Nationality: American. Born: George Orson Welles in Kenosha, Wisconsin, 6 May 1915. Education: Attended Todd School for Boys, Woodstock, Illinois, 1926–31. Family: Married 1) Virginia Nicholson, 1934 (divorced 1939), daughter: Christopher; 2) the actress Rita Hayworth, 1943 (divorced 1947), daughter: Rebecca; 3) the actress Paola Mori, 1955, daughter: Beatrice. Career: 1931—professional acting debut at the Gate Theatre in Dublin; 1934—Broadway debut with Katherine Cornell, performed in his own film short, played McGafferty at the Phoenix Theatre, and began his radio career, e.g., as "The Shadow"; 1937—played title role in Mercury Production of Julius Caesar ; 1938—broadcast "The War of the Worlds"; 1939—RKO contract to act in and produce The Green Goddess for the RKO
Films as Actor:
Jane Eyre (Stevenson) (as Edward Rochester)
Follow the Boys (Sutherland) (revue appearance)
Tomorrow Is Forever (Pichel) (as John McDonald)
The Third Man (Reed) (as Harry Lime); Black Magic (Ratoff) (as Cagliostro); Prince of Foxes (Henry King) (as Cesare Borgia)
The Black Rose (Hathaway) (as General Bayan)
Return to Glennascaul (Edwards) (as himself)
Trent's Last Case (Wilcox) (as Sigsbee Manderson); Si Versailles m'était conté ( Affairs in Versailles ; Royal Affairs in Versailles ) (Guitry) (as Benjamin Franklin); L'Uomo la Bestia e la Virtù ( Man Beast and Virtue ) (Vanzina) (as the beast); King Lear (Brook—for TV) (title role)
Napoleon (Guitry) (as Gen. Hudson Lowe); Trouble in the Glen (Wilcox) (as Samin Cejador y Mengues)
"Lord Mountdrago" ep. of Three Cases of Murder (O'Ferrall) (as Lord Mountdrago)
Moby Dick (Huston) (as Father Mapple)
Man in the Shadow ( Pay the Devil ) (Arnold) (as Virgil Renckler)
The Long Hot Summer (Ritt) (as Will Varner); The Roots of Heaven (Huston) (as Cy Sedgwick)
David e Golia ( David and Goliath ) (Pottier and Baldi) (as King Saul); Compulsion (Fleischer) (as Jonathan Wilk); Ferry to Hong Kong (Lewis Gilbert) (as Captain Hart)
Austerlitz ( Battle of Austerlitz ) (Gance) (as Robert Fulton); Crack in the Mirror (Fleischer) (as Hagolin/Lamorciere); I Tartari ( The Tartars ) (Thorpe) (as Barundai)
Lafayette (Dreville) (as Benjamin Franklin); Desordre (short)
The V.I.P.s (Asquith) (as Max Buda); "La Ricotta" ep. of Rogopag ( Laviamoci il Cervello ; Let's Have a Brainwash ) (Pasolini) (as the film director)
La Fabuleuse Aventure de Marco Polo ( Marco the Magnificent ) (de la Patelliere and Noel Howard) (as Ackermann)
The Island of Treasure (Franco)
A Man for All Seasons (Zinnemann) (as Cardinal Wolsey); Paris brûle-t-il? ( Is Paris Burning? ) (Clément)
Casino Royale (McGrath and Huston) (as Le Chiffre); The Sailor from Gibraltor (Richardson) (as Louis Mozambique); I'll Never Forget What's 'is Name (Winner) (as Jonathan Lute); Oedipus the King (Saville) (as Tiresias)
House of Cards (Guillermin) (as Claude Leschenhaut); Kampf um Rom ( Fight for Rome ) (Siodmak) (as Emperor Justinian)
Michael the Brave (Nicolaescu); L'Etoile de Sud ( The Southern Star ) (Hayers) (as Plankett); Tepepa (Petroni); Twelve Plus One (Gessner) (as Markau); Mihai Viteazu (Nicolaescu); Kampf um Rom II ( Fight for Rome II ); Una su 13
Catch-22 (Mike Nichols) (as General Dreedle); The Battle of Neretva (Bulajic) (as Senator); Waterloo (Bondarchuk) (as King Louis XVIII); Upon This Rock (Rasky); The Kremlin Letter (Huston) (as Aleksei Bresnavitch)
A Safe Place (Jaglom) (as the Magician); The Toy Factory (Gordon); I Racconti di Canterbury ( The Canterbury Tales ) (Pasolini); To Kill a Stranger (Collinson)
Get to Know Your Rabbit (De Palma) (as Mr. Delasandro); La Décade prodigieuse ( Ten Days' Wonder ) (Chabrol) (as Theo Van Horn); Sutjeska (Delic); Malpertuis (Kumel) (as Cassavius); Treasure Island (Hough and Bianchi) (as Long John Silver, + sc); Necromancy ( The Witching ) (Gordon) (as Mr. Cato); The Man Who Came to Dinner (Kilik) (as Sheridan Whiteside—for TV)
And Then There Were None (Collinson) (as voice of himself)
Voyage of the Damned (Rosenberg) (as Estedes)
It Happened One Christmas (Thomas—for TV)
Hot Tomorrows (Brest) (as voice of Parklawn Mortuary)
Never Trust an Honest Thief (McCowan); Tajna Nikole Tesle ( The Secret of Nicola Tesla ; Tesla ) (Papic) (as J. P. Morgan); The Muppet Movie (Frawley) (as Lord Lew)
Butterfly (Cimber) (as Judge Rauch); The Muppets Take Manhattan (Oz)
Where Is Parsifal? (Helman) (as Klingsor); In Our Hands (Richer and Warnow)
Slapstick of Another Kind (Paul) (as voice of Alien Father)
The Transformers: The Movie (Shin and Morishita) (as voice of Planet Unicron)
Someone to Love (Jaglom) (as Danny's friend)
Films as Narrator:
The Spanish Earth (Ivens—doc)
Swiss Family Robinson (Ludwig)
Duel in the Sun (King Vidor)
Out of Darkness (doc)
Les Seigneurs de la Forêt ( Masters of the Congo Jungle ) (Sielman and Brandt); The Vikings (Fleischer)
High Journey (Baylis); South Sea Adventure (Dudley)
King of Kings (Nicholas Ray)
Der grosse Atlantik (doc)
The Finest Hours (Baylis—doc)
A King's Story (Booth—doc)
Barbed Water (doc)
To Build a Fire (Cobham); A Horse Called Nijinsky ; Start the Revolution without Me (Yorkin)
Directed by John Ford (Bogdanovich—doc); Sentinels of Silence (Amram—doc); Happiness in Twenty Years
The Crucifixion (Guenette)
Bugs Bunny Superstar (Larry E. Jackson)
Challenge of Greatness ( The Challenge ) (Kline)
A Woman Called Moses (Wendkos—for TV)
The Late Great Planet Earth (Amram—doc); The Double McGuffin (Camp)
Genocide (Schwartzman); The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (Guenette)
History of the World, Part One (Mel Brooks)
Almonds and Raisins (Karel)
Films as Director:
The Hearts of Age (16mm short) (co-d with Vance, + ro)
Too Much Johnson (16mm short) (+ sc, co-pr) (unreleased)
Citizen Kane (+ ro as Charles Foster Kane, pr, co-sc)
The Magnificent Ambersons (+ ro as narrator, pr, sc); It's All True (semi—doc) (co-d with Norman Foster, + co-sc, pr) (not completed—released in 1993 with added footage)
Journey into Fear (co-d [uncredited] with Norman Foster, + ro as Colonel Haki, pr, co-sc)
The Stranger (+ ro as Franz Kindler/Professor Charles Rankin, co-sc [uncredited])
The Lady from Shanghai (+ ro as Michael O'Hara, sc); Macbeth (+ title role, pr, sc)
Othello (+ title role, pr, sc)
Mr. Arkadin ( Confidential Report ) (+ ro as Gregory Arkadin, story, sc, art d, cost); Don Quixote (+ ro as himself, co-pr, sc) (not completed)
Fountain of Youth (TV pilot) (+ ro as the host)
Touch of Evil (+ ro as Hank Quinlan, sc)
Le Procès ( The Trial ) (+ ro as Advocate Hastler, sc)
Campanadas a Medianoche ( Chimes at Midnight ; Falstaff ) (+ ro as Sir John Falstaff, sc, cost)
Une Histoire immortelle ( The Immortal Story ) (for TV) (+ ro as Mr. Clay, sc)
The Deep (+ ro as Russ Brewer, sc) (unreleased)
The Other Side of the Wind (+ sc) (not completed)
F for Fake ( Vérités et mengsonges ; About Fakes ; Nothing but the Truth ) (+ ro as himself, sc) (add'l footage by Reichenbach)
By WELLES: books—
Everybody's Shakespeare , New York, 1933; revised as The Mercury Shakespeare , 1939.
The Trial (script), New York, 1970.
This Is Orson Welles , with Peter Bogdanovich, New York, 1972.
Touch of Evil , edited by Terry Comito, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1985.
Chimes at Midnight , New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1988.
By WELLES: articles—
The Director in the Theatre Today , Theatre Education League, 1939.
Interview with Francis Koval, in Sight and Sound (London), December 1950.
"The Third Audience," in Sight and Sound (London), January/March 1954.
Interviews with Andre Bazin and Charles Bitsch, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June and September 1958.
"Conversation at Oxford," with Derrick Griggs, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1960.
Interview with Everett Sloane, in Film (London), no. 37, 1965.
"A Trip to Don Quixoteland: Conversations with Orson Welles," with Juan Cobos and others, in Cahiers du Cinema in English (New York), June 1966.
"Welles and Falstaff," interview with Juan Cobos and others, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1966.
"Welles on Falstaff," Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), Summer 1967.
"Heart of Darkness," in Film Comment (New York), December 1972.
On WELLES: books—
Fowler, Roy, Orson Welles: A First Biography , London, 1946.
MacLiammoir, Micheal, Put Money in Thy Purse , London, 1952.
Noble, Peter, The Fabulous Orson Welles , London, 1956.
Houseman, John, Run-Through: A Memoir , New York, 1972.
France, Richard, The Theater of Orson Welles , Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, 1977.
McBride, Joseph, Orson Welles, Actor and Director , New York, 1977.
Bazin, Andre, Orson Welles: A Critical View , translated by Jonathan Rosenbaum, New York, 1978.
Naremore, James, The Magic World of Orson Welles , New York, 1979; rev. ed., Dallas, Texas, 1989.
Carringer, Robert, The Making of Citizen Kane , Los Angeles, 1985.
Leaming, Barbara, Orson Welles: A Biography , New York, 1985.
Brady, Frank, Citizen Welles , New York, 1989.
France, Richard, editor, Orson Welles: On Shakespeare , New York, 1990.
Wood, Bret, Orson Welles: A Bio-Bibliography , Westport, Connecticut, 1990.
Howard, James, The Complete Films of Orson Welles , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1991.
Beja, Morris, editor, Perspectives on Orson Welles , New York, 1995.
Callow, Simon, Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu , London, 1995.
Thomson, David, Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles , New York, 1996.
Thieme, Claudia, F for Fake: And the Growth in Complexity of Orson Welles' Documentary Form , New York, 1997.
Anderegg, Michael, Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture , New York, 1999.
Taylor, John Russell, Orson Welles , New York, 2000.
On WELLES: articles—
Lindley, D., "He Has the Stage," in Colliers (New York), 29 January 1938.
Maloney, Russell, "Orson Welles," in New Yorker , 5 October 1938.
Johnson, Alva, and Fred Smith, "How to Raise a Child," in Saturday Evening Post (New York), no. 212, 20 January 1940, 27 January 1940, and 3 February 1940.
"Orson at War," in Time (New York), 30 November 1942.
"Actor Turns Columnist," in Time (New York), 29 January 1945.
"Welles: Young Man of 1,000 Faces," in Cue , 29 June 1946.
Hamburger, P., "Television: Omnibus Presentation of King Lear ," in New Yorker , 31 October 1953.
MacLiammoir, Micheal, "Orson Welles," in Sight and Sound (London), July/September 1954.
Harvey, E., "TV Imports," in Colliers (New York), 14 October 1955.
"Orson Welles's Lear," in Newsweek (New York), 23 January 1956.
Lewis, T., "Theatre: Welles as King Lear," in America (New York), 28 January 1956.
Adams, Val, "News of TV and Radio," in New York Times , 15 December 1957.
Tynan, Kenneth, "Orson Welles," in Show (London), October 1961 and November 1961.
Current Biography 1965 , New York, 1965.
Archer, Eugene, "Orson Welles: Boy Genius Turns 50," in New York Times , 18 April 1965.
Morgenstern, J., and R. Sokolov, "Falstaff as Orson Welles," in Newsweek (New York), 27 March 1967.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, "The Invisible World of Orson Welles: A First Inventory," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1968.
McBride, Joseph, "Welles' Chimes at Midnight ," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1969.
McBride, Joseph, "Welles before Kane ," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1970.
Wilson, Richard, "It's Not Quite True," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1970.
McBride, Joseph, "First Person Singular," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1970/71.
Wilson, Richard, "Reply to Higham's It's All True," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1970/71.
"The Cinema of Orson Welles," program by the National Film Theatre (London), 1972.
Smith, Cecil, "Orson Welles: The Perpetual Who Came to Dinner," in Los Angeles Times , 28 November 1972.
Gilling, Ted, interview with George Coulouris, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1973.
"Orson Welles," Life Award Ceremony Program, American Film Institute, 1975.
"Welles" issue of Positif (Paris), March 1975.
McBride, Joseph, "The Other Side of Orson Welles," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), July-August 1976.
Smith, Cecil, "Orson Welles on Early TV: Pilot Tried before Its Time," in Los Angeles Times , Calendar, 9 August 1981.
McLean, A. M., "Orson Welles and Shakespeare: History and Consciousness in Chimes at Midnight ," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 3, 1983.
Leaming, Barbara, "The Genius Takes On Tinseltown," in Playboy , vol. 30, December 1983.
Pells, Richard, "The Radical Stage and the Hollywood Film in the 1930s," in Radical Visions and American Dreams , Middletown, Connecticut, 1984.
Belcher, Jerry, obituary in Los Angeles Times , 11 October 1985.
McCarthy, Todd, obituary in Daily Variety (New York), 11 October 1985.
Obituary in New York Times , 11 October 1985.
O'Brien, Geoffrey, "A Touch of Ego," in The Village Voice (New York), 15 October 1985.
"Orson Welles's Revolution Is Still in Progress," in New York Times , 20 October 1985.
Kauffman, Stanley, obituary in New Republic (New York), 11 November 1985.
Rodman, Howard, "The Last Days of Orson Welles," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1987.
France, Richard, "Orson Welles' First Film," in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1987.
Perlmutter, Ruth, "Working with Welles: An Interview with Henry Jaglom," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1988.
Simon, William, editor, Special "Welles" issue of Persistence of Vision (New York), no. 7, 1989.
Naremore, James, "The Trial: The FBI vs. Orson Welles," in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1991.
McBride, Joseph, "The Lost Kingdom of Orson Welles," in New York Review of Books , 13 May 1993.
Charity, Tom, "All Very Welles," in Time Out (London), no. 1210, 27 October 1993.
Combs, Richard, "Burning Masterworks: From Kane to F for Fake ," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 30, no. 1, January-February 1994.
Garcia, Maria, "Re-inventing Orson Welles," in Films in Review (New York), vol. 45, no. 5–6, May-June 1994.
Hall, John W., "Touch of Psycho? : Hitchcock's Debt to Welles," in Bright Lights (Cincinnati), no. 14, 1995.
Hogan, David J., "Orson Welles' Ghost Story," in Filmfax (Evanston), no. 50, May-June 1995.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, and Bill Krohn, "Orson Welles in the U.S.: An Exchange," in Persistence of Vision (Maspeth), no. 11, 1995.
Ross, Alex, "A Dark Genius Haunts the Hollywood He Taunted," in New York Times , 21 January 1996.
Callow, Simon, "Orson Welles," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), vol. 53, no. 4, April 1996.
Wiener, J., "Hoover, Hearst and Citizen Welles," in Nation , vol. 262, 27 May 1996.
Lyons, Donald, "Setting Terms for Orson," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 32, no. 5, September-October 1996.
Andrew, Geoff, "Awesome Orson," in Time Out (London), no. 1363, 2 October 1996.
Wollen, Peter, "Foreign Relations: Welles and Touch of Evil ," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 6, no. 10, October 1996.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, "The Battle Over Orson Welles," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 22, no. 3, December 1996.
"The Construction of Space and the Monstrous-feminine in the Welles-text," in Critical Survey , May 1998.
Rothwell, Kenneth S., "Orson Welles: Shakespeare for the Art Houses," in Cineaste (New York), Winter 1998.
Wollen, Peter, "The Vienna Project," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 9, no. 7, July 1999.
On WELLES: films—
The Filming of Othello, documentary for television, 1978.
Orson Welles à la Cinemateque (documentary, 1982.
Hollywood Mavericks , documentary, 1990.
The Battle over Citizen Kane , television documentary directed by Thomas Lennon and Michael Epstein, 1995.
* * *
Orson Welles's reputation as a director has overshadowed his work as an actor. When reviewers do consider Welles's film performances, their assessments are mixed. Some see Welles as a master of bravura performances. Others argue that his work consists of behavioristic clichés that pass for decent acting because of Welles's mellifluous voice and striking physical presence. Welles's performances are not always flawless, but what his critics miss is that often Welles does not aim for naturalism, but instead draws on melodramatic tradition that uses excess and theatricality to illustrate a film's ethical implications.
Welles's best work is in Citizen Kane , Jane Eyre , Touch of Evil , and Chimes at Midnight , along with The Third Man and Compulsion , where his performances dominant the films even though he appears in only a few scenes. Films such as Moby Dick and A Man for All Seasons reveal Welles's unique ability to convey the texts' ethical dilemmas, for with his naturally dramatic voice and imposing presence, his cameo performances become pivotal moments in the narrative.
A veteran of the Todd Troupers and weekly unofficial productions under his directorial control, Welles made his professional acting debut at age 16, and his Broadway debut at age 19. That same year, 1934, he directed and starred in his first film, played a Kane-like figure in a piece of agit-prop theater, and began starring in radio programs (e.g., The Shadow and First Person Singular ). In 1937, he played Brutus in his Mercury production of Julius Caesar ; the next year he broadcast the infamous "War of the Worlds."
In 1941, Welles played the title role in Citizen Kane . Welles's carefully designed performance does not aim for psychological realism, but instead conveys the different narrators' conflicting views of Charles Foster Kane. In Thatcher's sequence, Welles's quick-rhythmed speech and studied innocence express Thatcher's view that Kane is a young madman headed for a Faustian bargain. In the Bernstein sequence, Welles's exacting diction and flamboyant gestures convey Bernstein's fraternal image of Charlie-the-Great. In the next segment, Welles's performance reflects Leland's view that his friend becomes Kane-the-demagogue: Welles deepens his voice to deliver Kane's political speech, his stance echoes the image on the poster that hangs behind him, and as the segment ends, Welles's body is as immobile as a statue, his voice the booming voice of pitiless authority. In the concluding sequences, Welles's increasingly expressionistic performance shows us that Kane becomes the hollow shell of his ambition, literally puffed-up with self-importance, Kane is an untethered dirigible crashing about, then finally an orator reduced to a whisper. In the films that would follow, Welles revealed his abiding interest in stylized and highly codified characterizations: he consistently played strong characters with his left, three-quarter profile to camera, and weak characters, or strong characters in weak moments, right profile to camera.
Welles was active on stage, screen, and radio throughout the 1940s. Jane Eyre was Welles's first film acting assignment for another director, and his dramatic performance enhanced the mood of Brontë's gothic melodrama. In his own The Lady from Shanghai , Welles played O'Hara with a phony brogue that underscored the film's exploration of deceit, illusion, and artifice. In his last directorial assignment in Hollywood for a decade, Welles played the title role in his expressionistic Macbeth .
The conventional wisdom is that to secure financing for his own films, Welles spent the next three decades hamming-it-up in other people's bad pictures. Yet a review of his performances shows that is not quite the case. Welles gives a brilliant performance in The Third Man , his careful underplaying effectively conveying Harry Lime's sinister character. In the mid-fifties, Welles created notable performances for television; for example, in 1953, his performance in the title role of King Lear was a major success.
Some of Welles's best work was to come. His characterizations in The Long Hot Summer and Compulsion are the work of an accomplished actor. His performance in his own Touch of Evil is disturbing and masterful. Welles's performance as Falstaff in Chimes at Midnight is, quite arguably, the best performance of his career. Drawing on his lifelong study of Faustian figures, Welles gives us a Falstaff who is an endearing but detestable fool. And like his portrayals of other charming but flawed characters, Welles's performance is enriched by the conflicting aspects of his own image: egotist, visionary, wastrel, martyr.
An international celebrity from the time he was a young man, Welles continually subjected his public image to scrutiny: in the 1970s, he appeared regularly on late-night variety shows, in commercials, and in films such as Catch-22 that present us with caricatures of Welles's celebrity personae. F for Fake allowed Welles to reprise one of his signature roles: the entertaining charlatan. Someone to Love , Welles's final appearance on film, provided an apt conclusion to his unique acting career, for it ends with Welles's on-camera call to "cut."