Orson Welles

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Orson Welles
George Orson Welles
BirthplaceKenosha, Wisconsin, U.S.
Actor, film director, theatre director, screenwriter, playwright, film producer, radio personality

Welles, Orson

Welles, Orson, 1915–85, American actor, director, and producer, b. Kenosha, Wis. From childhood he evinced a precocious talent and lofty sense of self-assurance in theatrical matters. He began acting in the theater during the early 1930s, and in 1937 directed several Federal Theatre productions and organized the Mercury Theatre company in New York. In 1938 a radio adaptation of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, done in the style of a news broadcast, panicked a portion of the listening public and brought Welles national attention. He departed for Hollywood the following year. For RKO he cowrote, produced, directed, and starred in his first feature film, Citizen Kane (1941), considered by many to be the greatest film ever made. Welles brought technical brilliance, a precise sense of casting, and a complex narrative structure to bear on a teasingly ambiguous portrait of an American tycoon. He won an Academy Award for the screenplay, but never enjoyed such acclaim again.

After Citizen Kane Welles clashed constantly with studio chiefs and was never again able to exert such absolute artistic control or achieve such creative success. His other films include The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Othello (1952), Mr. Arkadin (1955), Touch of Evil (1958; restored and reworked according to Welles's instructions, 1998), The Trial (1963), Chimes at Midnight (1966), and F for Fake (1973). His final film, the semiautobiographical The Other Side of the Wind, was unfinished for financial, legal, and other reasons, but was finally released in 2018. They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (2018), directed by Morgan Neville, details its making. Welles's booming voice and air of authority made him a popular film actor and occasional off-screen narrator; he appeared in Jane Eyre (1943), The Third Man (1949), Catch-22 (1970), Someone to Love (1987), and other films. From the 1970s he was a popular figure on television, in commercials and as a frequent guest and occasional host on talk shows.


See O. Welles et al., This Is Orson Welles (rev. ed. 1998); biographies by F. Brady (1989), C. Higham (1985), B. Leaming (1985), S. Callow (3 vol., 1996–), J. McBride (rev. ed. 1996), D. Thomson (1996), and P. McGilligan (2015); studies of his films by C. Higham (1970), P. Cowie (1972), H. James (1991), A. Bazin (1992), P. Conrad (2003), J. McBride (2006), J. Rosenbaum (2007), and J. Naremore (rev. ed. 2015); H. J. Mankiewicz and P. Kael, The Citizen Kane Book (1971); R. L. Carringer, The Making of Citizen Kane (1985); C. Heylin, Despite the System: Orson Welles versus the Hollywood Studios (2005); J. Karp, Orson Welles's Last Movie (2015); H. Lebo, Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker's Journey (2016); The Battle over Citizen Kane (documentary, 1995).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Welles, Orson


Born May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wis. American motion-picture producer, director, actor, and writer.

Welles began his theatrical career in Dublin in 1931 as an actor. Returning to the USA, he directed an innovative production of Macbeth in 1936 and presented a famed radio production of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds in 1938. Welles’ first film, Citizen Kane (1941; screenplay by Welles and H. Mankiewicz), in which Welles played the title role, became a landmark not only of American film art but of world film art as well. The theme of power and its destructive influence on the human personality was developed by Welles in other films, such as Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1948) and Mister Arkadin (1955; based on a novel by Welles); Welles directed both films and played the title roles. Attempting to resolve sociopolitical problems in such films as The Magnificent Ambersons (1942; based on a novel by B. Tarkington) and The Lady From Shanghai (1946; based on a novel by S. King), Welles encountered the opposition of Hollywood filmmakers and left the USA in the late 1940’s. Welles was unable to realize many of his creative projects because of financial difficulties.

Films directed by Welles include Shakespeare’s Othello (1952), Kafka’s The Trial (1962), and Chimes at Midnight (1966; based on Shakespeare’s plays, with Welles playing the role of Falstaff). Welles also appeared in the films The Third Man (1949; directed by C. Reed), Moby Dick (1956; directed by J. Huston), and Waterloo (1970; directed by S. F. Bondarchuk).


Cowie, P. The Cinema of Orson Welles. London, 1965. (References, pp. 197–207.)
Orson Uells: Stat’i, Svidetel’stva, Interv’iu. Moscow, 1975.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Welles, (George) Orson

(1915–85) stage/movie actor, director; born in Kenosha, Wis. Son of a wealthy inventor and a concert pianist, he was a precocious child who staged miniproductions of Shakespeare in his house. When his mother died in 1925, he went on a world tour with his father, then attended a private school in Illinois where he continued to direct plays (1926–31). With his father's death in 1927, he became the ward of a Chicago physician, Dr. Maurice Bernstein. Welles turned down college and set off for Ireland on a sketching tour—he had shown talent as an artist—and ended up acting with Dublin's famous Gate Theatre (1931). He returned to the U.S.A. in 1932, toured with Katharine Cornell's road company, and made his Broadway debut—as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet —in 1934, the year he also gave his first radio performance. With John Houseman, he collaborated on productions for the Phoenix Theatre Group and the Federal Theater Project; they then founded the Mercury Theatre in 1937, noted for such productions as an all-African-American Macbeth. In 1938, Welles and Houseman began to produce plays on their Mercury Theatre on the Air; that October 30, as a Halloween spoof, they broadcast a dramatization of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds, so realistic in conveying a Martian invasion that it led to a literal panic in the Northeast. His growing reputation led to his being hired by RKO in Hollywood but none of his initial projects got into production. Then he made Citizen Kane (1941), which despite its success with critics and a few metropolitan audiences, was not all that successful at the time. Two more movies, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and The Lady from Shanghai (1948), were heavily edited by the studios and only years later recognized as superb works. From this point on, Welles suffered from his reputation as an erratic filmmaker who couldn't hold to budgets or schedules, and he would spend the rest of his life forced to seeking financing for his projects. By about 1946, he was effectively in exile in Europe where he continued to act in others' movies (The Third Man, 1949) to earn money so that he could make his own (Othello, 1952; Chimes at Midnight/Falstaff, 1966). Back in the U.S.A. by the mid-1970s, he found himself honored as one of the true geniuses of American movies, but thereafter he was reduced to appearances in grade-B movies, television talk shows, and television commercials. Several times divorced, overweight, with a resume that included many failed projects, he would have seemed a failure at his death had his rich life not produced so many original works.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
In 1970, legendary director Orson Welles ("Citizen Kane") began filming what would ultimately be his final cinematic opus with a cast of luminaries that included John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, and Welles's partner during his later years, Oja Kodar.
You should be writing about the man himself - and the man we don't recognise in any of the books we've read so far'." 700,000 words later, Simon Callow still hasn't finished with Orson Welles.
Others treat that story more skeptically, arguing that the terror induced by Orson Welles' masterpiece has been significantly overblown.
Chuck Workman's latest bouquet to cinematic history, "Magician," provides a solid overview of Orson Welles' life and output.
A principios de 1947 el cineasta Orson Welles concluia su obra maestra del cine negro, La dama de Shanghai, cuyos exteriores se filmaron en San Francisco y el puerto de Acapulco.
Summary: Orson Welles' Academy Award for Citizen Kane has been sold at auction in the United States for over Au500,000.
Orson Welles. Contra Pauline Kael, co-writer Herman J.
Orson Welles drew me to this film, rather than 22year-old Zachary (Zac) David Alexander Efron (Rolling Stone magazine-nominated 'poster boy for tweenyboppers', and whose personal wealth equals $10 million+).
The 1929 building has a limestone facade and has been home to such big names as Orson Welles, Senator Jacob Javits and currently, Kathy Lee Gifford.
"Me and Orson Welles" is a period melodrama set in the New York City of 1937, when a young Orson Welles (Christian McKay) is striding through the first act of his storied career.
Efron plays a wannabe actor, who manages to swing a meeting with Orson Welles, landing a part in his Broadway production of Julius Ceasar.