George Orson Welles
was born on 6 May 1915 at Kenosha, Kenosha County, Wisconsin. He was the son of Richard Hodgdon Head Welles
and Beatrice Ives
. George Orson Welles married Virginia Nicholson
in 1934. George Orson Welles and Virginia Nicholson
were divorced in 1939. George Orson Welles married Margarita Carmen Cansino
on 7 September 1943. George Orson Welles and Margarita Carmen Cansino
were divorced on 1 December 1948. George Orson Welles married Paola Mori
on 8 May 1955. George Orson Welles died on 10 October 1985 at Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California, at age 70; from heart failure. He was buried at Ronda, Malaga, Spain. Orson Welles, 1915-1985
Hollywood's "Boy Genius", Orson Welles acclaim in cinema circles may be surpassed only by that of Alfred Hitchcock- though Welles had become a giant in his industry before the age of 30. His master work, "Citizen Kane" assured him fame and brought him infamy after a long and bitter battle with William Randolph Hearst, who sought to stop the film release. Credited with over 140 films, Orson Welles died October 10th, 1985 at the age of 70.
The private life of Orson Welles was one obscured by gossip, legend, myth, media hype and frequently by Welles's own fabrications. At various times the multidimensional artist made claims which included having been a bull fighter in Spain during his teens to living hand to mouth as a poor artist traveling Ireland by donkey cart to his father having invented the automobile. Welles may have opted to aggrandize an unsettled early life in an unhappy family, creating an image more befitting a boy touted as a prodigy in Shakespeare before he was 12 years old.
Born George Orson Welles on May 6th, 1915, he was a native of Kenosha, Wisconsin, the son of Richard Head Welles and his wife, Beatrice Ives. Welles' father had been a carriage manufacturer who dabbled in hotels and patents, his mother a reputedly beautiful amateur musician. Welles was the younger of their two sons, his older brother Richard Ives Wells suffered from a mild learning disability that led his parents to commit him to a mental institution for most of his life. By the time Welles was born, his parents marriage was already in decay, his father an alcoholic, and his mother under the Rasputin-like influence of the family doctor, Maurice Bernstein.
Bernstein convinced Mrs. Welles that young Orson was a prodigy when he was an otherwise unremarkable 18-month old toddler, and she put her full energies and attention into his development. Welles was drilled in Shakespeare, repeating it first and reading it later, and studying piano and violin with his mother, who hired Vaudevillians to teach him magic routines. In 1921, Beatrice Welles divorced her husband and on the advice of Dr. Bernstein moved to Chicago where she immersed her 6-year-old son in opera, theater and concerts. Bernstein tipped off his friends in the Chicago newspapers to the "Welles Prodigy", who was, with the encouragement of his mother and doctor, performing and organizing plays for himself and his elementary school peers. Welles early celebrity and contentment ended abruptly the week of his 9th birthday, when his mother died in May, 1924 of jaundice. Her will left Welles remanded to the custody of his alcoholic father (who he had not seen in years) and Dr. Bernstein, who enrolled him in the prestigious Todd School of Illinois.
Welles way at Todd had been paved by Dr. Bernstein with a slew of news clippings, articles and letters declaring his genius, and he received royal treatment. Welles received such biased suffrage that he was allowed run of the drama department and excused from his classes, where he demonstrated only mediocre performance. Welles skipped classes to produce and perform in plays, spending many of his holidays at the school, and on December 28th, 1930 found himself very wealthy as well as indulged after his father died from complications of long term alcohol abuse. Bernstein was appointed his only legal guardian, though he had functioned in that capacity almost exclusively for 6 years. Welles later reduced his age at his orphaning to 10 or 12, spinning an Oliver Twist -like tale for himself.
Bernstein's promotion of Welles as a theatrical prodigy had ended abruptly with the death of his mother, and hoping to steer him into a different career, arranged for him to attend art college in Ireland after he graduated from the Todd School. Welles, already accustomed to having his own way promptly dropped out of school in Ireland and attempted to flimflam his way into the Gate Theater Repertory, claiming to be a famed Broadway star. Though his act fooled no-one, he was hired for his sheer audacity and his short career with the Gate company led to relationships with Thornton Wilder and eventually the American touring company of Katherine Cornell. Welles took supporting roles in a number of Cornell productions of Shakespearian standards, moved up to the lead in Hamlet and in 1934 made his Broadway debut in a short run of "Romeo and Juliet". Welles performance as Tybalt earned better reviews than those of the leads, and he abandoned the Cornell company for the newly formed Federal Theater Project.
The year 1934 was a landmark for Welles, who launched careers on Broadway, in radio, and eloped with 18-year-old actress Virginia Nicholson, the first of three wives. Only 19 years old but extremely well versed in manipulating the press, Welles joined with John Houseman in leading the Federal company through a number of progressive, controversial, and headline grabbing projects, including a restaging of "Mac Beth" set in revolutionary Haiti, starring the all-Black cast of the Negro People's Theater. After Federal essentially fired Welles for his controversial projects, Welles and Houseman founded the Mercury Theater on the Air, taking on radio as well as conventional theater.
Welles had used his well modulated and distinctive baritone to advantage as a reader for "The March of Time" news series, and became the famed first voice of "The Shadow" in the celebrated crime series. With his Mercury Theater players, Welles was able to pick and choose his own projects, employing top writers who included Lucille Fletcher ("The Hitchhiker") and Curt Siodmak ("Donovan's Brain") when he wasn't scripting his own adaptations of classics. By 1938, Welles was the father of a son, appeared on the cover of "Time" magazine and had terrified a nation with his October 30th broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells. "War of the Worlds", directed and written by Welles as an emergency news broadcast, left thousands of startled listeners convinced by the first commercial that the Martians were invading- in New Jersey. The broadcast, written, produced and starring the 23-year-old actor made him a household name.
The success of the Mercury Theater "War of the Worlds" brought Welles a then unheard of deal with RKO Pictures: Shortly after signing the divorce he granted Virginia Nicholson, Welles signed a 2-film contract with RKO that promised him complete creative control of his work, including the never before granted right to "final cut". Welles' deal included bringing on board his entire Mercury theater team, including Huston, Joseph Cotton and actress Agnes Moorehead. While the deal brought Welles unprecedented power, press, and prestige in Hollywood, it also brought huge pressure, and his first pitches for films were rejected by RKO. Welles associate Herman Mankiewicz, a writer who was a frequent guest at the San Simeon parties of William Randolph Hearst, suggested a story based on the aging newspaper tycoon. RKO approved the project, and the story became "Citizen Kane".
To lambaste William Randolph Hearst was perhaps the most inspired- and ill advised- moves of Welles's life. While both Hearst and Welles were over-achievers who had inherited their means and made more of them, indulged unabashedly in their excesses, and eyed the rest of the world arrogantly, Welles sorely underestimated the might of the real-life media tycoon Hearst. Hearst had once explained why he only dabbled in the motion picture industry but focused on print media: "You can crush a man with journalism, and you can't with motion pictures." After gossip columnist Hedda Hopper had tipped Hearst off to the treatment he and his long-time mistress, Marion Davies were receiving in the pre-screenings of "Citizen Kane", Hearst set out to crush Welles and stop the film release.
The ensuing battle over "Citizen Kane" did both men irreparable damage. Hearst, still recovering financially from bad investments and Depression losses, spent a fortune in legal counsel and in bribes seeking to block the release or buy the rights to "Citizen Kane". Hearst finally launched a press boycott of the film and made sure the major national chains would not show "Citizen Kane" before launching a personal attack on Welles. Through Hearst and his agents, Welles was accused of Communist sympathies and dereliction of duty in not having served his country. Welles refused to publicly admit a congenital spine deformity kept him out of the military, and many of his past "embellishments" were called out in the Hearst papers as embarrassing lies. After delays caused by the Hearst attack, "Citizen Kane" was finally released late in 1941, losing nearly a quarter million dollars due to the boycotting by Hearst influenced theaters. Though it was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, "Citizen Kane" earned only 1- for best screenplay, an honor Welles shared with Makiewicz. Orson Welles saw his masterpiece sent to the RKO morgue, where it remained for over 20 years.
The Hearst-Welles battle was not entirely over, as Hearst influences added to delays of Welles's follow up project, "The Magnificent Ambersons" and helped spread the word that Welles was unable to stick to a filming schedule or budget. Some of the delays were due to Welles being sent to South America by order of Nelson Rockefeller, head of the Office of Inter American Affairs to shoot a "good will documentary". While working on that documentary, "It's All True", Welles saw RKO violate his creative control rider and finish and edit "Ambersons" without him, releasing an essentially unfinished film that lost money. RKO canceled Welles's contract, dismissed the Mercury Theater members, and Welles, unofficially black-listed in an industry intimidated by Hearst, the press, and his seeming unreliability, never fully regained his status.
Welles worked on the fringe of the film industry, starring in and directing films in Europe and performing in radio dramas. Welles hosted the popular radio and television versions of "The Black Museum" from London, a suspense-filled chronicle of crime. In America, he enjoyed prestige as a guest on Golden Age series including Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town", appeared opposite Jackie Gleason on "The Jackie Gleason Show", and was the star of a special episode of "I Love Lucy" scripted by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, "Lucy Meets Orson Welles".
While Orson Welles lost his ability to draw financial backing after "Citizen Kane", he didn't lose his ability to earn upwards of $100,000 a picture as an actor- an astronomical sum through the 1960s- and he often appeared in films strictly to finance his own projects. A "fluff film" like "Follow the Boys", in which he co-starred with Dinah Shore, Lon Chaney Jr., and a score of regulars helped pay for his own "Othello". Welles films also showed a tendency for the artist to gravitate toward powerful but self-destructive characters. Lines from "The Third Man" and roles in "Prince of Foxes" struck on a fascination with the Borgias, his role in "Jane Eyre" seemed to hearken to his own self-torment and hindered love affairs. Welles's personal life fluctuated as wildly as his film work, with 3 marriages, including one to his "Lady from Shanghai" co-star Rita Hayworth ending in divorce. Still, Welles remained an icon for more than 5 decades, his diversity lending itself to the fire-and-brimstone role of Father Mapple in "Moby Dick" opposite Gregory Peck and lending menace to the James Bond spoof "Casino Royale" with Peter Sellers and David Niven.
In addition to 9 nominations and an Oscar for "Citizen Kane", Orson Welles's honors included 3 Grammy Awards (spoken word performance) an American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award, an honorary Oscar (1970) for his body of work, 3 Cannes Film Festival honors, a New York Film Critics Circle Award, and in 1984 a Directors Guild of America D.W. Griffith Award for Lifetime Achievement. George Orson Welles suffered a fatal heart attack on October 10th, 1985 in Hollywood, California, leaving a legacy of over 140 films, countless radio performances and television projects. He was survived at his death by his companion, actress Oja Kodar, and his children, Christopher Feder Welles, Rebecca Welles and Beatrice Welles-Smith. In 1993, 50 years after its scheduled release, the documentary, "It's All True" earned Welles a posthumous L.A. Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary.
Orson Welles, 1915-1985.