George Orson Welles (May 6, 1915 – October 10, 1985), better known as Orson Welles, was an Academy Award-winning American film director, writer, actor and producer, who worked extensively in film, theater, television, and radio. Welles was also an accomplished magician, starring in troop variety spectacles in the war years. Noted for his innovative dramatic productions as well as his distinctive voice and personality, Welles is widely acknowledged as one of the most accomplished dramatic artists of the 20th century. His first two films with RKO, Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, are widely considered two of the greatest ever made. His other films, including Touch of Evil and Chimes at Midnight, are also considered masterpieces. He is also well-known for a radio adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds which, performed in the style of a news broadcast,
reportedly caused widespread panic when listeners thought that a real invasion was in progress.
In 2002 he was voted as the greatest film director of all time in the British Film Institute's poll of Top Ten Directors.
Youth and early career (1915 to 1934)
Welles was born May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wisconsin and was brought up a Roman Catholic. He had English ancestry. Despite his parents' affluence, Welles encountered many hardships in childhood. In 1919, his parents separated and moved to Chicago, and his father became an alcoholic and stopped working. Welles's mother died of jaundice on May 10, 1924, in a Chicago hospital, four days after Welles's ninth birthday. After his mother's death, Welles ceased pursuing his interest in music. Richard Welles died when Orson was 15 - the summer after Orson's graduation from Todd School for Boys, an independent school in Woodstock, Illinois - whereupon Maurice Bernstein, a Russian-born physician from Chicago, became his guardian.
At Todd, Welles came under the positive influence and guidance of Roger Hill, a teacher who later became 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 his first theatrical experiments and productions there.
On his father's death, Welles traveled to Europe with the aid of a small inheritance. While on a walking and painting trip through Ireland, he strode into the Gate Theater in Dublin and claimed he was a Broadway star. Gate manager Hilton Edwards later claimed he didn't believe 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, acclaim that reached the United States. He performed smaller supporting roles as well. On returning to the United States he found his brief fame ephemeral and turned to a writing project at Todd 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. He toured in three off-Broadway productions with Katharine Cornell's company. 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 MacLíammóir 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 Romeo and Juliet brought Welles to the notice of John Houseman, who was then casting for an unusual lead actor and about to take a lead role in the Federal Theater Project.
By 1935 Welles was supplementing his earnings in the theater as a radio actor in New York City, working with many of the actors who would later form the core of his Mercury Theater. He married actress and socialite Virginia Nicholson in 1934. They had one daughter, Christopher, who became known as Chris Welles Feder, an author of educational materials for children. Welles also shot an eight-minute silent short film, The Hearts of Age with Nicholson.
Renown in theater and radio (1936 to 1940)
In 1936, the Federal Theatre Project (part of Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration) put unemployed theatre performers and employees to work. Welles was hired by John Houseman and assigned to direct a play for the Federal Theatre Project's Negro Theater Unit. He offered them Macbeth, set the production in the Haitian court of King Henri Christophe (and with voodoo witch doctors for the three Weird Sisters). Jack Carter played Macbeth. The incidental music was composed by Virgil Thomson. The play was rapturously received and later toured the nation. When the lead (Maurice Evans) fell ill on tour, Welles jumped on a plane and stepped into the part playing the role in blackface. At the age of 20, Welles was hailed as a prodigy.
After the success of Macbeth, Welles mounted the absurd farce Horse Eats Hat. He consolidated his "White Hope" reputation with Dr Faustus which used light as a prime unifying scenic element in a nearly blacked-out stage. In 1937, he rehearsed Marc Blitzstein's highly political Operetta The Cradle Will Rock. Because of severe federal cutbacks, the show's premiere at the Maxine Elliott Theater was cancelled. The theater was locked and guarded to prevent any of the government-purchased materials being used for a commerical production of the work. In a last-minute move Welles announced to waiting ticket-holders that the show was being transferred to the Venice, about twenty blocks away. Some cast, some crew and audience walked the distance on foot. The union musicians refused to perform in a commerical 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 their parts from the audience. This impromptu performance was well received by its audience. It afterward played at the Venice for two weeks in the same informal circumstances as the first performance.
Resigning from the Federal Theatre, Welles and Houseman formed their own company, the Mercury Theatre, which eventually included actors such as Agnes Moorehead, Joseph Cotten, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Frank Readick, Everett Sloane, Eustace Wyatt and Erskine Sanford, all of whom would continue to work for Welles for years. The first Mercury Theatre production was a melodramatic and heavily edited version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, set in a contemporary frame of fascist Italy. Cinna the Poet dies at the hands not of a mob but a secret police force. According to Norman Lloyd, who played Cinna, "it stopped the show". The applause lasted more than 3 minutes and the production was widely acclaimed.
In the second year of the Mercury Theater, Welles shifted his interests to radio, as an actor, director and producer. He played Hamlet for CBS on The Columbia Workshop, adapting and directing the play himself. The Mutual Network gave him a seven-week series to adapt Les Misérables, which he did with great success. Welles was chosen to anonymously play Lamont Cranston, The Shadow, in late 1937 (again for Mutual) and in the summer of 1938 CBS gave him (and the Mercury Theatre) a weekly hour-long show to broadcast radio plays based on classic literary works. The show was titled The Mercury Theater on the Air, with original music by Bernard Herrmann, who would continue working with Welles on radio and in films for years.
Their October 30 broadcast, H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, brought Welles notoriety and instant fame on both a national and international level. The fortuitous mixture of news bulletin format with the between-breaks dial spinning habits of listeners from the rival and far more popular Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy program, created widespread confusion among late tuners. Panic spread among many listeners who believed the news reports of an actual Martian invasion. The resulting panic was duly reported around the world and disparagingly mentioned by Adolf Hitler in a public speech a few months later. Welles's growing fame soon drew Hollywood offers, lures which the independent-minded Welles resisted at first. However, The Mercury Theatre on the Air, which had been a "sustaining show" (without sponsorship) was picked up by Campbell Soup
Welles in Hollywood (1939 to 1948)
RKO Pictures president George Schaefer eventually offered Welles what is generally considered the greatest contract ever offered to an untried director: complete artistic control. RKO signed Welles in a two-picture deal; including script, cast, crew, and most important, final cut, though Welles had a budget limit for his projects. With this contract in hand, Welles (and nearly the entire Mercury Theatre) moved to Hollywood. He commuted weekly to New York to maintain his commitment to The Campbell Playhouse.
Welles toyed with various ideas for his first project for RKO Pictures, settling on an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which he worked on in great detail. He planned to film the action with a subjective camera from the protagonist's point of view. When a budget was drawn up, RKO's enthusiasm cooled, as it was greater than the previously agreed limit. RKO also declined to approve another Welles project, The Smiler with the Knife ostensibly because they lacked faith in Lucille Ball's ability to carry the leading lady role.
In a sign of things to come, Welles left The Campbell Playhouse in 1940, due to creative differences with the sponsor. The show continued without him, produced by John Houseman. In perhaps another sign of things to come, Welles's first actual experience on a Hollywood film was as narrator for RKO's 1940 production of The Swiss Family Robinson.
Welles found a suitable film project in an idea he conceived with screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (who was then writing radio plays for The Campbell Playhouse). Initially called American, it would eventually become Welles's first feature film (also his most famous and honored role), Citizen Kane (1941).
Mankiewicz based his original notion on an exposé of the life of William Randolph Hearst, whom he knew socially but now hated, having once been great friends with Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies. Mankiewicz was now banished from her company because of his perpetual drunkenness. Mankiewicz, a notorious gossip, exacted revenge with his unflattering depiction of Davies in Citizen Kane for which Welles got most of the criticisms; Welles also had a connection with Davies through his first wife. Kane's megalomaniac personality was also loosely modeled on Robert McCormick, Howard Hughes, and Joseph Pulitzer, as Welles wanted to create a broad, complex character, intending to show him in the same scenes from several points of view. The use of multiple narrative perspectives in Conrad's Heart of Darkness also influenced the treatment. Supplying Mankiewicz with 300 pages of notes, Welles urged him to write the first draft of a screenplay under the watchful nursing of
John Houseman, who was posted to ensure Mankiewicz stayed sober. On Welles's instruction, Houseman wrote the opening narration as a pastiche of The March of Time newsreels. Taking these drafts, Welles drastically condensed and rearranged them, then added scenes of his own.
The resulting character of Charles Foster Kane is loosely based on parts of Hearst's life. Nonetheless, autobiographical allusions to Welles himself were worked in, most noticeably in the treatment of Kane's childhood, particularly regarding his guardianship. Welles then added features from other famous American lives to create a general and mysterious personality rather than the narrow journalistic portrait intended by Mankiewicz, whose first drafts included scandalous claims about the death of the film director Thomas Ince.
Once the script was completed, Welles attracted some of Hollywood's best technicians, including cinematographer Gregg Toland, who walked into Welles's office and announced he wanted to work on the picture. For the cast, Welles primarily used actors from his Mercury Theatre. He invited suggestions from everyone, but only if they were directed through him.
Mankiewicz handed a copy of the final shooting script to his friend, Charles Lederer, now husband of Welles's ex-wife Virginia Nicholson and nephew of Hearst's mistress Marion Davies. Hedda Hopper saw a small ad in a newspaper for a preview screening of Citizen Kane and went. Hopper, realizing immediately that the film was based on features of Hearst's life, reported this back to him and threatened to give "Hollywood, Private Lives" if that was what it wanted. Thus began the struggle over the attempted suppression of Citizen Kane.
Hearst's media outlets boycotted the film. It exerted enormous pressure on the Hollywood film community by threatening to expose 15 years of suppressed scandals and the fact that most of the studio bosses were Jewish. At one point, the heads of the major studios jointly offered RKO the cost of the film in exchange for the negative and all existing prints, for the express purpose of burning it. RKO declined, and the film was given a limited release. Meanwhile, Hearst successfully intimidated theatre chains by threatening to ban advertising for any of their other films in any of his papers if they showed Citizen Kane.
While the film was critically well-received, by the time it reached the general public the positive tide of publicity had waned. It garnered nine Academy Award nominations, but won only for Best Original Screenplay, shared by Mankiewicz and Welles. The delay in its release and its uneven distribution contributed to its average result at the box-office, making back its budget and marketing, but RKO lost any chance of a major profit. The fact that Citizen Kane ignored many Hollywood conventions also meant that the film confused and angered the 1940s cinema public. Exhibitor response was scathing; most theater owners complained bitterly about the adverse audience reaction and the many walkouts, and only a few saw fit to acknowledge Welles's artistic technique. RKO shelved the film and did not re-release it until 1956. During the 1950s, the film came to be seen by young French film critics such as François Truffaut as exemplifying the "auteur theory", in which the director is
the "author" of a film. Truffaut, Godard and others were inspired by Welles's example to make their own films, giving birth to the Nouvelle Vague. In the 1960s Citizen Kane became popular on college campuses, both as a film-study exercise and as an entertainment subject. Its frequent revivals on television, home video, and DVD have enhanced its "classic" status, and it ultimately recouped its costs.
The 1996 documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane chronicles the battle between Welles and Hearst. A 1999 HBO docudrama, RKO 281, tells the story of the making of Citizen Kane, starring Liev Schreiber as Orson Welles.
After Citizen Kane
Welles's second film for RKO was The Magnificent Ambersons, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Booth Tarkington. George Schaefer hoped to make back the money lost by Citizen Kane. Ambersons had already been adapted for The Campbell Playhouse by Welles, who wrote the screen adaptation himself. Toland was not available, so Stanley Cortez was named cinematographer. The meticulous Cortez, however, was slow and the film lagged behind schedule and over budget. Prior to productions, Welles' contract was renegotiated, revoking his right to control the final cut.
At RKO's request, simultaneously, Welles worked on an adaptation of Eric Ambler's spy thriller, Journey into Fear, which he co-wrote with Joseph Cotten. In addition to acting in the film, Welles was also producer. Direction was credited solely to Norman Foster. Welles later stated that they were in such a rush that the director of each scene was whoever was closest to the camera.
Welles was then offered a new radio series by CBS. Called The Orson Welles Show, it was a half-hour variety show of short stories, comedy skits, poetry and musical numbers. Joining the original Mercury Theatre cast was Jiminy Cricket, "on loan from Walt Disney". The variety format was unpopular with the listeners, and Welles was soon forced into full half-hour stories instead. To further complicate matters during the production of Ambersons and Journey into Fear, Welles was approached by Nelson Rockefeller and Jock Whitney to produce a documentary film about South America. This was at the behest of the federal government's Good Neighbor policy, a wartime propaganda effort designed to prevent Latin America from allying with the Axis powers. Welles saw his involvement as a form of national service, because his physical condition excused him from direct military service.
Expected to film the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Welles rushed to finish the editing on Ambersons and his acting scenes in Journey into Fear. Ending his CBS radio show, he lashed together a rough cut of Ambersons with Robert Wise, who had edited Citizen Kane, and left for Brazil. Wise was to join him in Rio to complete the film but never arrived. A provisional final cut arranged via phone call, telegram, and shortwave radio was previewed without Welles's approval in Pomona in a double bill, to a mostly negative audience response, in particular to the character of Aunt Fanny played by Agnes Moorehead. Whereas Schaefer argued that Welles be allowed to complete his own version of the film, and that an archival copy be kept with the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, RKO disagreed. With Welles in South America, there was no practical means of having him edit the film.
Major changes occurred at RKO in 1942. Floyd Odlum took over control of the studio and began changing its direction. Rockefeller, the most significant backer of the Brazil project, left the RKO board of directors. Around the same time, the principal sponsor of Welles at RKO, studio president George Schaefer, resigned. The changes throughout RKO caused reevaluations of many projects. RKO took control of Ambersons, formed a committee which was ordered to edit the film into what the studio considered a commercial format. They removed fifty minutes of Welles's footage, re-shot sequences, rearranged the scene order, and added a new happy ending. Koerner released the shortened film on the bottom of a double-bill with the Lupe Vélez comedy Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost. Ambersons was an expensive flop for RKO, though it received four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Agnes Moorehead.
Welles's South American documentary, titled It's All True, budgeted at one million dollars with half of its budget coming from the U.S. Government upon completion, grew in ambition and budget while Welles was in South America. While the film was originally to be a documentary on Carnaval, Welles added a new story which recreated the journey of the jangadeiros, four poor fishermen who had made a 1,500-mile (2,400 km) journey on their open raft to petition Brazilian President Vargas about their working conditions. The four had become national folk heroes; Welles first read of their journey in Time. Their leader, Jacare, died during a filming mishap. RKO, in limited contact with Welles, attempted to rein in the production. Most of the crew and budget were withdrawn from the film. In addition, the Mercury staff was removed from the studio in the US.
Welles requested resources to finish the film. He was given a limited amount of black-and-white stock and a silent camera. He completed the sequence, but RKO refused to support any further production on the film. Surviving footage was released in 1993, including a rough reconstruction of the Four Men on a Raft segment. Meanwhile, RKO asserted in public that Welles had gone to Brazil without a screenplay and that he had squandered a million dollars. Their official company slogan for the next year was "Showmanship in place of Genius" which was taken as a slight against Welles.
On returning to Hollywood, Welles found no studios interested in hiring him as a film director after the twin disasters of The Magnificent Ambersons and It's All True. Welles afterward worked on radio. CBS offered him two weekly series, Hello Americans, based on the research he'd done in Brazil, and Ceiling Unlimited, sponsored by Lockheed, a wartime salute to advances in aviation. Both featured several members of his original Mercury Theatre. Within a few months, Hello Americans was canceled and Welles was replaced as host of Ceiling Unlimited by Joseph Cotten. Welles guest-starred on a great variety of shows, notably guest-hosting Jack Benny's show for a month in 1943. He took an increasingly active role in American and international politics and used journalism to communicate his forceful ideas widely.
In 1943, Welles married Rita Hayworth. They had one child, Rebecca Welles, and divorced five years later in 1948. In between, Welles found work as an actor in other directors' films. He starred in the 1943 film adaptation of Jane Eyre, trading credit as associate producer for top billing over Joan Fontaine. He also had a cameo in the 1944 wartime salute Follow the Boys, in which he performed his Mercury Wonder Show magic act and sawed Marlene Dietrich in half after Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn refused to allow Hayworth to perform.
In 1944, Welles was offered a new radio show, broadcast only in California. Orson Welles's Almanac was another half-hour variety show, with Mobil Oil as sponsor. After the success of his stand-in hosting on The Jack Benny Show, the focus was primarily on comedy. His hosting on Jack Benny included several self-deprecating jokes and story lines about his being a "genius" and overriding any ideas advanced by other cast members. The trade papers were not eager to accept Welles as a comedian, and Welles often complained on-air about the poor quality of the scripts. When Welles started his Mercury Wonder Show a few months later, traveling to Armed Forces camps and performing magic tricks and doing comedy, the radio show was broadcast live from the camps and the material took a decidedly wartime flavor. Of his original Mercury actors, only Agnes Moorehead was left. The series was cancelled by year's end due to poor ratings.
While he found no studio willing to hire him as a film director, Welles's popularity as an actor continued. Pabst Blue Ribbon gave Welles their radio series This Is My Best to direct, but after one month he was fired for creative differences. He started writing a political column for the New York Post, again called Orson Welles Almanac. While the paper wanted Welles to write about Hollywood gossip, Welles explored serious political issues. His activism for world peace took considerable amounts of his time. The Post column eventually failed in syndication because of contradictory expectations and was dropped by the Post.
Post-World War II work (1946-1948)
In 1946, International Pictures released Welles's film The Stranger, starring Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young and Welles. Sam Spiegel produced the film, which follows the hunt for a Nazi war criminal living under an alias in America. While Anthony Veiller was credited with the screenplay, it had been rewritten by Welles and John Huston. Disputes occurred during the editing process between Spiegel and Welles.
In the summer of 1946, Welles directed a musical stage version of Around the World in Eighty Days, with a comedic and ironic rewriting of the Jules Verne novel by Welles, incidental music and songs by Cole Porter, and production by Mike Todd, who would later produce the successful film version with David Niven. When Todd pulled out from the lavish and expensive production, Welles supported the finances himself. When he ran out of money at one point, he convinced Columbia president Harry Cohn to send him enough 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 would soon fail due to poor box-office, with Welles unable to claim the losses on his taxes. The complicated finanical arrangements concerning the show, its losses and Welles's arrangement with Cohn resulted in a tax dispute with the IRS.
At the same time in 1946 he began two new radio series, The Mercury Summer Theatre for CBS and Orson Welles Commentaries for ABC. While Summer Theatre featured half-hour adaptations of some of the classic Mercury radio shows from the 1930s, the first episode was a condensation of his Around the World stage play, and remains the only record of Cole Porter's music for the project. Several original Mercury actors returned for the series, as well as Bernard Herrmann. It was only scheduled for the summer months, and Welles invested his earnings into his failing stage play. Commentaries was a political soap-box, 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. Soon Welles was being hung in effigy in the South and theaters refused to show the The Stranger in several southern states.
The film for Cohn wound up being The Lady from Shanghai, filmed in 1947 for Columbia Pictures. Intended to be 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, in particular the confusing plot and lack of close-ups, and ordered extensive editing and re-shoots. After heavy editing by the studio, approximately one hour of Welles's first cut had been removed. While expressing displeasure at the cuts, Welles was particularly appalled by the soundtrack, objecting to the musical score. The film was considered a disaster in America at the time of release. Not long after release, Welles and Hayworth finalized their divorce. Though the film was acclaimed in Europe, it was not embraced in the US for several decades. A similar situation occurred when Welles suggested to Charles Chaplin that he star in a film directed by Welles based on the life of the
French serial killer, Henri Désiré Landru. Chaplin instead adapted the idea for his own film, Monsieur Verdoux, with Welles officially credited for the idea.
In 1948 Welles convinced Republic Pictures to let him direct a low-budget version of Macbeth, which featured papier-mâché sets, cardboard crowns and a cast of actors lip-syncing to a prerecorded soundtrack. Republic did not care for the Scottish accents on the soundtrack and held up release for almost a year. Welles left for Europe, while his co-producer and life-long supporter Richard Wilson reworked the soundtrack. Welles ultimately returned and cut twenty minutes from the film at Republic's request and recorded narration to cover the gaps. The film was decried as another disaster. In the late 1970s, a version of Macbeth was released that attempted to follow Welles's original vision.
During this time, Welles sought to adapt the radio and serial series The Shadow to the big screen. He aimed to direct, produce, write and star in the film. The film never went beyond the initial proposal stage due to lack of investor interest. The Mark Millar article detailing Welles's attempt at a Batman film is partially inspired by this.
Welles in Europe (1948 to 1956)
Welles left Hollywood for Europe in late 1947, enigmatically saying he had chosen "freedom".
In Italy he starred as Cagliostro in the 1948 film Black Magic. His co-star, Akim Tamiroff, impressed Welles so much that he appeared in four of Welles's own productions during the 1950s and 1960s.
The following year, Welles appeared as Harry Lime in The Third Man, written by Graham Greene, directed by Carol Reed, starring Mercury Theatre alumnus Joseph Cotten, and with a memorable zither score by Anton Karas. The film was an international smash hit, but Welles unfortunately turned down a percentage of the gross in exchange for a lump-sum advance. A few years later British radio producer Harry Alan Towers would resurrect the Lime character for radio in the series The Lives of Harry Lime. The 1951 series included new recordings by Karas, was very successful, and ran for 52 weeks. Welles claimed to write a handful of episodes – a claim disputed by Towers, who maintains they were written by Ernest Borneman – which would later serve as the basis for the screenplay of Welles's Mr. Arkadin< (1955).
Welles also 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). 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. The film featured Welles's old friends Micheál MacLíammóir 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 to find other acting jobs, accounted in detail in MacLiammóir's published memoir Put Money in Thy Purse. When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival it won the Palme d'Or, but was not given a general release in the United States until 1955 (by which time Welles had re-cut the first reel and re-dubbed most of the film, removing Cloutier's voice entirely), and it played only in New York and Los Angeles. The American release prints had a technically flawed soundtrack, suffering from a complete drop-out of sound at every quiet moment, and it was one of these flawed prints that was restored by Welles's daughter, Beatrice Welles-Smith in 1992 for a wide re-release. The restoration included reconstructing Angelo Francesco Lavagnino's original musical score (which was inaudible) and adding ambient stereo sound effects (which weren't in the original film). Though still active in Italy, Lavagnino was not consulted.
The subject of great controversy among film scholars, the restoration went on to a successful theatrical run in America. A print of the US version was released on laser-disc in 1995 and soon withdrawn after a legal challenge by Beatrice Welles-Smith. The original Cannes version has survived but is not commercially available.
In 1952 Welles continued finding work in England, after the success of the Harry Lime radio show. Harry Alan Towers offered Welles another series, The Black Museum, with Welles as host and narrator, and this would also run 52 weeks. Director Herbert Wilcox offered him the part of the murdered victim in Trent's Last Case, based on the novel by E. C. Bentley. And in 1953 the BBC hired Welles to read an hour of selections from Walt Whitman's epic poem Song of Myself. Towers hired Welles again, to play Professor Moriarty< in the radio series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starring John Gielgud, and Ralph Richardson.
Late in 1953, Welles returned to America to star in a live CBS Omnibus television presentation of Shakespeare's King Lear. The cast included MacLiammóir and the British actor Alan Badel. While Welles received good notices, he was guarded by IRS agents, prohibited to leave his hotel room when not at the studio, prevented from making any purchases, and the entire sum (less expenses) he earned went to his tax bill. Welles returned to England after the broadcast.
In 1954, director George More O'Ferrall offered Welles the title role in the 'Lord Mountdrago' segment of Three Cases of Murder, co-starring Badel. Herbert Wilcox cast him as the antagonist in Trouble in Glen opposite Margaret Lockwood, Forrest Tucker and Victor McLaglen. Old friend John Huston cast him as Father Mapple in his film adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, starring Gregory Peck.
Welles's next turn as director was the film Mr. Arkadin (1955), 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 completely 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 which Dolivet completed was retitled Confidential Report. In 2005 Stefan Droessler of the Munich Filmmuseum
oversaw a reconstruction of the surviving film elements. Released on DVD by the Criterion Company, it is considered by Welles scholar and director Peter Bogdanovich to be the best version of Welles's original intentions for the film.
Also in 1955 Welles directed two television series for the BBC. The first was Orson Welles's Sketchbook, 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). A seventh episode of this series, based on the Gaston Dominici case, was suppressed at the time by the French government, but was reconstructed after Welles's death and released to video in 1999.
In 1956 Welles completed Portrait of Gina, posthumously aired on German television under the title Viva Italia, a 30-minute personal essay on Gina Lollobrigida and the general subject of Italian sex symbols. Dissatisfied with the results - Welles recalled he had worked on it a lot and the result looked like it - he left the only print behind at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. The film cans would remain in a lost and found locker at the hotel for several decades, where they were rediscovered after Welles's death.
Return to Hollywood (1956 to 1959)
In 1956, Welles returned to Hollywood, guesting on radio shows (notably as narrator of Tomorrow, a nuclear holocaust drama produced by the Federal Civil Defense Administration). He guest starred on television shows, including I Love Lucy and 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 wasn't aired until 1958. It won the Peabody Award for excellence. Welles's next feature film role was in Man in the Shadow for Universal Pictures in 1957, starring Jeff Chandler.
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 (Welles, who wrote the screenplay for the film, claimed never to have read the book). Originally only hired as an actor, Welles was promoted to director by Universal Studios at the suggestion (and insistence) of Charlton Heston. Reuniting many actors and technicians with whom he'd worked in Hollywood in the 1940s (including cameraman Russell Metty [The Stranger], make-up artist Maurice Siederman (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. 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. The studio
followed a few of the ideas, but cut another 30 minutes from the film and released it. The film was widely praised across Europe, awarded the top prize at the Brussels World's Fair.
In 1978, the long preview version of the film was rediscovered and released. In 1998, editor Walter Murch and producer Rick Schmidlin, consulting the original memo, used a workprint version to attempt to create a version of the film as close as possible to that outlined in the memo. This is at best a compromise that should not be mistaken for Welles's original intent. Welles stated in that memo that the film was no longer his version — it was the studio's, but as such, he was still prepared to help them with it.
As Universal reworked Touch of Evil, Welles began filming his adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes' novel Don Quixote in Mexico, starring Mischa Auer as Quixote and Akim Tamiroff as Sancho Panza. While filming would continue in fits and starts for several years, Welles would never complete the project.
Welles continued acting, notably in The Long, Hot Summer (1958) and Compulsion (1959), but soon returned to Europe.
Return to Europe (1959 to 1970)
He continued shooting Don Quixote in Spain, 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 Curd 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. He also staged a play at the Gate Theater in Dublin which compressed five of Shakespeare's history plays in order to focus on the story of Falstaff. Keith Baxter played Prince Hal and Welles called his adaptation Chimes at Midnight.
By this time ceased filming Quixote. Though he would continue toying with the editing well into the 1970s, he never completed the film. 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.
In 1962 Welles directed his adaptation of The Trial, based on the novel by Franz Kafka and produced by Alexander Salkind and Michael Salkind. 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. The film failed at the box-office. Peter Bogdanovich would later observe that Welles found the film riotously funny. During the filming, Welles met Oja Kodar, who would later become his muse, star and partner for the last twenty years of his life.
Welles plays a film director in La Ricotta - Pier Paolo Pasolini's segment of the Ro.Go.Pa.G. movie. 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. Filmed in Spain, it was a condensation of five Shakespeare plays, telling the story of Falstaff and his relationship with Prince Hal. The cast included Keith Baxter, John Gielgud, Jeanne Moreau, Fernando Rey and Margaret Rutherford, with narration by Ralph Richardson. Music was again by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. Jess Franco served as second unit director.
In 1966, Welles directed a film for French television, an adaptation of The Immortal Story, by Karen Blixen. 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 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 Isak Dinesen'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.
In 1967 Welles began directing The Deep, based on the novel Dead Calm by Charles F. Williams and filmed off the shore of Yugoslavia. 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. 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. 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 portions were eventually released by the Filmmuseum München.
In 1969, Welles authorised the use of his name for a cinema in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Orson Welles Cinema remained in operation until 1986, with Welles making a personal appearance there in 1977. Also in 1969 he played a supporting role in John Huston's The Kremlin Letter. 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.
Return to United States and final years (1970 to 1985)
Welles returned to Hollywood, where he continued to self-finance his own film and television projects. While offers to act, narrate and host continued, Welles also found himself in great demand on talk shows, and made frequent appearances for Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, Dean Martin, and Merv Griffin. Welles's primary focus in this period was filming The Other Side of the Wind, a project that took six years to film but has remained unfinished and unreleased. An early role was portraying Louis XVIII of France in Waterloo (1970).
Welles also narrated the beginning and ending scenes of the Bud Yorkin historical comedy Start the Revolution Without Me, which starred Gene Wilder, Donald Sutherland, and Hugh Griffith, among others.
In 1971 Welles directed a short adaptation of Moby-Dick, a one-man performance on a bare stage, reminiscent of his stage production Moby Dick Rehearsed from the 1950s. Never completed, it was eventually released by the Filmmuseum München. He also appeared in La Décade prodigieuse, 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. Huston criticized the Academy for awarding Welles while they refused to give him any work.
In 1972, Welles acted as on-screen narrator for the film documentary version of Alvin Toffler's 1970 book Future Shock. The following year, Welles completed F for Fake, a personal essay film about art forger Elmyr de Hory and the biographer Clifford Irving. Based on an existing documentary by François Reichenbach, it included new material with Oja Kodar, Joseph Cotten, Paul Stewart and William Alland.
Working again for a British producer, Welles played Long John Silver in director John Hough's 1973 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island, which had been the second story broadcast by The Mercury Theater on the Air in 1938. Welles also contributed to the script, his writing credit was attributed to the pseudonym 'O. W. Jeeves'.
In 1975, Welles narrated the documentary Bugs Bunny: Superstar, focusing on Warner Bros. cartoons from the 1940s. 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). At the ceremony, Welles screened two scenes from the nearly finished The Other Side of the Wind. Filming had begun in 1972 and by 1976, Welles had almost completed the film. Financed by Iranian backers, ownership of the film fell into a legal quagmire after the Shah of Iran was deposed. Written by Welles, the story told of a destructive old film director looking for funds to complete his final film. It starred John Huston and the cast included Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Norman Foster, Edmond O'Brien, Cameron Mitchell, and Dennis Hopper. 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. The Showtime cable network has promised support for the project should the various entanglements associated with it be resolved.
In 1979 Welles completed his documentary Filming Othello, which featured Michael MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards. 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.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Welles participated in a series of famous television commercial advertisements, acting as the on-camera spokesman for the Paul Masson wine company. The sign-off phrase of the commercials — "We will sell no wine before its time" — became a national catchphrase. He was also the voice behind the long-running Carlsberg "Probably the best lager in the world" campaign. The "probably" tag is still in use today. During coverage of these commercials on Ads Infinitum, Victor Lewis-Smith, a critic of Masson wines, fondly remarked that Welles endorsements of the wine were proof he was "a genius, but a lying bastard" and promptly showed an outtake of Welles being impossible to work with in a commercial shoot. In 1979 Welles also appeared in the biopic The Secret Life of Nikola Tesla.
In 1981, Welles hosted the documentary The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, about Renaissance-era prophet Nostradamus. In 1982 the BBC broadcast The Orson Welles Story in the Arena series. 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.
During the 1980s, Welles worked on such film projects as The Dreamers, based on two stories by Isak Dinesen and starring Oja Kodar, and The 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 were completed. All of them were eventually released by the Filmmuseum München. Also during this time he recorded narration for the tracks "Dark Avenger" and "Defender" by heavy metal band Manowar.
Welles was the narrator of 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' 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.
The last film roles before Welles's death included voice work in the animated films The Enchanted Journey (1984) and The Transformers: The Movie (1986), in which he played the planet-eating robot Unicron. His last film appearance was in Henry Jaglom's 1987 independent film Someone to Love, released after his death but produced before his voice-over in Transformers: The Movie. His last television appearance was on the television show Moonlighting. He recorded an introduction to an episode entitled "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice", which was partially filmed in black and white. The episode aired five days after his death and was dedicated to his memory.
In 1932, Welles fell in love with the Mexican actress Dolores del Río. They lived a torrid romance between 1938 and 1942 in spite of the fact that he was ten years her junior.. They collaborated together in the movie Journey into Fear but the affair ended soon afterward. Del Río returned to Mexico and Welles married Rita Hayworth. Welles lived with Croatian-born actress Oja Kodar for the last twenty years of his life.
Welles went on to have three children with three different women: children's author Christopher Welles (born in 1937 with Virginia Nicholson), Rebecca Welles Manning (born in 1944 with Rita Hayworth) and Beatrice Welles (born circa November 1955 to Paola Mori).
According to a 1941 physical exam taken when he was 26, Welles was 72 inches (182.9 cm) tall and weighed 218 pounds (98.9 kg). His eyes were brown. Other sources cite that he was 6 feet 4 inches (1.9 m) tall. Welles suffered from a serious weight problem in later life that rendered him morbidly obese, at one point weighing nearly four hundred pounds. His obesity was severe to the point that it restricted his ability to travel, aggravated other health conditions, including his asthma, and even required him to go on a diet in order to play Sir John Falstaff. Some have attributed his over-eating to depression over his marginalization by the Hollywood system.
In April 1982, Merv Griffin interviewed Welles and asked about his religious beliefs. Welles replied, "I try to be a Christian, I don't pray really, because I don't want to bore God." After the success of his 1941 film Citizen Kane, Welles announced that his next film would be about the life of Jesus Christ, and that he would play the lead role. However, Welles never got around to making the film. He narrated the Christian-documentary The Late, Great Planet Earth as well as the 1961 Biblical film about the life of Christ, King of Kings.
Some of Welles' claimed familial ties have not held up under scrutiny. Despite the persistent urban legend, promoted by Welles himself, he was not the great-grandson of Abraham Lincoln's wartime Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. Perhaps the genesis of the myth dates to a 1970 interview on The Dick Cavett Show during which Welles remarks about his venerable great-grandfather Gideon Welles. Orson Welles’ father was Richard Head Welles, son of his paternal grandfather Richard Jones Welles; Gideon Welles had no son by that name. His sons were Hubert (1833-1862), John Arthur (1845-1883), Thomas G. (1846-1892), and Edgar Thaddeus Welles (1843-1914). The two families are unrelated.
On October 10, 1985, Welles did his final interview on The Merv Griffin Show. He died just two hours later of a heart attack at his home in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, California, at the age of 70. Welles's ashes were buried on the property of a long time friend, retired bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez, in Ronda, Spain.