was replaced by the story of samba, a musical form with a comparable history and one that came to fascinate Welles. He also decided to do a ripped-from-the-headlines episode about the epic voyage of four poor Brazilian fishermen, the jangadeiros, who had become national heroes. Welles later said this was the most valuable story.
    Filming took place in Mexico September–December 1941, with Norman Foster directing under Welles's supervision.
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    In July 1941, Welles conceived It's All True as an omnibus film mixing documentary and docufiction in a project that emphasized the dignity of labor and celebrated the cultural and ethnic diversity of North America.
    More Details Hide Details It was to have been his third film for RKO, following Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Duke Ellington was put under contract to score a segment with the working title, "The Story of Jazz", drawn from Louis Armstrong's 1936 autobiography, Swing That Music. Armstrong was cast to play himself in the brief dramatization of the history of jazz performance, from its roots to its place in American culture in the 1940s. "The Story of Jazz" was to go into production in December 1941. Mercury Productions purchased the stories for two other segments—"My Friend Bonito" and "The Captain's Chair"—from documentary filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty. Adapted by Norman Foster and John Fante, "My Friend Bonito" was the only segment of the original It's All True to go into production.
  • 1939
    Age 23
    Welles began commuting from Hollywood to New York for the two Sunday broadcasts of The Campbell Playhouse after signing a film contract with RKO Pictures in August 1939.
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    After signing a summary agreement with RKO on July 22, Welles signed a full-length 63-page contract August 21, 1939.
    More Details Hide Details The agreement was bitterly resented by the Hollywood studios and persistently mocked in the trade press. RKO rejected Welles's first two movie proposals, but agreed on the third offer—Citizen Kane. Welles co-wrote, produced and directed the film, and performed the lead role. Welles conceived the project with screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who was writing radio plays for The Campbell Playhouse. Mankiewicz based the original outline on the life of William Randolph Hearst, whom he knew socially and came to hate after being exiled from Hearst's circle. After agreeing on the storyline and character, Welles supplied Mankiewicz with 300 pages of notes and put him under contract to write the first draft screenplay under the supervision of John Houseman. Welles wrote his own draft, then drastically condensed and rearranged both versions and added scenes of his own. The industry accused Welles of underplaying Mankiewicz's contribution to the script, but Welles countered the attacks by saying, "At the end, naturally, I was the one making the picture, after all—who had to make the decisions. I used what I wanted of Mank's and, rightly or wrongly, kept what I liked of my own."
  • 1938
    Age 22
    That September, Mutual chose Welles to play Lamont Cranston, also known as The Shadow. He performed the role anonymously through mid-September 1938.
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    The Mercury Theatre's radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells October 30, 1938, brought Welles instant fame.
    More Details Hide Details The combination of the news bulletin form of the performance with the between-breaks dial spinning habits of listeners was later reported to have created widespread confusion among listeners who failed to hear the introduction, although the extent of this confusion has come into question. Panic was reportedly spread among listeners who believed the fictional news reports of a Martian invasion. The myth of the result created by the combination was reported as fact around the world and disparagingly mentioned by Adolf Hitler in a public speech some months later. Welles's growing fame drew Hollywood offers, lures that the independent-minded Welles resisted at first. The Mercury Theatre on the Air, which had been a sustaining show (without sponsorship) was picked up by Campbell Soup and renamed The Campbell Playhouse. The Mercury Theatre on the Air made its last broadcast on December 4, 1938, and The Campbell Playhouse began five days later.
    The series began July 11, 1938, initially titled First Person Singular, with the formula that Welles would play the lead in each show.
    More Details Hide Details Some months later the show was called The Mercury Theatre on the Air. The weekly hour-long show presented radio plays based on classic literary works, with original music composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann.
    Such was the success of the Mercury Theatre that Welles appeared on the cover of Time magazine, in full makeup as Captain Shotover in Heartbreak House, in the issue dated May 9, 1938—three days after his 23rd birthday.
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  • 1937
    Age 21
    His performance as the announcer in the series' April 1937 presentation of Archibald MacLeish's verse drama The Fall of the City was an important development in his radio career and made the 21-year-old Welles an overnight star.
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    The Mercury Theatre opened November 11, 1937, with Caesar, Welles's modern-dress adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy Julius Caesar — streamlined into an anti-fascist tour de force that Joseph Cotten later described as "so vigorous, so contemporary that it set Broadway on its ear."
    More Details Hide Details The set was completely open with no curtain, and the brick stage wall was painted dark red. Scene changes were achieved by lighting alone. On the stage was a series of risers; squares were cut into one at intervals and lights were set beneath it, pointing straight up to evoke the "cathedral of light" at the Nuremberg Rallies. "He staged it like a political melodrama that happened the night before," said Lloyd. Beginning January 1, 1938, Caesar was performed in repertory with The Shoemaker's Holiday; both productions moved to the larger National Theatre. They were followed by Heartbreak House (April 29, 1938) and Danton's Death (November 5, 1938). As well as being presented in a pared-down oratorio version at the Mercury Theatre on Sunday nights in December 1937, The Cradle Will Rock was at the Windsor Theatre for 13 weeks (January 4–April 2, 1938).
    Breaking with the Federal Theatre Project in 1937, Welles and Houseman founded their own repertory company, which they called the Mercury Theatre.
    More Details Hide Details The name was inspired by the title of the iconoclastic magazine, The American Mercury. Welles was executive producer, and the original company included such actors as Joseph Cotten, George Coulouris, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Arlene Francis, Martin Gabel, John Hoyt, Norman Lloyd, Vincent Price, Stefan Schnabel and Hiram Sherman. "I think he was the greatest directorial talent we've ever had in the American theater," Lloyd said of Welles in a 2014 interview. "When you saw a Welles production, you saw the text had been affected, the staging was remarkable, the sets were unusual, music, sound, lighting, a totality of everything. We had not had such a man in our theater. He was the first and remains the greatest."
    In July 1937, the Mutual Network gave Welles a seven-week series to adapt Les Misérables.
    More Details Hide Details It was his first job as a writer-director for radio, the radio debut of the Mercury Theatre, and one of Welles's earliest and finest achievements. He invented the use of narration in radio. "By making himself the center of the storytelling process, Welles fostered the impression of self-adulation that was to haunt his career to his dying day," wrote critic Andrew Sarris. "For the most part, however, Welles was singularly generous to the other members of his cast and inspired loyalty from them above and beyond the call of professionalism."
    In 1937, Welles rehearsed Marc Blitzstein's political operetta, The Cradle Will Rock.
    More Details Hide Details It was originally scheduled to open June 16, 1937, in its first public preview. Because of severe federal cutbacks in the Works Progress projects, the show's premiere at the Maxine Elliott Theatre was canceled. The theater was locked and guarded to prevent any government-purchased materials from being used for a commercial production of the work. In a last-minute move, Welles announced to waiting ticket-holders that the show was being transferred to the Venice, 20 blocks away. Some cast, and some crew and audience, walked the distance on foot. The union musicians refused to perform in a commercial theater for lower non-union government wages. The actors' union stated that the production belonged to the Federal Theater Project and could not be performed outside that context without permission. Lacking the participation of the union members, The Cradle Will Rock began with Blitzstein introducing the show and playing the piano accompaniment on stage with some cast members performing from the audience. This impromptu performance was well received by its audience.
  • 1936
    Age 20
    The play was presented September 26 – December 5, 1936, at Maxine Elliott's Theatre, New York, and featured Joseph Cotten in his first starring role.
    More Details Hide Details It was followed by an adaptation of Dr. Faustus that used light as a prime unifying scenic element in a nearly black stage, presented January 8 – May 9, 1937, at Maxine Elliott's Theatre. Outside the scope of the Federal Theatre Project, American composer Aaron Copland chose Welles to direct The Second Hurricane (1937), an operetta with a libretto by Edwin Denby. Presented at the Henry Street Settlement Music School in New York for the benefit of high school students, the production opened April 21, 1937, and ran its scheduled three performances.
  • TEENAGE
  • 1935
    Age 19
    John Houseman, director of the Negro Theatre Unit in New York, invited Welles to join the Federal Theatre Project in 1935.
    More Details Hide Details Far from unemployed — "I was so employed I forgot how to sleep" — Welles put a large share of his $1,500-a-week radio earnings into his stage productions, bypassing administrative red tape and mounting the projects more quickly and professionally. "Roosevelt once said that I was the only operator in history who ever illegally siphoned money into a Washington project," Welles said. The Federal Theatre Project was the ideal environment in which Welles could develop his art. Its purpose was employment, so he was able to hire any number of artists, craftsmen and technicians, and he filled the stage with performers. The company for the first production, an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth with an entirely African-American cast, numbered 150. The production became known as the Voodoo Macbeth because Welles changed the setting to a mythical island suggesting the Haitian court of King Henri Christophe, with Haitian vodou fulfilling the rôle of Scottish witchcraft. The play opened April 14, 1936, at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem and was received rapturously. At 20, Welles was hailed as a prodigy. The production then made a 4,000-mile national tour that included two weeks at the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas.
    By 1935 Welles was supplementing his earnings in the theater as a radio actor in Manhattan, working with many actors who would later form the core of his Mercury Theatre on programs including America's Hour, Cavalcade of America, Columbia Workshop and The March of Time. "Within a year of his debut Welles could claim membership in that elite band of radio actors who commanded salaries second only to the highest paid movie stars," wrote critic Richard France.
    More Details Hide Details Part of the Works Progress Administration, the Federal Theatre Project (1935–39) was a New Deal program to fund theatre and other live artistic performances and entertainment programs in the United States during the Great Depression. It was created as a relief measure to employ artists, writers, directors and theater workers. Under national director Hallie Flanagan it was shaped into a true national theatre that created relevant art, encouraged experimentation and innovation, and made it possible for millions of Americans to see live theatre for the first time.
    On March 22, 1935, Welles made his debut on the CBS Radio series The March of Time, performing a scene from Panic for a news report on the stage production
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  • 1934
    Age 18
    Orson Welles and Chicago-born actress and socialite Virginia Nicolson (1916–1996) were married on November 14, 1934. The couple separated in December 1939, and were divorced on February 1, 1940.
    More Details Hide Details After bearing with Welles's romances in New York, Virginia had learned that Welles had fallen in love with Mexican actress Dolores del Río. Infatuated with her since adolescence, Welles met del Río at Darryl Zanuck's ranch soon after he moved to Hollywood in 1939.
    On November 14, 1934, Welles married Chicago socialite and actress Virginia Nicolson (often misspelled "Nicholson") in a civil ceremony in New York. To appease the Nicolsons, who were furious at the couple's elopement, a formal ceremony took place December 23, 1934, at the New Jersey mansion of the bride's godmother.
    More Details Hide Details Welles wore a cutaway borrowed from his friend George Macready. A revised production of Katharine Cornell's Romeo and Juliet opened December 20, 1934, at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York. The Broadway production brought the 19-year-old Welles (now playing Tybalt) to the notice of John Houseman, a theatrical producer who was casting the lead role in the debut production of Archibald MacLeish's verse play, Panic.
    In 1934, Welles got his first job on radio—on The American School of the Air—through actor-director Paul Stewart, who introduced him to director Knowles Entrikin.
    More Details Hide Details That summer Welles staged a drama festival with the Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois, inviting Micheál Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards from Dublin's Gate Theatre to appear along with New York stage luminaries in productions including Trilby, Hamlet, The Drunkard and Tsar Paul. At the old firehouse in Woodstock he also shot his first film, an eight-minute short titled The Hearts of Age.
  • 1933
    Age 17
    In 1933, Roger and Hortense Hill invited Welles to a party in Chicago, where Welles met Thornton Wilder.
    More Details Hide Details Wilder arranged for Welles to meet Alexander Woollcott in New York, in order that he be introduced to Katharine Cornell, who was assembling a repertory theatre company. Cornell's husband, director Guthrie McClintic, immediately put Welles under contract and cast him in three plays. Romeo and Juliet, The Barretts of Wimpole Street and Candida toured in repertory for 36 weeks beginning in November 1933, with the first of more than 200 performances taking place in Buffalo, New York.
  • 1932
    Age 16
    In March 1932 Welles performed in W.
    More Details Hide Details Somerset Maugham's The Circle at Dublin's Abbey Theatre and travelled to London to find additional work in the theatre. Unable to obtain a work permit, he returned to the U.S. Welles found his fame ephemeral and turned to a writing project at Todd School that would become the immensely successful, first entitled Everybody's Shakespeare and subsequently, The Mercury Shakespeare. Welles traveled to North Africa while working on thousands of illustrations for the Everybody's Shakespeare series of educational books, a series that remained in print for decades.
  • 1931
    Age 15
    Welles made his stage debut at the Gate Theatre on October 13, 1931, appearing in Ashley Dukes's adaptation of Jew Suss as Duke Karl Alexander of Württemberg.
    More Details Hide Details He performed small supporting roles in subsequent Gate productions, and he produced and designed productions of his own in Dublin.
    Following graduation from Todd in May 1931, Welles was awarded a scholarship to Harvard University, while his mentor Roger Hill advocated he attend Cornell College in Iowa.
    More Details Hide Details Rather than enrolling, he chose travel. He studied for a few weeks at the Art Institute of Chicago with Boris Anisfeld, who encouraged him to pursue painting. Welles would occasionally return to Woodstock, the place he eventually named when he was asked in a 1960 interview, "Where is home?" Welles replied, "I suppose it's Woodstock, Illinois, if it's anywhere. I went to school there for four years. If I try to think of a home, it's that." After his father's death, Welles traveled to Europe using a small portion of his inheritance. Welles said that while on a walking and painting trip through Ireland, he strode into the Gate Theatre in Dublin and claimed he was a Broadway star. The manager of Gate, Hilton Edwards, later said he had not believed him but was impressed by his brashness and an impassioned audition he gave.
  • 1930
    Age 14
    On December 28, 1930, when Welles was 15, his father died of heart and kidney failure at the age of 58, alone in a hotel in Chicago.
    More Details Hide Details Shortly before this, Welles had announced to his father that he would stop seeing him, believing it would prompt his father to refrain from drinking. As a result, Orson felt guilty because he believed his father had drunk himself to death because of him. His father's will left it to Orson to name his guardian. When Roger Hill declined, Welles chose Maurice Bernstein.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1926
    Age 10
    On September 15, 1926, he entered the Todd Seminary for Boys, an expensive independent school in Woodstock, Illinois, that his older brother, Richard Ives Welles, had attended ten years before but was expelled for misbehavior.
    More Details Hide Details At Todd School Welles came under the influence of Roger Hill, a teacher who was later Todd's headmaster. Hill provided Welles with an ad hoc educational environment that proved invaluable to his creative experience, allowing Welles to concentrate on subjects that interested him. Welles performed and staged theatrical experiments and productions there. "Todd provided Welles with many valuable experiences", wrote critic Richard France. "He was able to explore and experiment in an atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement. In addition to a theater the school's own radio station was at his disposal." Welles's first radio performance was on the Todd station, an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes that he also wrote.
  • 1924
    Age 8
    Beatrice died of hepatitis in a Chicago hospital May 10, 1924, aged 42, just after Welles's ninth birthday. The Gordon String Quartet, which had made its first appearance at her home in 1921, played at Beatrice's funeral.
    More Details Hide Details After his mother's death Welles ceased pursuing music. It was decided that he would spend the summer with the Watson family at a private art colony in Wyoming, New York, established by Lydia Avery Coonley Ward. There he played and became friends with the children of the Aga Khan, including the 12-year-old Prince Aly Khan. Then, in what Welles later described as "a hectic period" in his life, he lived in a Chicago apartment with both his father and Dr. Maurice Bernstein, a Chicago physician who had been a close friend of both his parents. Welles briefly attended public school before his alcoholic father left business altogether and took him along on his travels to Jamaica and the Far East. When they returned they settled in a hotel in Grand Detour, Illinois, that was owned by his father. When the hotel burned down, Welles and his father took to the road again.
  • 1919
    Age 3
    Despite his family's affluence, Welles encountered hardship in childhood. His parents separated and moved to Chicago in 1919.
    More Details Hide Details His father, who made a fortune as the inventor of a popular bicycle lamp, became an alcoholic and stopped working. Welles's mother, a pianist, played during lectures by Dudley Crafts Watson at the Art Institute of Chicago to support her son and herself; the oldest Welles boy, "Dickie," was institutionalized at an early age because he had learning difficulties.
  • 1915
    Born
    George Orson Welles was born May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, son of Richard Head Welles (b.
    More Details Hide Details Richard Hodgdon Wells, November 12, 1872, near St. Joseph, Missouri; d. December 28, 1930, Chicago, Illinois) and Beatrice Ives Welles (b. September 1, 1881, Springfield, Illinois; d. May 10, 1924, Chicago). He was named after his paternal great-grandfather, influential Kenosha attorney Orson S. Head, and his brother George Head.
Original Authors of this text are noted here.
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