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Orson Welles was born George Orson Welles in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1915. In 1936, John Houseman was running the Federal Theatre Project (which was part of the WPA) and he hired Welles to direct an all-black version of Macbeth. It was a major success, and at one point the lead actor became sick, and Welles played the role for him in blackface! In 1937 Welles and Houseman formed the Mercury Theatre, and their first production was a modern stage version of Julius Caesar, set in Fascist Italy! Welles then took the Mercury Theatre on the radio, where he was the director, producer and star of most of the shows. In 1938, Welles had his radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (which many people thought was real, due to its pseudo-documentary format) and it caused real panic and made Welles a national celebrity. That got Hollywood's interest, and RKO signed him to a two film contract, giving this 24 year old who had never made a movie complete control, including final cut! His first movie was Citizen Kane (nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for this film), and while the movie is today considered a masterpiece on all levels, it was only moderately successful on its first release, in strong part due to Hearst's newspapers' boycott of the movie (due to the movie Kane bearing a strong resemblance to Hearst). Welles' second film for RKO was The Magnificent Ambersons. RKO took away Welles' right to final cut, and after the movie was shot, Welles went to South America to work on another movie, and while he was gone RKO re-cut Ambersons with an awful "happy ending", and released it that way. The movie did not do well, and no studio wanted Welles as a director. He took many acting roles, and after he married Rita Hayworth, he appeared in The Lady from Shanghai with her. He also stood out in Jane Eyre, Macbeth (which he also directed), and The Third Man. He worked steadily as an actor and his distinctive voice was in much demand as a narrator. He gained much weight over the years, and was very memorable in Touch of Evil in 1958, and as Cardinal Wolsey in A Man for All Seasons in 1966. He passed away in 1985 at the age of 70. Orson Welles accomplished a staggering amount in his career, but one wonders how much more he might have accomplished had the world fully recognized his genius back at the beginning of the 1940s!
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