Orson Welles, best known as the star, writer and director of the breakthrough motion picture "Citizen Kane," was a major figure in the worlds of cinema, theater and radio for nearly five decades.
Welles made his Broadway debut in 1934 in "Romeo and Juliet," playing both the chorus and Tybalt. In the same year, he married Chicago socialite and actress Virginia Nicholson, co-directed a four-minute motion picture called "The Hearts of Age" and gave his first radio performance.
Already a celebrated stage actor, he stunned the nation with his shockingly authentic newscast-style version of H.G. Wells' science fiction fantasy "War of the Worlds" in a radio broadcast Oct. 30, 1938.
He began shooting his first feature-length film in July 1940 — it was "Citizen Kane," the movie still proclaimed as his innovative best. He co-wrote (with Herman J. Mankiewicz), directed, produced and starred in the film, which traced the career of an American newspaper tycoon whose life paralleled in many ways that of powerful publisher William Randolph Hearst.
The movie has several times been voted the greatest film ever made by panels of cinema critics, and its innovative techniques influenced generations of filmmakers that followed. Although the film was a huge critical success, it was not a commercial hit.
During Welles' later years, he was honored again and again by the film establishment — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Film Institute, the Directors Guild of America and at film festivals around the world.
In the '70s he made what he called "grocery money" by appearing in television commercials — most notably the Paul Masson wine spots in which he made famous the phrase "We will sell no wine before its time."
His death in 1985 brought praise from film industry figures tinged with sadness that Welles' promise was never quite realized.
"That," said veteran actor John Houseman, "is absolute bull——." The careers of Houseman and Welles began to flourish at about the same time in the 1930s, when they were close associates in some highly controversial avant-garde theatrical ventures.
"I worked with Orson some five years," Houseman said. "It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I knew for a certainty I was working with a genius. We can look back on his life as extraordinary. He created a number of masterpieces — in the theater the Negro 'Macbeth,' in film 'Citizen Kane' and many others. . . . The world was not very charitable to him. Maybe if people had been kinder to him, he would have done more."
Points of interest
|1941||Best Original Screenplay||Citizen Kane||Win*|
|1941||Best Director||Citizen Kane||Nomination|
|1941||Best Actor||Citizen Kane||Nomination|