ORSON WELLES


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Orson Welles was born George Orson Welles in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1915. His father was a rich inventor and his mother was a concert pianist, and he had an idyllic young childhood, but then his mother died when he was 9, and his father died when he was 15. He inherited some money, and went to Europe, and later claimed that in 1931 (when he was just 16!) he went to the famous Gate Theatre in Dublin and claimed he was a Broadway star, and was willing to do some shows for them! The manager later said he didn't believe him, but was impressed by the 15 year old and hired him. He did well performing in Ireland, but when he went to New York he had to start over, but in 1933 he was in three off-Broadway productions. He also performed on the radio in dramatic shows. 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, the funding for the Federal Theatre Project was cut, and Welles left and with Houseman formed the Mercury Theatre, which included many of the actors Welles had worked with on radio and on the stage. 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. He also was the anonymous voice of The Shadow. 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! He wanted to make a film adaptation of Heart of Darkness, but it would have cost too much, and his second choice was also vetoed by RKO. and he started work on Citizen Kane (nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for this film). 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 managed to get some personal projects completed during his lifetime, and some unfinished or altered works have been re-created after his passing in 1985. 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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