George Orson Welles (May 6, 1915 – October 10, 1985) was an American actor, director, writer and producer who worked extensively in theater, radio and film. He is best remembered for his innovative work in all three media, most notably Caesar (1937), a groundbreaking Broadway adaption ofJulius Caesar and the debut of the Mercury Theatre; The War of the Worlds (1938), one of the most famous broadcasts in the history of radio; andCitizen Kane (1941), which is consistently ranked as one of the all-time greatest films.
After directing a number of high-profile productions in his early twenties, including an innovative adaptation of Macbeth and The Cradle Will Rock, Welles found national and international fame as the director and narrator of a 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worldsperformed for the radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was reported to have caused widespread panic when listeners thought that an invasion by extraterrestrial beings was occurring. Although these reports of panic were mostly false and overstated, they rocketed Welles to instant notoriety.
His first film was Citizen Kane (1941), which he co-wrote, produced, directed, and starred in as Charles Foster Kane. Welles was always an outsider to the studio system and directed only 13 full-length films in his career. While he struggled for creative control in the face of studios, many of his films were heavily edited and others were left unreleased. His distinctive directorial style featured layered and nonlinear narrative forms, innovative uses oflighting such as chiaroscuro, unusual camera angles, sound techniques borrowed from radio, deep focus shots, and long takes. He has been praised as a major creative force and as "the ultimate auteur." Welles followed up Citizen Kane with other critically acclaimed films, including The Magnificent Ambersons in 1942, and Touch of Evil in 1958.
In 2002, Welles was voted the greatest film director of all time in two separate British Film Institute polls among directors and critics, and a wide survey of critical consensus, best-of lists, and historical retrospectives calls him the most acclaimed director of all time. Well known for his baritonevoice, Welles was also a well-regarded actor and was voted number 16 in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Stars list of the greatest American film actors of all time. He was also a celebrated Shakespearean stage actor and an accomplished magician, starring in troop variety shows in the war years.
Welles was born May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, son of Richard Hodgdon Head Welles (1873, Missouri – December 28, 1930, Chicago, Illinois) and Beatrice (née Ives; 1882 or 1883,Springfield, Illinois – May 10, 1924, Chicago, Illinois). He was raised Roman Catholic. Despite his parents' affluence, Welles encountered many hardships in childhood. His parents separated and moved to Chicago in 1919. His father, who had made a fortune as the inventor of a popular bicycle lamp, became an alcoholic and stopped working. Welles's mother, a concert pianist, played during lectures by Dudley Crafts Watson at the Chicago Art Institute to support her son and herself (the oldest Welles boy, "Dickie", had been institutionalized at an early age because he had learning difficulties). Beatrice died of hepatitis in a Chicago hospital on May 10, 1924 (at the age of 43), a few days after Welles's ninth birthday. After his mother's death Welles ceased pursuing his interest in music. He was taken in by Dudley Crafts Watson and lived with the family at Watson's family home, "Trillium Dell", on Marshman Avenue in Highland Park, Illinois. At the age of ten Orson, with Watson's third daughter, Marjorie (of the same age), ran away from home. They were found a week later, singing and dancing for money on a street corner in Milwaukee. His father died when Orson was 15 during the summer after Orson's graduation from Todd School for Boys, an independent school in Woodstock, Illinois. Maurice Bernstein, a physician from Chicago, became his guardian.
At Todd School Welles came under the influence 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. Following graduation from Todd, Welles was awarded a scholarship to Harvard University. Rather than enrolling, he chose to travel. Later, he briefly studied for a time at the Art Institute of Chicago. He returned a number of times to Woodstock to direct his alma mater's student productions.
Early career (1931–1935)
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 Theatrein 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.
In 1934, Welles got his first job on radio — on The American School of the Air — through actor-director Paul Stewart, who introduced him to director Knowles Entrikin. That summer he also shot his first film, an eight-minute short called The Hearts of Age, and on November 14 he married Chicago actress Virginia Nicholson. By 1935 Welles was supplementing his earnings in the theatre as a radio actor in Manhattan, working with many of the actors who would later form the core of his Mercury Theatre on programs including America's Hour, Cavalcade of America, Columbia Workshop and The March of Time.
Theatre and radio (1936–1940)
Federal Theatre Project
Main article: Voodoo Macbeth
Silkscreen poster for Macbeth
In 1936, the Federal Theatre Project (part of Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration) put unemployed theater 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. The production became known as the Voodoo Macbeth, because Welles set it in the Haitian court of King Henri Christophe, with voodoo witch doctors for the three Weird Sisters. Jack Carter played Macbeth. Canada Lee, who two years before had rescued Welles from a potentially dangerous scrape with an armed theatre-goer, played Banquo. The incidental music was composed by Virgil Thomson. The play opened April 14, 1936, at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem and was received rapturously. It later toured the nation. When the lead actor, Maurice Ellis, fell ill on tour, Welles quickly boarded an airplane to fly to the location and stepped into the part, playing the role in blackface. At the age of 20, Welles was hailed as a prodigy. A few minutes of the Welles production of Macbeth was recorded on film in a 1937 documentary called We Work Again.
Horse Eats Hat
Main article: Horse Eats Hat
After the success of Macbeth, Welles mounted the farce Horse Eats Hat, an adaptation by Welles and Edwin Denby of Eugène Labiche's play, Un Chapeau de Paille d'Italie. The play was presented September 26 – December 5, 1936, at Maxine Elliott's Theatre, New York. Joseph Cotten was featured in his first starring role.
The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus
Welles consolidated his "White Hope" reputation with Dr. Faustus, which used light as a prime unifying scenic element in a nearly blacked-out stage. Faustuswas presented January 8 – May 9, 1937, at Maxine Elliott's Theatre, New York.
The Second Hurricane
In 1937 American composer Aaron Copland chose Welles to direct The Second Hurricane, an operetta with a libretto by Edwin Denby that is one of Copland's least known works. Presented at theHenry Street Settlement Music School in New York for the benefit of high school students, the production opened April 21, 1937, and ran for its scheduled three performances. Among the few adult performers in the production was actor Joseph Cotten, Welles's longtime friend and collaborator, who was paid $10 for his performance.
The Cradle Will Rock
Main article: The Cradle Will Rock
Original poster for Project 891's production of The Cradle Will Rock
In 1937, Welles rehearsed Marc Blitzstein's highly political operetta, The Cradle Will Rock. It was originally scheduled to open June 16, 1937, in its first public preview. Because of severe federal cutbacks in the Works Progress projects, the show's premiere at the Maxine Elliott Theatre was canceled. The theater was locked and guarded to prevent any of the government-purchased materials being used for a commercial production of the work. In a last-minute move, Welles announced to waiting ticket-holders that the show was being transferred to the Venice, about twenty blocks away. Some cast, as well as some crew and audience, walked the distance on foot. The union musicians refused to perform in a commercial theater for lower non-union government wages. The actors' union stated that the production belonged to the Federal Theater Project and could not be performed outside that context without permission. Lacking the participation of the union members, The Cradle Will Rock began with Blitzstein introducing the show and playing the piano accompaniment on stage with some cast members performing 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 way.
Main article: Mercury Theatre
Resigning from the Federal Theatre, Welles and Houseman formed the Mercury Theatre, of which Welles became executive producer and whose repertory company eventually included actors such as Agnes Moorehead, Joseph Cotten, Dolores del Río, 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 William Shakespeare's tragedy Julius Caesar, set in a contemporary frame of fascist Italy. Cinna the Poet dies at the hands not of a mob but of a secret police force. According to Norman Lloyd, who played Cinna the Poet, "it stopped the show." The applause lasted more than ten 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, while adapting and directing the play. In July 1937, the Mutual Network gave him a seven-week series to adapt Les Misérables, which he did with great success. That September, Mutual chose Welles to playLamont Cranston, aka The Shadow, anonymously 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 Theatre on the Air, with original music by Bernard Herrmann, who would continue working with Welles on radio and in films for years.
An electrical transcription disk of the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast
The War of the Worlds broadcast
Main article: The War of the Worlds (radio drama)
Their October 30, 1938 radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells brought Welles instant fame. The combination of the news bulletin form of the performance with the between-breaks dial spinning habits of listeners from the rival and far more popular Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy program was later reported in the media to have created widespread confusion among listeners who failed to hear the introduction, although the extent of this confusion has recently come into question. Panic was reported to have spread (after citation from rumors) among many listeners who believed the news reports of a Martian invasion. The myth of the result created by the combination was reported as fact around the world and disparagingly mentioned by Adolf Hitler in a public speech a few months later. The 1975 docudrama The Night That Panicked America was based on events centering on the production of, and events that resulted from, the program.
Welles's growing fame soon drew Hollywood offers, lures which the independent-minded Welles resisted at first. The Mercury Theatre on the Air, which had been a "sustaining show" (without sponsorship) was picked up by Campbell Soup and renamed The Campbell Playhouse.
On October 28, 1940, Welles met H.G. Wells in San Antonio, Texas; a local radio station KTSA recorded the conversation, which was likely the only meeting between the two.
RKO Radio Pictures president George Schaefer eventually offered Welles what generally is 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 importantly, final cut, although Welles had a budget limit for his projects. With this contract in hand, Welles (and nearly the entire Mercury Theatre troupe) 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 Radio 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 (a technique later used in the Robert Montgomery film Lady in the Lake). When a budget was drawn up, RKO's enthusiasm cooled because it was greater than the previously agreed limit. RKO also declined to approve another Welles project, The Smiler With the Knife, based on the Cecil Day-Lewis novel, ostensibly because RKO executives lacked faith in Lucille Ball's ability to carry the film as the leading lady.
Welles left The Campbell Playhouse in 1940 due to creative differences with the sponsor. The show continued without him, produced by John Houseman. Welles's first experience on a Hollywood film was narrator for RKO's 1940 production of The Swiss Family Robinson.
Main article: Citizen Kane
Orson Welles in Citizen Kane
RKO, having rejected Welles's first two movie proposals, agreed on the third offer, Citizen Kane, for which Welles co-wrote, produced, directed, and performed the lead role.
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 entitled The American, it eventually became 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 came to hate, having once been great friends with Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies. Having been 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 bore most of the criticisms.
Kane's megalomania was modeled loosely 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'sHeart of Darkness influenced the treatment.
Supplying Mankiewicz with 300 pages of notes, Welles urged him to write the first draft of a screenplay under 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. Orson Welles explained to Peter Bogdanovich about the writers working separately by saying, "I left him on his own finally, because we'd started to waste too much time haggling. So, after mutual agreements on storyline and character, Mank went off with Houseman and did his version, while I stayed in Hollywood and wrote mine." Taking these drafts, Welles drastically condensed and rearranged them, then added scenes of his own. The industry accused Welles of underplaying Mankiewicz's contribution to the script, but Welles countered the attacks by saying, "At the end, naturally, I was the one making the picture, after all—who had to make the decisions. I used what I wanted of Mank's and, rightly or wrongly, kept what I liked of my own.":54
Charles Foster Kane is based loosely on parts of Hearst's life. Nonetheless, autobiographical allusions to Welles were worked in, most noticeably in the treatment of Kane's childhood and 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. Welles later described Toland as "the fastest cameraman who ever lived." For the cast, Welles primarily used actors from his Mercury Theatre. He invited suggestions from everyone but only if they were directed through him. Filming Citizen Kane took ten weeks.
Mankiewicz handed a copy of the final shooting script to his friend, Charles Lederer, husband of Welles's ex-wife, Virginia Nicholson, as well as the nephew of Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies. Gossip columnist 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 he 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. They exerted enormous pressure on the Hollywood film community by threatening to expose fifteen 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, fully intending to burn them. RKO declined and the film was given a limited release. Hearst intimidated theater chains by threatening to ban advertising for any of their other films in any of his papers if they showedCitizen Kane.
The film was well-received critically, with Bosley Crowther, film critic for the New York Times calling it "close to being the most sensational film ever made in Hollywood". By the time it reached the general public, though, the publicity had waned. It garnered nine Academy Award nominations (Orson nominated as a producer, director, writer, and actor), but won only for Best Original Screenplay, shared by Mankiewicz and Welles. Although it was largely ignored at the Academy Awards, Citizen Kane now is hailed as one of the greatest films ever made. Andrew Sarris called it "the work that influenced the cinema more profoundly than any American film since The Birth of a Nation."
The delay in its release and its uneven distribution contributed to its mediocre 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. 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 inspired by Welles's example made their own films, giving birth to the Nouvelle Vague. In the 1960s Citizen Kane became popular on college campuses 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 ultimately it recouped its costs. The film still is considered by most film critics and historians to be one of the greatest motion pictures in cinema history.
The Magnificent Ambersons
Main article: The Magnificent Ambersons (film)
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 money with this film, since he lost money with Citizen Kane. Ambersons already had been adapted for The Campbell Playhouse by Welles, for radio, and he then wrote the screen adaptation. Toland was not available, soStanley Cortez was named cinematographer. The meticulous Cortez, however, was slow and the film lagged behind schedule and over budget. Prior to production, Welles's contract was renegotiated, revoking his right to control the final cut.
Journey into Fear
At RKO's request 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 determined by whoever was closest to the camera.
CBS then offered Welles a new radio series 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 for the show was Cliff Edwards, the voice of Jiminy Cricket, "on loan from Walt Disney". The variety format was unpopular with listeners and Welles soon was forced to limit the content of the show simply to telling a one half-hour story for the entirety of each episode.
It's All True
Main article: It's All True (film)
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, since 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, particularly 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.
As a result of the difficult financial circumstances that RKO found itself in across the period 1940–42, major changes occurred at the studio in 1942 Floyd Odlum took over control of RKO 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 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, although it received four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Agnes Moorehead.
Welles's South American documentary, entitled 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 originally was 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 U.S.
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.
Director for hire (1943–1946)
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 next 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 troupe. 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 shows 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 1944 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' Almanac. It 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 the Jack Benny show 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 on a decidedly wartime flavor. Of his original Mercury actors, only Agnes Moorehead remained working with him. 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. Cresta Blanca Wines gave Welles its 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's 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-war work (1946–1948)
Left to right: Edward G. Robinson, Richard Long, Loretta Young, Martha Wentworth, Orson Welles, Philip Merivale, Byron Keith and an unknown actress in The Stranger
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 the United States. While Anthony Veillerwas credited with the screenplay, it had been rewritten by Welles and John Huston. Disputes occurred during the editing process between Spiegel and Welles. The film became a box office success and it helped his standing with the studios.
Around the World
In the summer of 1946, Welles directed Around the World, a musical stage adaptation of the Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days with a book by Welles and music by Cole Porter. Producer Mike Todd, who would later produce the successful 1956 film adaptation, pulled out from the lavish and expensive Broadway production, leaving Welles to support the finances. When Welles ran out of money he convinced Columbia Pictures 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 soon failed due to poor box-office, with Welles unable to claim the losses on his taxes. The complicated financial arrangements — concerning the show, its losses, and Welles's arrangement with Cohn — resulted in a tax dispute between Welles and the IRS.
In 1946, Welles began two new radio series — The Mercury Summer Theatre on the Air for CBS, and Orson Welles Commentaries for ABC. While Mercury 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 Worldstage 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 only was scheduled for the summer months, and Welles invested his earnings into his failing stage play. Commentaries was a political vehicle for him, continuing the themes from his New York Post column. Again, Welles lacked a clear focus, until the NAACP brought to his attention the case of Isaac Woodard. Welles brought significant attention to Woodard's cause. Soon Welles was being hanged in effigy in the South and theaters refused to show The Stranger in several southern states.
The Lady from Shanghai
The film Welles was obliged to make for Cohn in exchange for Cohn's help in completing Around the World in Eighty Days ended 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.
Orson Welles in The Lady from Shanghai
Cohn disliked Welles's rough-cut, particularly the confusing plot and lack of close-ups, and was not in sympathy with Welles's Brechtian use of irony and black comedy, especially in a farcical courtroom scene. Cohn ordered extensive editing and re-shoots. After heavy editing by the studio, approximately one hour of Welles's first cut had been removed, including much of a climactic confrontation scene in an amusement park funhouse. While expressing displeasure at the cuts, Welles was appalled particularly at the musical score. The film was considered a disaster in America at the time of release, though the closing shootout in a hall of mirrors has since become one of the touchstones of film noir. Not long after release, Welles and Hayworth finalized their divorce.
Although The Lady From Shanghai was acclaimed in Europe, it was not embraced in the U.S. until several decades later. Influential modern critics including David Kehr have subsequently declared it a masterpiece, with Kehr calling it "the weirdest great movie ever made." A similar difference in reception on opposite sides of the Atlantic followed by greater American acceptance befell the Welles-inspired Chaplin film Monsieur Verdoux, originally to be directed by Welles starring Chaplin, then directed by Chaplin with the idea credited to Welles.
Prior to 1948, Welles convinced Republic Pictures to let him direct a low-budget version of Macbeth, which featured extremely stylized sets and costumes, and a cast of actors lip-syncing to a pre-recorded soundtrack, one of many innovative cost-cutting techniques Welles deployed in an attempt to make an epic film from B-movie resources. The script, adapted by Welles, is a violent reworking of Shakespeare's original, freely cutting and pasting lines into new contexts via a collage technique and recasting Macbeth as a clash of pagan and proto-Christian ideologies. Some of the voodoo trappings of the famous Welles/Houseman Negro Theatre stage adaptation are also visible, especially in the film's characterization of the Weird Sisters, who create an effigy of Macbeth as a charm to enchant him. Of all Welles's post-Kane Hollywood productions, Macbeth is stylistically closest to Citizen Kane in its use of long takes and deep focus photography. Shots of the increasingly isolated Scottish king looming in the foreground while other characters address him from deep in the background overtly reference Kane.
Republic initially trumpeted the film as an important work but decided it did not care for the Scottish accents on the soundtrack and held up general release for almost a year after early negative press reaction, which included Life 's comment that Welles's film "doth foully slaughter Shakespeare." Welles left for Europe, while his co-producer and lifelong supporter Richard Wilsonreworked 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.Macbeth had its share of influential fans in Europe, especially the French poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, who hailed the film's "crude, irreverent power" and careful shot design, and described the characters as haunting "the corridors of some dreamlike subway, an abandoned coal mine, and ruined cellars oozing with water."
In the late 1970s, a fully restored version of Macbeth was released that followed Welles's original vision, and all prints of the truncated theatrical release have gradually been withdrawn from circulation, turning Welles's compulsory recut version—which has the distinction of being created by the director himself—into something of a lost work.
Welles left Hollywood for Europe in late 1947, enigmatically saying that 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 Tamiroff would appear in four of Welles's own productions during the 1950s and 1960s.
The Third Man
The following year, Welles starred as Harry Lime in Carol Reed's The Third Man, alongside Joseph Cotten, his good friend and co-star from Citizen Kane, with a script by Graham Greene and a memorable zither score by Anton Karas. The film was an international smash hit, but unfortunately for Welles, he had 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 and was very successful, running for 52 weeks. Welles claimed to have written a handful of episodes—a claim disputed by Towers, who maintains they were written by Ernest Borneman—which later would serve as the basis for the screenplay by Welles, 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 Mac Liammóir as Iago and Hilton Edwards as Desdemona's father Brabantio. Suzanne Cloutier starred as Desdemona and Campbell Playhouse alumnus Robert Coote appeared as Iago's associate Roderigo.
Filming was suspended several times as Welles ran out of funds and left 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 the film did not receive 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. Welles's daughter, Beatrice Welles-Smith, restored Othello in 1992 for a wide re-release. The restoration included reconstructing Angelo Francesco Lavagnino's original musical score (which was inaudible) and adding ambient stereo sound effects (which weren't in the original film). The restoration went on to a successful theatrical run in America. A print of the U.S. version was released on laserdisc in 1995 but soon withdrawn after a legal challenge by Beatrice Welles-Smith. The original Cannes version has survived but is not available commercially.
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, which ran for 52 weeks with Welles as host and narrator. Director Herbert Wilcox offered Welles the part of the murdered victim in Trent's Last Case, based on the novel by E. C. Bentley. 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.
Welles briefly returned to America to make his first appearance on television, starring in the Omnibus presentation of King Lear, broadcast live on CBS October 18, 1953. Directed by Peter Brook, the production costarred Natasha Parry, Beatrice Straight and Arnold Moss. 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.
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 Welles as the antagonist inTrouble in the Glen opposite Margaret Lockwood, Forrest Tucker, and Victor McLaglen. Old friend John Huston cast him as Father Mapple in his 1956 film adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, starring Gregory Peck.
Welles in Madrid during the filming of Mr. Arkadin
Welles's next turn as director was the film Mr. Arkadin (1955), which was produced by his political mentor from the 1940s, Louis Dolivet. It was filmed in France, Germany, Spain, and Italy on a very limited budget. Based loosely on several episodes of the Harry Lime radio show, it stars Welles as a billionaire who hires a man to delve into the secrets of his past. The film stars Robert Arden, who had worked on the Harry Lime series; Welles's third wife, Paola Mori, whose voice was dubbed by actress Billie Whitelaw; and guest stars Akim Tamiroff, Michael Redgrave, Katina Paxinou and Mischa Auer. Frustrated by his slow progress in the editing room, producer Dolivet removed Welles from the project and finished the film without him. Eventually five different versions of the film would be released, two in Spanish and three in English. The version that Dolivet completed was retitled Confidential Report. In 2005 Stefan Droessler of the Munich Film Museum oversaw a reconstruction of the surviving film elements. Included in a DVD box set (The Complete Mr. Arkadin) released by The Criterion Collection, it is considered by Welles scholar and director Peter Bogdanovich to be the best version of Welles's original intentions for the film.
In 1955, Welles also directed two television series for the BBC. The first was The Orson Welles 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 asVenice, the Basque Country between France and Spain, and England). Welles served as host and interviewer, his commentary including documentary facts and his own personal observations (a technique he would continue to explore in later works). A seventh episode of this series, based on theGaston 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. 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 discovered after Welles's death. The work 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.
Return to Hollywood (1956–1959)
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. Around this time period Welles began to suffer from weight problems that would eventually cause a deterioration in his health.
Touch of Evil
Welles as corrupt police captain Hank Quinlan in Touch of Evil
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 insistence of Charlton Heston. Reuniting many actors and technicians with whom Welles had worked in Hollywood in the 1940s (including cameraman Russell Metty (The Stranger), make-up artist Maurice Siederman (Citizen Kane), and actorsJoseph Cotten, Marlene Dietrich, and Akim Tamiroff), filming proceeded smoothly, with Welles finishing on schedule and on budget, and the studio bosses praising the daily rushes. Nevertheless, after the end of production, the studio re-edited the film, re-shot scenes, and shot new exposition scenes to clarify the plot. Welles wrote a 58-page memo outlining suggestions and objections, stating that the film was no longer his version—it was the studio's, but as such, he was still prepared to help with it. 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, a longer preview version of the film was discovered and released. In 1998, editor Walter Murch and producer Rick Schmidlin, consulting Welles's memo, used a workprint version to attempt to create a version of the film as close as possible to that Welles outlined in the memo.
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 (1959–1970)
Welles being interviewed in 1960
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 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 Francoconstructed 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 mistress for the last twenty years of his life. Welles also stated in an interview with the BBC that it was his best film.
Welles played a film director in La Ricotta (1963)—Pier Paolo Pasolini's segment of the Ro.Go.Pa.G. movie, although his renowned voice was dubbed by Italian writer Giorgio Bassani.:516 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 andMargaret Rutherford, with narration by Ralph Richardson. Music was again by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. Jess Franco served as second unit director.
Chimes at Midnight
Welles during the production of the stage version of Chimes at Midnight in 1960
Chimes at Midnight was based on Welles's play Five Kings which condensed five of Shakespeare's plays into one show in order to focus on the story ofFalstaff. Welles produced the show in New York in 1939 but the opening night, where part 1 was acted, was a disaster and part 2 was never put on. He revamped the show and revisited it in 1960 at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. But again, it was not successful. However, this later production was used as the base for the movie. The script contained text from five plays: primarily Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, but also Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Keith Baxter played Prince Hal, and internationally respected Shakespearean interpreter, John Gielgud, played the King, Henry IV. The film's narration, spoken by Ralph Richardson, is taken from the chronicler Raphael Holinshed. According to Jeanne Moreau, Welles delayed filming for two weeks due to stage fright. Welles held this film in high regard and considered it, along with The Trial, his best work. As he remarked in 1982, "If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie, that's the one I'd offer up."
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 Oja Kodar again, and gave her a letter he had written to her and had been keeping for four years; they would not be parted again. They immediately began a collaboration both personal and professional. The first of these was an adaptation of Blixen's The Heroine, meant to be a companion piece to The Immortal Story and starring Kodar. Unfortunately, funding disappeared after one day's shooting. After completing this film, he appeared in a brief cameo as Cardinal Wolsey in Fred Zinnemann's adaptation of A Man for All Seasons—a role for which he won considerable acclaim.
In 1967, Welles began directing The Deep, based on the novel Dead Calm by Charles 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 film clips portions were eventually released by the Filmmuseum München.
In 1969, Welles authorized 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.
Final years (1970–1985)
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 television talk shows. He made frequent appearances for Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, Dean Martin and Merv Griffin.
Welles's primary focus during his final years was The Other Side of the Wind, an unfinished project that was filmed intermittently between 1970 and 1976. Written by Welles, it is the story of an aging film director (John Huston) looking for funds to complete his final film. The cast includes Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Norman Foster, Edmond O'Brien, Cameron Mitchell andDennis Hopper. Financed by Iranian backers, ownership of the film fell into a legal quagmire after the Shah of Iran was deposed. While there have been several reports of all the legal disputes concerning ownership of the film being settled, enough disputes still exist to prevent its release.
Welles portrayed Louis XVIII of France in the 1970 film Waterloo, and narrated the beginning and ending scenes of the historical comedy Start the Revolution Without Me (1970).
In 1971, Welles directed a short adaptation of Moby-Dick, a one-man performance on a bare stage, reminiscent of his 1955 stage production Moby Dick—Rehearsed. Never completed, it was eventually released by the Filmmuseum München. He also appeared in Ten Days' Wonder, co-starring with Anthony Perkins and directed by Claude Chabrol, based on a detective novel by Ellery Queen. That same year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave him an honorary award "For superlative artistry and versatility in the creation of motion pictures". Welles pretended to be out of town and sent John Huston to claim the award. Huston criticized the Academy for awarding Welles, even while they refused to give Welles any work.
In 1972, Welles acted as on-screen narrator for the film documentary version of Alvin Toffler's 1970 book Future Shock. Working again for a British producer, Welles played Long John Silver in director John Hough's Treasure Island (1972), an adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, which had been the second story broadcast by The Mercury Theatre on the Air in 1938. Welles also contributed to the script, his writing credit was attributed to the pseudonym 'O. W. Jeeves'. Welles original recorded dialog was re dubbed by Robert Rietty.
Orson Welles in F for Fake
(1973), a film essay and the last film he completed.
In 1973, 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. An excerpt of Welles's 1930s War of the Worlds broadcast was recreated for this film, however none of the dialogue heard in the film actually matches what was originally broadcast. Welles filmed a five-minute trailer, rejected in the US that featured several shots of a topless Kodar.
Welles hosted and narrated a syndicated anthology series, Orson Welles's Great Mysteries, over the 1973–1974 television season. It did not last beyond that season; however, the program could be perceived as a television revival of the Mercury Theatre whose executive producer Welles had been in the 1930s and 1940s. 1974 also saw Welles lending his voice for that year's remake of Agatha Christie's classic thriller Ten Little Indians produced by his former associate, Harry Alan Towers and starring an international cast that included Oliver Reed, Elke Sommer and Herbert Lom.
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. In 1978 Welles narrated the theatrical release The Late, Great Planet Earth.
In 1976, Paramount Television purchased the rights for the entire set of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe stories for Orson Welles. Welles had once wanted to make a series of Nero Wolfe movies, but Rex Stout – who was leery of Hollywood adaptations during his lifetime after two disappointing 1930s films – turned him down. Paramount planned to begin with an ABC-TV movie and hoped to persuade Welles to continue the role in a mini-series. Frank D. Gilroy was signed to write the television script and direct the TV movie on the assurance that Welles would star, but by April 1977 Welles had bowed out. In 1980 the Associated Press reported "the distinct possibility" that Welles would star in a Nero Wolfe TV series for NBC television. Again, Welles bowed out of the project due to creative differences and William Conrad was cast in the role.
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. Also in 1979, Welles appeared in the biopic The Secret of Nikola Tesla, and a cameo in The Muppet Movie as Lew Lord.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Welles participated in a series of famous television commercial advertisements. For two years he was on-camera spokesman for the Paul Masson Vineyards, and sales grew by one third during the time Welles intoned what became a popular catchphrase: "We will sell no wine before its time." He was also the voice behind the long-running Carlsberg"Probably the best lager in the world" campaign, promoted Domecq sherry on British television and provided narration on adverts for Findus, though the actual adverts have been overshadowed by a famous blooper reel of voice recordings, known as the Frozen Peas reel.
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. Welles provided narration for the tracks "Defender" from Manowar's album Fighting the World and "Dark Avenger" on Manowar's 1982 album, Battle Hymns. His name was misspelled on the latter album, as he was credited as "Orson Wells".
During the 1980s, Welles worked on such film projects as The Dreamers, based on two stories by Isak Dinesen and starring Oja Kodar, and 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 was completed. All of them were eventually released by the Filmmuseum München.
In 1984, Welles narrated the short-lived television series Scene of the Crime. During the early years of Magnum, P.I., Welles was the voice of the unseen character Robin Masters, a famous writer and playboy. Welles's death forced this minor character to largely be written out of the series. In an oblique homage to Welles, the Magnum, P.I. producers ambiguously concluded that story arc by having one character accuse another of having hired an actor to portray Robin Masters. He also, in this penultimate year released a music single, titled "I Know What It Is To Be Young (But You Don't Know What It Is To Be Old)", which he recorded under Italian label Compagnia Generale del Disco. The song was performed with the Nick Perito Orchestra and the Ray Charles Singersand produced by Jerry Abbott who was father to famed Metal Guitarist Dimebag Darrell.
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-eatingrobot 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.
Relationships and family
In 1934, Welles eloped with Chicago-born actress and socialite Virginia Nicolson. From around 1937 Welles embarked on a string of extra-marital affairs with various ballerinas he had met on Broadway, and the couple divorced in 1940 after Welles's affair with Vera Zorina was vaguely mentioned in Walter Winchell's column.
Since 1932, Welles had fallen in love with the older Mexican actress, Dolores del Río. They lived a torrid romance between 1938 and 1942. They acted together in the movie Journey into Fear(1943) but the affair ended soon after filming ended. Rebecca Welles, the daughter of Welles and Hayworth, met Dolores in 1954 and said: "My father considered her the great love of his life...She was a living legend in the history of my family". Welles once remarked that he was incredibly impressed by her lingerie, which had been handmade by nuns in France.
Welles married Rita Hayworth in 1943. The couple became estranged by 1946 – Welles blamed Hayworth for making unfounded accusations of infidelity, and after he was turned out of the marital bed he then actually started to have affairs, which in turn prompted Hayworth to have affairs of her own. They briefly reconciled in 1947 during the making of The Lady from Shanghai, before finally separating. In 1948 Hayworth filed for divorce, her reason to the press being, "I can't take his genius any more." During his last interview and only five hours before his death, Welles answeredMerv Griffin's suggestive comment "But one of your wives—oh, I have envied you so many years for Rita Hayworth", by calling her "one of the dearest and sweetest women that ever lived" and saying that he was "lucky enough to have been with her longer than any of the other men in her life."
In 1955, Welles married Italian actress Paola Mori (née Countess Paola di Girifalco), an Italian aristocrat. The couple had a "shotgun wedding" after Welles impregnated Mori (who was then the leading lady in his film Mr. Arkadin), and Mori's Catholic parents feared for their family's reputation if the two did not marry. They were wed in London on May 8, 1955, and their daughter was born in New York on November 13, 1955, six months later.:417, 419 Estranged for decades, the couple never divorced.
Croatian-born actress Oja Kodar became Welles's longtime companion both personally and professionally from 1966 onwards, and they lived together for the last 19 years of his life. They first met in Zagreb in 1962, while Welles was filming The Trial, and embarked on a passionate, short-lived affair which ended when Paola Mori had a cancer scare and Welles returned to his wife. Kodar assumed Welles had left for good, and Welles hired a private detective to track down Kodar, to no avail. Three years passed, and Kodar was by then living in Paris and in a relationship with a struggling young actor. When they saw a press feature that Welles was in Paris, the young actor persuaded a reluctant Kodar to use her influence with Welles to get him a job. When she telephoned him, Welles immediately rushed to her hotel room, broke down the door, and pulled out a small metal box from his jacket. It contained a love letter to her. He had been carrying it every day for the last three years, in case he might meet her again one day.
With the passing years, Welles's domestic arrangements became more complicated. From 1966 he always maintained at least two separate homes, one with Kodar, the other with Mori and their daughter Beatrice, but he was an infrequent visitor to the home with Mori, citing the demands of work. In the 1960s and 1970s, he shared houses just outside Paris and Madrid with Kodar. Although British tabloids reported his affair with Kodar as early as 1969 (which was a factor in his moving permanently to the United States in 1970), both Mori and Beatrice remained oblivious as to Kodar's existence until 1984. Welles set up a home with Mori and Beatrice in the United States (first in Sedona, then in Las Vegas), ostensibly because the climate would be good for his asthma. But while they lived in Las Vegas, he spent most of his time in Los Angeles, where he openly shared a house with Kodar. When Mori found out about Kodar in 1984, she threw him out of their Las Vegas house, and she and Beatrice did not see him for the last year of his life, although they still talked regularly on the telephone.
This situation had serious ramifications for the copyright status of his work after his death. Welles left Kodar his Los Angeles home and the rights to his unfinished films, and turned the rest over to Mori. Mori contended that she should have been left everything, and a year after Welles's death, Mori and Kodar finally agreed on the settlement of his will. On the way to their meeting to sign the papers, however, Mori was killed in a car accident in August 1986. Mori's half of the estate was inherited by Beatrice, who refused to come to an arrangement with Kodar, who she blames for undermining her parents' marriage. Legal wranglings between the two have persisted for over 25 years, leading to complex ongoing legal battles over who owns his unfinished films – legal action by Beatrice has at least three times prevented Welles's last film, The Other Side of the Wind, from being completed.
Welles had three daughters from his marriages: Chris Welles Feder (born March 27, 1938, with Virginia Nicolson); Rebecca Welles Manning (December 17, 1944 – October 14, 2004, with Rita Hayworth); and Beatrice Welles (born November 13, 1955, with Paola Mori). His only known son, British director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (Sir Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 5th baronet, born May 5, 1940), is from Welles's affair with Irish actress Geraldine Fitzgerald, then the wife of Sir Edward Lindsay-Hogg, 4th baronet. Although Hogg knew Welles sporadically and occasionally worked as his assistant, and had long been rumoured to be his son given their strong physical resemblance, he refused to believe such rumours until he eventually took a paternity test in 2010. In her autobiography, In My Father's Shadow, Feder wrote about being a childhood friend and neighbor of Lindsay-Hogg's and always suspecting he might be her half-brother.
After the death of Rebecca Welles Manning, a man named Marc McKerrow was revealed to be her biological son, and therefore the direct descendant of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. McKerrow's reactions to the revelation and his meeting with Oja Kodar are documented in the 2008 film Prodigal Sons. McKerrow died on June 18, 2010.
Some of Welles's 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's father was Richard Head Welles, son of 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).
Welles reached a height of six feet at the age of 14. Peter Noble's biography describes him as "a magnificent figure of a man, over six feet tall, handsome, with flashing eyes and a gloriously resonant speaking-voice" According to a 1941 physical exam taken when he was 26, Welles was 6 feet (180 cm) tall and weighed 218 pounds (99 kg). His eyes were brown. Other sources cite that he was 6 feet 4 inches (193 cm) tall, but the slates from costume tests made during the 1940s show him as 6 feet 1 inch (185 cm). Welles gained a significant amount of weight in his 40s, eventually rendering him morbidly obese, at one point weighing nearly 400 pounds (180 kg). 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 the famously portly character Sir John Falstaff. Some have attributed his over-eating and drinking 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, 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.
Welles was politically active from the beginning of his career. He remained aligned with the left throughout his life, and always defined his political orientation as "progressive". He was a strong supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, and often spoke out on radio in support of progressive politics. He campaigned heavily for Roosevelt in the 1944 election. For several years, he wrote a newspaper column on political issues and considered running for the U.S. Senate in 1946, representing his home state of Wisconsin (a seat that was ultimately won by Joseph McCarthy). In 1970, Welles narrated (but did not write) a satirical political record on the administration of President Richard Nixon entitled The Begatting of the President. He was also an early and outspoken critic of American racism and the practice of segregation.
In the 2006 book, Whatever Happened to Orson Welles?, writer Joseph McBride made several controversial claims about Welles. Though Welles said otherwise during his lifetime, McBride claimed Welles left America in the late 1940s to escape McCarthyism and the Hollywood blacklist. McBride also claimed, in spite of the sexual content of Welles's contemporary work (F for Fake and the unfinished Other Side of the Wind which contained an explicit – for the time – sex scene involving Oja Kodar), that Welles was extremely puritanical about sex based on his comment to Peter Bogdanovich that The Last Picture Show was "a dirty movie".
Welles once told Cahiers du cinéma about sex in film, "In my opinion, there are two things that can absolutely not be carried to the screen: the realistic presentation of the sexual act and praying to God."
Death and funeral
On October 10, 1985, Welles appeared on his final interview on The Merv Griffin Show. He died several hours later of a heart attack at his home in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, California. He was found on his bedroom floor, having worked into the early-morning hours typing notes for a project at UCLA that was to begin shooting the next day. His death came on the same day as that of his Battle of Neretva co-star, Yul Brynner. He was cremated two days later.
Welles's funeral was the subject of some dissent among his family. It was handled by his estranged widow Paola Mori (she had not seen him since she had thrown him out of their family home a year earlier) and his youngest daughter Beatrice Welles. On the pretext that "daddy left no money for funerals or anything else", Beatrice planned for it to be "a simple affair" which deliberately excluded "Hollywood types". Welles's eldest daughter Chris has written of her horror at arriving in "a slum" district of downtown Los Angeles and finding that the funeral took place in a building that "looked more like a hot sheets motel than a funeral home", and that the funeral was booked in a small, bare, sparsely furnished shabby back room which "had the look of a cheap motel room", and had no music or flowers. No ministers, speakers or ceremony had been organized, and so the mourners simply sat in silence by Welles's cremated remains until Welles's 90-year-old former teacher and mentor Roger Hill gave an impromptu eulogy. Paola Mori had refused to allow most of Welles's friends to attend, limiting the mourners to just nine: herself, Welles's three daughters, Roger Hill, and three of Welles's friends (Gary Graver, Prince Alessandro Tasca di Cuto and Greg Garrison), as well as the doctor who had signed Welles's death certificate. Welles's companion for the last 20 years, Oja Kodar, was not invited, nor were either of his ex-wives. Regarding the proceedings, Hill exclaimed at the funeral itself "This is awful! Awful!" Hill took particular exception to Welles having been cremated to save money, since "Orson never wanted to be cremated. He hated the whole idea of cremation. Thank God he doesn't know what they did to him!"
Welles's ashes were taken to Ronda, Spain, where they were buried in an old well covered by flowers, within the rural property of a long-time friend, retired bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez.