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Orson Welles was born in Kenosha, Winconsin, on 6th May, 1915. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and worked briefly as a reporter before travelling to Ireland where he made his acting debut at the Gate Theatre in Dublin.
After touring Spain and Morocco he returned to the United States where he appeared as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, and Marchbanks in Candida. In 1934 Welles directed Macbeth for the Negro People's Theatre, as part of the Federal Theatre Project. He also directed The Cradle Will Rock, a musical about the tyranny of capitalism written by the Marxist composer, Marc Blitzstein.
In 1937 Welles founded the Mercury Theatre where he presented a modern-dress version of Julius Caesar. He also produced the controversial radio version of War of the Worlds. In 1940 Welles moved to Hollywood and made Citizen Kane. Based on the life of the newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, it is considered one of the best movies in the history of the cinema. Hearst attempted to get the movie banned and although he failed to do this he did make it difficult for the film to be exhibited.
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Welles's film about America at the turn of the century, was also well received. This was followed by filmed versions of MacBeth (1948) and Othello (1951).
After the Second World War the House of Un-American Activities Committee began an investigation into the entertainment industry. In its first three years the HUAC managed to get a large number of people blacklisted for their political views.
On 22nd June, 1950, three former FBI agents and a right-wing television producer, Vincent Harnett, published Red Channels, a pamphlet listing the names of 151 writers, directors and performers who they claimed had been members of subversive organizations before the Second World War but had not so far been blacklisted. This included Welles who had been criticised for working with members of the Communist Party such as Marc Blitzstein in the 1930s.
Welles did not direct another film until The Touch of Evil in 1958. This was followed by The Trial (1962), The Immortal Story (1968), Chimes at Midnight (1965) and F for Fake (1973). Orson Welles died on 10th October 1985.
Orson Welles Presents: The Bat-Man
In 1943, Orson Welles, famed director of Citizen Kane, attended a movie serial entitled "Batman" based on the highly popular comic then in its golden age. Welles was furious. He was one of Batman's biggest adult fans, and to him, the movie was a disgrace to the character. He felt that "using the Batman as a tool of propaganda is absurd." Furthermore the movie did not even mention the tragic history of "The Bat-Man's" past. Orson approached the studio about making a new and better produced Batman movie. The studio was hesitant. After all, the rights were then owned by Columbia Pictures. But Welles was inflexible. It took several years but eventually RKO purchased the film rights for "Batman" from Columbia. It was now 1946, and Welles had already written the script. He himself would play Bruce Wayne, the title character. Originally Welles wanted to pack the movie with villains, everyone from "The Joker" to "Two-Face" to "The Cat" making an appearance. He decided against this idea, considering that it would be too long, and hard for any audience to sit through. With the rights in RKO's hands, he began writing the script. To help, he hired veteran comics writer, and uncredited Batman co-creator Bill Finger. The movie was to open with a young Bruce Wayne attending "Zorro" with his parents, who are then shot to death. The movie then follows as he becomes obsessed with "fighting back at crime". Eventually he becomes the Bat-Man, and takes on crime in Gotham City, facing off with Gotham's ruling Gangster, a man known as the Penguin, but who Welles named as Oswald Cobblepot. At this point in the script, the Joker appears for the first time, much of the Joker's actions in the film came more or less directly from "Batman 1". The main difference being that the Joker is not, as in that story, interrupted by an arrest. In addition, in the film the Joker is responsible for both a horrific train wreck and an explosion that kills "The Flying Graysons" and prompts Wayne to adopt the young Dick Grayson who it is implied will become Robin, though the boy does not assume the role of Robin in the film. Welles himself had a distaste for the role. From that point on the movie consists of a three way war between "The Batman" "The Joker" and "The Penguin". The movie ends with The Joker in an insane asylum after surviving a self inflicted knife wound and Oswald Cobblepot in prison facing charges after one of his underlings is scared into talking to the police by "The Bat-Man".
Once the script was written, Welles began casting. Edward G. Robinson was hired to portray the Penguin. Joseph Cotton and Everette Sloan were hired to portray James Gordon and Alfred respectively. Welles had no clear actor in mind for the role of either Joe Chill or "The Joker" and one man's audition for the former role, landed him the larger one. Richard Widmark auditioned for the role of Joe Chill. Welles was so inpressed that Widmark ended up playing the Joker.
The film was filmed in 1946. On December 1947, "The Bat-Man" was released to stunned audiences. It was an instant success. Though it was intended to be a Welles vehicle the then unknown Widmark gives perhaps the film's greatest performance as the crazed murdering Joker. Indeed, in the years to come, the Joker of the comics would be made to resemble Widmark. Nevertheless, after years of being disliked by the studios, Welles was essentially told: "You can do whatever you want, as long as you make a sequel to this film." Welles complied and in 1949 "The Return of the Bat-Man" was released. Welles, Sloane Cotton and Robinson all reprised their roles. This film would feature two new villains, "The Cat" and "Two-Face" George Raft was hired for the role of Harvey Dent and Jane Russell as "The Cat". The movie follows as Dent is scarred by the Penguin during the latter's trial, he then becomes a vicious killer, only held back by his coin, a compulsion Welles tried hard to show was a sign of a mental illness and not a mere gimmick. "The Coin Flip is the only way the good side of Harvey Dent can control his bad side"-Orson Welles. Meanwhile Bruce has to deal with "The Cat" and the addition of Robin to his team.
FDR Had a Famous Ghostwriter: Orson Welles
On October 23, 1944, a feverish Orson Welles, laid up at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, received a telegram from the White House. “I have just learned that you are ill and I hope much you will follow your doctor’s orders,” read the message from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “The most important thing is for you to get well and be around for the last days of the campaign.”
For more than a month, the 29-year-old actor and filmmaker had been traveling the United States, making speeches on behalf of the 62-year-old president. Roosevelt was seeking an unprecedented fourth term, hoping to lead the country through the end of World War II. But as American soldiers and sailors advanced toward Germany and Japan, Republican opponent Thomas Dewey’s questions about the president’s age and energy began to resonate with the public.
Roosevelt was campaigning hard, trying to counter the concerns about his health, but he needed surrogates. None— including the many Hollywood stars who gave an occasional speech for Roosevelt in 1944—were as passionate and dedicated as Welles. His famous, resonant voice was associated with the gravity of epic conflicts, from Shakespearean tragedy to Martian invasion, for his contemporaries. And in response to the president’s plea, Welles prepared for real-life political war.
Two days after the president’s telegram, his fever broken, Welles cabled the White House. “Dear Mr. President: This illness was the blackest of misfortunes for me because it stole away so many days from the campaign,” he wrote. He credited Roosevelt’s telegram for inspiring him to rally and promised to get back on the road: “This is the most important work I could ever engage in.” Two days later, back on his feet, Welles gave a ten-minute campaign speech for Roosevelt on the CBS Radio Network.
Throughout fall 1944, Welles made campaigning for Roosevelt his full-time job, leaving his pregnant wife, actress Rita Hayworth, at home to travel the country by plane and train. In his speeches to rallies and Democratic clubs, Welles attacked Republicans as plutocratic elitists with the same withering contempt he’d aimed at newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst in his epic 1941 debut as a film director, Citizen Kane.
Welles’ left-wing politics made him sympathetic to Roosevelt’s New Deal. He’d already worked for the U.S. government’s Federal Theatre Project, staging “Macbeth” with an all-black cast in 1936, and broadcasted on behalf of a Treasury Department war bond drive earlier in 1944. And even after Roosevelt disappointed progressives by replacing radical-leaning Vice-President Henry Wallace with Missouri moderate Harry Truman on the 1944 ticket, Welles remained loyal. He introduced Wallace (who agreed to campaign for Roosevelt even after he was ditched for Truman) at a Madison Square Garden rally on September 21. Warming up the crowd, Welles attacked Republicans as “the partisans of privilege, the champions of monopoly, the old opponents of liberty, the determined adversaries of the small business and the small farm.” He even called out Hearst, his archenemy, whose newspapers supported Dewey.
Throughout 1944, Welles often met with Roosevelt at the White House and on the president’s campaign train. According to biographers, the actor also sent the president ideas for his speeches—suggestions the president included in his addresses. Decades later, Welles even claimed to have helped Roosevelt come up with one of the most memorable lines of the 1944 election: the punch line of a speech concerning a political fracas over the president’s dog.
The speech was a huge hit, and the Welles-penned joke was the main attraction. “[FDR] loved it,” Welles told a biographer in 1985, “and he asked me afterwards, ‘How did I do? Was my timing right?’ Just like an actor!”
FDR also figures in a curious anecdote mentioned in several Welles biographies— and in the FBI’s file on the actor’s 1940s political activities. In August 1944, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper reported that Roosevelt had called Hayworth to let her know that Welles would be away from home, engaged in special work for him. According to Frank Brady’s biography Citizen Welles, the president called Hayworth when Welles balked at his request. “But Mr. President, Rita will never believe me if I can’t tell her where I am,” Welles said, according to Brady’s book.
Hopper, suspecting infidelity when Hayworth told her about Welles’ absence, grilled Hayworth until she mentioned Roosevelt’s phone call, then reported it in her column the next day. The FBI dispatched an agent to interview Hopper. She “stated she did not know exactly what the President was having Welles do,” reads the agent’s report, “but she did know that he was on some kind of mission for the President.”
Welles biographers disagree on what the mission might have been. Brady, recounting a story Welles told him about shooting footage of Albert Einstein talking about the theory of relativity, suggests Welles may have been working on a never-released documentary project about the atomic bomb.
As the election neared, Roosevelt’s campaign turned to Welles, a radio veteran famed for his terrifying October 1938 broadcast of “The War of the Worlds,” for high-profile speeches. On October 18, 1944, a few days before he fell ill, Welles appeared on the same radio program as Roosevelt’s rival, Dewey. On the air, Welles accused Republicans of running “an energetic campaign of vilification” against Roosevelt, but insisted that history would vindicate him. “I think that even most Republicans are resigned to it,” Welles said, “that when the elections are over and the history books are written, our president will emerge as one of the great names in one of democracy’s great centuries.”
After recovering from his illness, Welles accompanied Roosevelt to a rally in Boston’s Fenway Park, where Frank Sinatra sang “America the Beautiful” to his usual cheers from teen girls. “The crowd roared its enthusiasm as Orson Welles and Frank Sinatra were introduced,” reported the Boston Globe, which referred to the two stars as “the ‘dramatic voice’ and ‘The Voice.’”
Welles, his anti-elite rhetoric as sharp as ever, claimed that the Republicans were running an entirely negative campaign. “By free enterprise they want exclusive right to freedom,” he argued. “They are stupid enough to think that a few can enjoy prosperity at the expense of the rest.” Welles kept campaigning up to election eve, when he delivered a nationally broadcast radio speech on a Democratic National Committee program.
Impressed with Welles’ oratory, Roosevelt suggested that the actor might have a future in politics. Welles, who had ambitions of running for office, was delighted. He would later tell people that, encouraged by Roosevelt, he’d contemplated running against U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy in his native Wisconsin in 1946.
Roosevelt may have been flattering, but some biographers have another take. They characterize Welles’ senatorial daydreams of 1944 as a sign of vanity, and his eloquence on Roosevelt’s behalf as too high-minded to succeed from the mouth of a candidate himself. “He was devout about great times needing great men,” wrote David Thomson in Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles. “So he missed that drab, sly, common touch that gets elected.”
Still, Roosevelt appreciated Welles’ oratory, and the connections between theatrical and political performance. After the election, in which Roosevelt beat Dewey 53 percent to 46 percent in the popular vote and 432-99 in the electoral vote, Roosevelt met with Welles once more. He also sent Welles another telegram, thanking him for his help with the campaign. “It was a great show,” Roosevelt cabled, “in which you played a great part.”
About Erick Trickey
Erick Trickey is a writer in Boston, covering politics, history, cities, arts, and science. He has written for POLITICO Magazine, Next City, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, and Cleveland Magazine
Movies: &aposCitizen Kane&apos
Even while drawing the ire of some of his listeners, the broadcast cemented Welles&aposs status as a genius, and his talents quickly became a fascination for Hollywood. In 1940, Welles signed a $225,000 contract with RKO to write, direct and produce two films. The deal gave the young filmmaker total creative control, as well as a percentage of the profits, and at the time was the most lucrative deal ever made with an unproven filmmaker. Welles was just 24 years old.
Success wasn&apost immediate. Welles started and then stopped an attempt at adapting Joseph Conrad&aposs Heart of Darkness for the big screen. The daring behind that project paled in comparison to what became Welles&apos actual debut film: Citizen Kane (1941).
Modeled after the life and work of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, the film told the story of newspaperman Charles Foster Kane (played by Welles), tracing his rise to power and his eventual corruption from that power. The film outraged Hearst, who refused to allow mention of the movie in any of his newspapers and helped drive down the film&aposs disappointing box-office numbers.
But Citizen Kane was a revolutionary work of art. In the film, which was nominated for a total of nine Academy Awards (earning a win for best screenplay), Welles deployed a number of pioneering techniques, including the use of deep-focus cinematography to present all objects in a shot in sharp detail. Welles also anchored the film&aposs look with low-angle shots and told its story with multiple points of view.
It was only a matter of time before the genius of Citizen Kane would be lauded. It&aposs now considered one of the greatest films ever made.
Welles&apos second film for RKO, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), was a far more straightforward project and one that helped send Welles running from Hollywood. Toward the end of its filming, Welles made a quick trip to Rio de Janeiro to do a documentary. When he returned he discovered that RKO had made its own edit of the film&aposs ending.
Welles, who disowned the movie, raged. A bitter public relations spat between the filmmaker and RKO ensued, and Welles, successfully cast by RKO as difficult to work with and with no appreciation for budgets, never truly recovered.
For Orson Welles's daughter, the world was her oyster
In summer 1947, Orson Welles took his 10-year-old daughter to lunch at the Brown Derby in Hollywood. She asked for a hamburger and a vanilla milkshake. "Again?" sighed Welles as he mulled the gazpacho and the lobster bisque. "Why don't you be more adventurous today? How about some oysters?" Dismissing the girl's objections, he ordered a dozen and coached her through the protocol required to knock a couple down the hatch before allowing her to proceed to her burger and shake, lesson learned. "You have to try things in life, Christopher."
Conventionality was hardly an option for Christopher Welles Feder. Even if she hadn't been given a male name – hard not to think of A Boy Named Sue – her father's monstrous fame would have spared her the option of an average life. No one else's memoir could begin, as Welles Feder's new book In My Father's Shadow: A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles does, with the line: "The first time I saw Rita Hayworth, my father was sawing her in half." Nor has any other child visited a castle to play with the person whose supposed besmirchment in her father's movie had ignited a media firestorm – as Christopher did at Hearst Castle following her mother's remarriage to the nephew of Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst's lover and model for Citizen Kane's Susan Alexander.
Hard, come to that, to think of another 10-year-old whose feelings of filial inadequacy included the sneaking suspicion that she wasn't a good enough murder victim. When, during a visit to the set of her father's film of Macbeth, she pleaded for a role, Welles put that masculine name to good use and cast her as Macduff's doomed son. Wanting real menace, he instructed her assailant to make thick his blood – "Now hit Christopher hard this time. Take two!" – but offered no words of approval or appreciation when she surfaced from her pummelling.
It was an extreme example of the roiling emotions Welles's inconstant charisma provoked in his daughter, who craved his attention but not always its consequences at moments like this, or indeed the meal at the Brown Derby, she writes, "the euphoria of being with my father became infused with anxiety". Similarly, pride in his work was tempered by jealousy of fans' demands on his attention.
Many adolescent girls fall a little in love with Daddy. It's easy to romanticise him if he's away a lot easier if, when he does find time for you, it involves Christmas in St Moritz, lunch with the Oliviers or a private screening of his latest picture at Shepperton. Easier still if – and the real treasure of the book is how she gets this across – to be with him at the Sistine Chapel or the Tower of London or Las Ramblas is to have the treasures of the world unpacked before you with the erudition, vibrancy and wonder of the outrageously precocious child Welles in some ways remained all his life. And how much harder for that adolescent girl to endure that beautiful man-child's failure to show up for a year or two at a stretch and then to bear his rejection when he narcissistically reads betrayal into her acquiescence, aged 16, to her mother's insistence that she rebuff his unreliable attentions.
Their relationship would never again be as intimate or enthralling as those adolescent vacations, though they would eventually establish cordial adult terms and, after his death, she would learn to stop defining herself in terms of his opinion. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of In My Father's Shadow is Christopher's ability in retrospect to appreciate her father's gifts and forgive his failings – not by subscribing to Orsonian exceptionalism and accepting that his genius excused him the obligations of a parent ("I had heard the same argument all my life and it didn't make me feel any less lonely or abandoned"), but by accepting his selfishness without taking it personally: "I knew that whenever I surfaced in his mind, his impulses toward me were kind, generous and loving." That gracious "whenever" testifies to a lifetime of emotional heavy lifting leavened by a father's legacy that has nothing to do with fame or the movies: a recognition, born out in Christopher's adult life, of the joy that comes from meeting the world with respect, intelligence, curiosity and enthusiasm. In other words, why not try the oysters?
“Citizen Kane” released
Months before its release, Orson Welles’ landmark film Citizen Kane began generating such controversy that Radio City Music Hall eventually refused to show it. Instead, Citizen Kane, now revered as one of the greatest movies in history, made its debut at the smaller RKO Palace Theater on May 1, 1941.
By the time he began working on Citizen Kane, the 24-year-old Welles had already made a name for himself as Hollywood’s enfant terrible. He first found success on Broadway and on the radio his October 1938 broadcast version of the science-fiction classic The War of the Worlds was so realistic that some listeners actually believed Martians had invaded New Jersey. Having signed a lucrative contract with RKO studios, Welles was struggling to find a subject for his first feature film when his friend, the writer Herman Mankiewicz, suggested that he base it on the life of the publishing baron William Randolph Hearst. Hearst presided over the country’s leading newspaper empire, ruling it from San Simeon, a sprawling estate perched atop a hill along California’s central coastline.
A preview of Citizen Kane in early February 1941 had drawn almost universally favorable reviews from critics. However, one viewer, the leading Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, was incensed by the film and Welles’ portrayal of its protagonist, Charles Foster Kane. She took her concerns to Hearst himself, who soon began waging a full-scale campaign against Welles and his film, barring the Hearst newspapers from running ads for it and enlisting the support of Hollywood bigwigs such as Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was said Hearst was particularly angry over the movie’s depiction of a character based on his companion, Marion Davies, a former showgirl whom he had helped become a popular Hollywood actress. For his part, Welles threatened to sue Hearst for trying to suppress the film and also to sue RKO if the company did not release the film.
When Citizen Kane finally opened in May 1941, it was a failure at the box office. Although reviews were favorable, and it was nominated for nine Academy Awards, Welles was booed at that year’s Oscar ceremony, and RKO quietly archived the film. It was only years later, when it was re-released, that Citizen Kane began to garner well-deserved accolades for its pioneering camera and sound work, as well as its complex blend of drama, black comedy, history, biography and even fake-newsreel or “mockumentary” footage that has informed hundreds of films produced since then. It consistently ranks at the top of film critics’ lists, most notably grabbing the No. 1 spot on the American Film Institute’s poll of America’s 100 Greatest Films.
After Citizen Kane, Welles’ diverse works consisted of everything from Shakespearean adaptations to documentaries. Some of his most acclaimed films included The Stranger (1946), The Lady from Shanghai (1948) and Chimes at Midnight (1966). In his later years, he narrated documentaries and appeared in commercials, and he left behind several unfinished films when he died at the age of 70 on October 10, 1985.
How 'The War of the Worlds' Radio Broadcast Created a National Panic
As the clock struck 8 p.m. in New York City on the night of October 30, 1938, Orson Welles stood on a podium inside a Madison Avenue radio studio. The baby-faced, 23-year-old theatrical star, who had graced the cover of Time magazine months earlier, prepared to direct 10 actors and a 27-piece orchestra for the Columbia Broadcasting System’s weekly “Mercury Theatre on the Air” program.
Millions of Americans, as they were every night, huddled around their radios, but relatively few of them were listening to CBS when it was announced that Welles and his fellow cast members were presenting an original dramatization of the 1898 H.G. Wells science-fiction novel “The War of the Worlds.” Instead, most of the country was tuned in to NBC’s popular 𠇌hase and Sanborn Hour,” which featured ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy.
Channel surfing, however, was not a modern-day invention, and disoriented listeners who stumbled onto the “Mercury Theatre on the Air” without having heard the disclaimer at the top of the radio play were thrust into the middle of an hour-long drama that left some believing that the country was under attack.
The CBS program, penned by sablanca” screenwriter Howard Koch, opened serenely with the dulcet dance music of “Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.” Then, an actor portraying an announcer broke in with a fake news report that several explosions of incandescent gas had occurred on Mars. In quick succession came a series of increasingly alarming, suspense-building newsflashes that culminated with Martian spacecrafts crashing into a farm in Grovers Mill, New Jersey.
For the rest of the hour, terror crackled over the airwaves. Breathless reporters detailed an extraterrestrial army of squid-like figures that killed thousands of earthlings with heat rays and black clouds of poison gas as they steamrolled into New York City. Welles and the rest of the cast impersonated astronomers, state militia officials and even the Secretary of the Interior, who cannily sounded like President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Human germs, rather than human armies, ultimately did in the mythical Martian invaders, and at the end of the hour the director wrapped up the radio drama by telling his audience, “This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that ‘The War of the Worlds’ has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be. The Mercury Theatre’s own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying 𠆋oo!’”
The National Panic That Followed The War of the Worlds
The fright that Welles put into America, however, was much greater than he thought. Although the program included a reminder at intermission that it was a dramatization, thousands of anxious and confused listeners believed it to be real. They besieged police departments, newspapers and CBS with phone calls. In New Jersey, ground zero for the fictitious invasion, national guardsmen wanted to know where they should report for duty, and the Trenton police department fielded 2,000 calls in under two hours. In Providence, Rhode Island, hysterical callers begged the electric company to cut power to the city to keep it safe from the extraterrestrial invaders.
Fear and anxiety had become a way of life in the 1930s, and it took little to rattle jittery Americans. The Depression had emptied their wallets, the gathering crisis in Europe threatened to ignite into war and just weeks earlier the Hurricane of 1938 had roared ashore. Plus, the Hindenburg disaster, which had been broadcast over the airwaves just the year before, was still fresh in the country’s collective psyche.
The newspaper industry also felt unease from the increasing popularity of radio as an informational and advertising medium, and seeing a chance to strike back at its growing rival, it gleefully collected the sporadic reports of individual confusion generated by “The War of the Worlds” and weaved them into a narrative of “mass hysteria.” Newspapers reported suicide attempts, heart attacks and exoduses from major metropolitan areas.
The New York Daily News printed the feverish headline ke Radio ‘War’ Stirs Terror Through U.S.” along with the photograph of a “war victim,” a woman in a sling who had heard the reports of black gas clouds in Times Square and ran out from her midtown apartment into the street where she fell and broke her arm. Similar stories of woe were printed from coast to coast and unleashed a media frenzy.
Orson Welles&apos Response
With threats of lawsuits swirling in the press, CBS went into damage control. At a hastily called press conference, a doe-eyed Welles displayed his theatrical acumen and expressed his remorse and shock at the public reaction. “I can’t imagine an invasion from Mars would find ready acceptance,” he said when asked if he pranked the country. Decades later, however, Welles admitted, “The kind of response was merrily anticipated by us all. The size of it, of course, was flabbergasting.”
The Federal Communications Commission did not sanction CBS or Welles, and the radio dramatist quickly spun his Halloween trick into a treat. Thanks to what became known as the “panic broadcast,” the radio program signed Campbell’s Soup as a sponsor, and soon after, Welles inked a deal to direct 𠇌itizen Kane,” named by the American Film Institute as the greatest movie of all time.
Welles struggled with his weight and how people perceived his size
Like so many Hollywood stars, Orson Welles was forced to fret over his image. According to the biography Orson Welles, the issues started at least as early as his involvement with Citizen Kane. Welles went on crash diets to slim down for the role. One diet had him eating only bananas and milk.
Other "diets" were a steady supply of pills loaded with amphetamines, as Orson Welles: Hello Americans reports. Early on, Welles was enthusiastic about the effects of the diet pills, though he later recognized that these were a hasty choice in an era before everyone admitted that packing your body full of amphetamines was pretty bad for one's health.
Later on in his career, Orson Welles appears to have discarded the diets and allowed his weight to balloon. According to Vice, he was notorious for his love of fattening steaks and ate them regularly, to the point where his considerable girth became part of Welles' image. It was part of a long-lasting caricature of him, perhaps as persistent and potentially damaging to Welles the man as his association with Citizen Kane. He was, for many, the cartoonish image of a louche, overweight film auteur and less so a complicated human being dealing with weight issues, like so many others both then and today.
Early career [ edit | edit source ]
After his father's death, Welles traveled to Europe with the aid of a small inheritance. Welles later reported 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 some impassioned quality in his audition. Welles made his stage debut at the Gate in 1931, appearing in Jew Suss as the Duke. He acted to great acclaim, which reached the United States. He performed smaller supporting roles as well. On returning to the United States he found his fame ephemeral and turned to a writing project at Todd School that would become the immensely successful 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.
An introduction by Thornton Wilder led Welles to the New York stage. In 1933, he toured in three off-Broadway productions with Katharine Cornell's company, including two roles in Romeo and Juliet. Restless and impatient when the planned Broadway opening of Romeo and Juliet was canceled, Welles staged a drama festival of his own with the Todd School, inviting Micheál Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards from Dublin's Gate Theatre to appear, along with New York stage luminaries. It was a roaring success. The subsequent revival of Cornell's Romeo and Juliet brought Welles to the notice of John Houseman, who was casting for an unusual lead actor for the lead role in the Federal Theatre Project.
By 1935 Welles was supplementing his earnings in the theater as a radio actor in Manhattan, working with many of the actors who would later form the core of his Mercury Theatre. He married Chicago actress Virginia Nicholson in 1934 and that year he shot an eight-minute silent short film, The Hearts of Age with her. The couple had one daughter, Christopher. She made her only film appearance in 1948, taking the role of Macduff's son in Welles's film Macbeth and later became known as Chris Welles Feder, an author of educational materials for children.
Orson Welles' final curtain
Despite his declining health, Orson Welles faced the 1980s with optimism and excitement. Although he continued to do what he described as "jobs of work," including his final role as the villain Unicron in Transformers: The Movie, released in 1986, Welles had a slate of projects in various stages of development and completion, including his long-simmering magnum opus Don Quixote, which he continued to tinker with until his death.
As reported by The New York Times, Welles died in his Los Angeles home of a heart attack on Oct. 10, 1985. He was 70 years old.
In an interview conducted by Entertainment Tonight just one week before he died, Welles summed up his feelings on his life and career. "I've had a wonderful, fascinating life. I can't complain," said Welles. "I'm the luckiest person I know, and I'd rather be remembered as a good guy than as a difficult genius."