Orson Welles wrote, directed and starred in the film ‘Citizen Kane,’ among others, which remains one of the most influential films ever made
George Orson Welles (/ˈwɛlz/; May 6, 1915 – October 10, 1985) was an American actor, director, writer, and producer who worked in theatre, radio, and film. He is remembered for his most creative work in all three platforms viz. theatre, most notably Caesar (1937), a Broadway adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. In radio, the legendary 1938 broadcast “The War of the Worlds” and in film, Citizen Kane (1941).
He also directed movies like The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, and Chimes At Midnight. In addition to playing major roles in some of these films, he also starred in the classic The Third Man and has more than a hundred screen acting credits to his name. Welles then directed The Stranger (1946) and Macbeth (1948), but he wasn’t long for California; the same year he made Macbeth, besides directing the other projects including Othello (1952) and Mr. Arkadin (1955).
Early years– Orson Welles began his career on stage, directing plays under the Federal Theatre Project and then with his company Mercury Theatre.
He took the Mercury Theatre to the Air, becoming a radio celeb with broadcasts of productions of various contemporary and classic plays. Not long after first tackling this art form, he altered broadcasting history to some degree with the Oct. 30, 1938 broadcast of H.G. Welles’ “War of The Worlds.” The story of Martians having landed in New Jersey was taken as real by thousands of listeners nationwide, causing a panic. The “hoax,” as it has been called by history, propelled Welles to bona fide stardom and some measure of infamy.
He wasn’t in radio long before resolving to conquer Hollywood. His directorial debut, Citizen Kane would go on to be widely considered the best American film of all time. It won Welles immediate acclaim for its discontinuous storytelling, its gorgeous shots, and its social commentary.
It is hard to follow up the greatest film ever made, and Welles’s career after Kane is marked more by its ambition and variety than by commercial and critical success. He would eventually gain a reputation as an erstwhile genius, ex-husband of Rita Hayworth, and a domineering, imposing presence.
He divorced Hayworth and began what amounted to a 10-year self-imposed exile from Hollywood. He returned to Hollywood in 1958 to direct Touch of Evil, which registered low box-office numbers, and took a further hit with an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial (1962).
European stint between (1959-1970)- 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. In Hong Kong he co-starred with Curt Jürgens in Lewis Gilbert’s film Ferry to Hong Kong. In 1960, in Paris he co-starred in Richard Fleischer’s film Crack in the Mirror. 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 end of 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.
In 1961, Welles directed In the Land of Don Quixote, a series of eight half-hour episodes for the Italian television network RAI. 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.
Later years– Hard times plagued Welles throughout much of the 1970s. Health issues dominated his life, many of them brought on by his growing obesity — the filmmaker topped 400 pounds at one point.
The last decade of his life saw Welles continuing to stay busy. Among his many projects, he served as the spokesman for Paul Masson wine, appeared on the ABC series Moonlighting and made a documentary called Filming Othello (1979), about the making of his 1952 film.
Toward the end of his life, Welles and Hollywood seemed to have made up. In 1975, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Film Institute, and in 1985 he was awarded the Directors Guild of America’s D.W. Griffith Award, the organization’s highest honor.
He did his last interview on October 10, 1985, just two hours before his death, when he appeared on The Merv Griffin Show. Not long after returning to his Los Angeles home, he suffered a heart attack and died on 11th of October 1985.
Noir at its finest