Theatre, Film, and Television Biographies
Joe Viterelli to Orson Welles
Orson Welles Biography (1915-1985)
Full name, George Orson Welles; born May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, WI; died of anapparent heart attack in Hollywood, CA, on October 10, 1985; son of Richard Head (an inventor and manufacturer) and Beatrice (a concert pianist; maiden name, Ives) Welles; married Virginia Nicholson (an actress), December 20, 1934(divorced, 1940); married Rita Hayworth (an actress), September 7, 1942 (divorced); married Countess Paola Mori Girlalco (an actress), May 8, 1955; children: (first marriage) Christopher (a daughter); (second marriage) Rebecca; (third marriage) Beatrice.
The critically acclaimed director, writer, and actor Orson Welles was a childprodigy who wrote poetry, painted, studied the violin, put on Shakespeareanplays, and played Madama Butterfly's child at the Chicago opera--all before he was ten.
Welles toured Ireland after his high school graduation and while there becamea member of the Gate Players troupe for a short period of time. From Irelandhe traveled to Morocco, where he spent time polishing scripts and stories hehad written. Soon afterwards, he returned to America and burst onto the NewYork theatrical scene in his early twenties with such unorthodox productionsas his so- called "voodoo Macbeth," set in Haiti and using an all-black cast,and a modern-dress version of Julius Caesar, which he turned into a parableagainst Fascism. When the WPA's Federal Theatre Project, for whom Welles hadworked up to that point, banned his production of Marc Blitzstein's leftist musical drama The Cradle Will Rock and locked the cast out of the theatre, heand his associate John Houseman rented a theatre of their own, where the actors, prohibited by Equity from performing the work on stage, read it to the audience. Welles and Houseman then formed their own company, the Mercury Theatre.
In addition to stage work, the Mercury Theatre also presented radio programs.On Halloween Eve, 1938, Welles's radio dramatization of the Mercury Theatre's War of the Worlds caused a nationwide panic. Done as a fake news broadcast,the show was so realistic that many listeners thought New Jersey had reallybeen invaded by Martians.
After a disastrous attempt to produce his play Five Kings, Welles moved the Mercury Theatre to Hollywood to try his hand at the movie industry. Welles's first film, Citizen Kane, "is now fabled," according to his New York Times obituary, "for its use of flashback, deep-focus photography, sets with ceilings,striking camera angles, and imaginative sounds and cutting." International critics' polls conducted in 1962, 1972, and 1982 by the British magazine Sightand Sound selected Kane as the greatest film of all time. Ironically, it wasa commercial flop in its first release, largely because of pressure from publisher William Randolph Hearst, on whom the title character was in large partbased. Such was Hearst's influence on the public that bad reviews of Kane inhis newspapers kept moviegoers away from the film. "Rosebud," the title character's dying word in the film and the name of his boyhood sled, has become ahousehold word (the original sled was purchased at auction for $61,000 by director Steven Spielberg).
Even though his next film, The Magnificent Ambersons, which he wrote, produced, and directed, was cut heavily by the studio (RKO) over Welles's objections, it, too, is now ranked among the great works of cinema history. Among his later films, Touch of Evil, released in 1958, and Chimes at Midnight, 1966, inparticular, are regarded as masterpieces, but Welles's directorial career after Kane and Ambersons was marred by an inability to get financial backing because of his reputation as a perfectionist (although he remained in great demand as an actor). Some of his most ambitious film projects were never made or, like his version of Don Quixote, begun but never completed.
- Birth Details
- May 6, 1915
- Kenosha, Wisconsin, United States
- Death Details
- October 10, 1985
- Hollywood, California, United States
Credits; PRINCIPAL FILM WORK
- Producer, director, writer, and portrayed Charles Foster Kane, Citizen Kane, RKO, 1941.
- Producer, director, and writer, The Magnificent Ambersons, RKO, 1942.
- Producer, writer, and portrayed Colonel Haki, Journey into Fear, RKO, 1943.
- Uncredited director and portrayed Cagliostro, Black Magic, 1944.
- Director and actor, The Stranger, 1946.
- Director, producer, and played title role, Macbeth, Republic, 1948.
- Director, The Lady from Shanghai, 1948.
- Producer, director, writer, and played title role, Othello, Universal, 1955.
- Director and played title role, Mr. Arkadin (retitled The Confidential Report), British, 1955.
- Director, writer, and actor, Touch of Evil, Universal, 1958.
- Producer, director, and writer, The Trial, 1963.
- FILM DEBUT--The Hearts of Age, 1934.
- PRINCIPAL FILM APPEARANCES (in addition to above) Rochester, Jane Eyre, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1944.
- the Great Orsino, Follow the Boys, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), 1944.
- Tomorrow Is Forever, 1946.
- Harry Lime, The Third Man, 1949.
- Cesare Borgia, Prince of Foxes, 1949.
- Khan, The Black Rose, 1950.
- Trent's Last Case, 1952.
- Napoleon, 1952.
- Trouble in the Glen, 1953.
- Three Cases of Murder, Associate Artists, 1955.
- Father Mapple, Moby Dick, Warner Brothers, 1956.
- The Long Hot Summer, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1958.
- The Roots of Heaven, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1958.
- Clarence Darrow, Compulsion, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1959.
- King Saul, David and Goliath, Allied Artists, 1961.
- Ferry to Hong Kong, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1961.
- Robert Fulton, Austerlitz, 1961.
- The Tartars, MGM, 1962.
- The VIPs, MGM, 1963.
- Lafayette, Maco, 1964.
- Is Paris Burning, Paramount, 1966.
- Cardinal Wolsey, A Man for All Seasons, Columbia, 1966.
- Tepepa, 1966.
- Falstaff, Chimes at Midnight, 1966.
- Casino Royale, Columbia, 1967.
- The Sailor from Gibraltar, Lopert, 1967.
- Oedipus the King, Uniiversal, 1968.
- I'll Never Forget Whats'is Name, Regional, 1968.
- Mr. Clay, The Immortal Story, Altura Films, 1969.
- House of Cards, Universal, 1969.
- The Southern Star, Columbia, 1969.
- Start the Revolution without Me, Warner Brothers, 1970.
- The Kremlin Letter, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1970.
- Catch-22, Paramount, 1970.
- The Battle of Nerveta, American International, 1971.
- Waterloo, Paramount, 1971.
- A Safe Place, Columbia, 1971.
- Malpertius, 1971.
- Necromancy, Cinerama, 1972.
- Ten Days Wonder, Levitt-Pickman, 1972.
- co-writer and played Long John Silver, Treasure Island, National General,1972.
- Get to Know Your Rabbit, Warner Brothers, 1972.
- F for Fake, 1973.
- Voyage of the Damned, Avco Embassy, 1977.
- Filming Othello, 1978.
- The Muppet Movie, Associated, 1979.
- J. P. Morgan, Nikola Tesla, 1979.
- Going for Broke, 1980.
- Butterfly, 1981.
- Also Where Is Parsifal; Man Who Saw Tomorrow; Is It You? Narrator: Duel in the Sun, 1946; King of Kings, MGM, 1961; Bugs Bunny Superstar; The Late Great Planet Earth; Genocide.
- Unfinished films: Too Much Johnson, Mercury, 1938; Don Quixote, 1950; TheDeep, 1967; The Other Side of the Wind, 1970; The Making of "The Trial," 1981; King Lear; It's All True; The Dreamers; The Big Brass Ring; The Cradle Will Rock.
- STAGE DEBUT--Jew Suss, Dublin Gate, Ireland, 1931.
- PRINCIPAL STAGE APPEARANCES (in addition to those listed below with director and producer credits) Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet, 1933.
- Five Kings, 1939.
- The Unthinking Lobster, 1950.
- King Lear, 1956.
- Also The Barretts of Wimpole Street; Candida; Panic; Ten Million Ghosts;Time Runs.
Credits; PRINCIPAL STAGE WORK
- Producer (with John Houseman) Macbeth, Lafayette Theater, Harlem, NY, 1936.
- Producer (with Houseman), Horse Eats Hat, Maxine Elliott Theater, NY, 1936.
- Producer and actor, with the Mercury Theatre, 1937-38: Julius Caesar, TheShoemaker's Holiday, as Captain Shotover in Heartbreak House; Too Much Johnson; Danton's Death.
- Director: The Second Hurricane; The Cradle Will Rock, 1937; Native Son; Around the World in 80 Days, 1946; The Lady in Ice; Rhinoceros, London, 1960.
- Director and actor: Doctor Faustus, 1937; Mercury Wonder Show; Othello; Moby Dick, 1955; Moby Dick Rehearsed; Chimes at Midnight, Ireland, 1960.
Credits; MAJOR TOURS
- Mercury Wonder Show, 1943.
Credits; PRINCIPAL RADIO WORK
- Narrator, The Shadow, 1935.
- Producer, director, actor, and narrator, "The War of the Worlds," MercuryTheatre on the Air, 1938.
- Producer, director, actor, and narrator, Hello Americans.
- Writer, The Free Company Presents ... His Honor, the Mayor, CBS, April 6,1941.
- Also, narrator, March of Time, NBC; The Orson Welles Show; Suspense; Cavalcade of America; Streamlined Shakespeare; America's Hour; First Person Singular; Campbell Playhouse; Five Kings.
Credits; PRINCIPAL TELEVISION APPEARANCES; SERIES
- The Orson Welles Sketchbook, BBC.
- Around the World with Orson Welles, BBC.
- Orson Welles Great Mysteries.
- Director and actor, The Orson Welles Show.
- Marty Feldman Comedy Machine, ABC, 1972.
- Host, Scene of the Crime, 1984.
- voice of Robin Masters, Magnum P.I., CBS, 1981-85.
Credits; EPISODIC AND SPECIALS
- "King Lear," Omnibus, CBS, 1953.
- I Love Lucy.
- "Twentieth Century," Ford Star Jubilee, CBS, 1956.
- Writer, director, and narrator, "The Fountain of Youth," Colgate Theatre,CBS, 1958.
- The Man Who Came to Dinner, 1973.
- "Magnificent Monsters of the Deep," Survival-Anglia, Ltd., NBC, 1976.
- Moonlighting, ABC, 1985.
- It Happened One Christmas.
- Satirical Political Recordings, 1972.
- SCREENPLAYS (in addition to film work mentioned above) Monsieur Verdoux,United Artists, 1947.
- PLAYS (in addition to plays mentioned above) (Author of libretto) The Lady in Ice (ballet), 1953.
- Also, Marching Song; Bright Lucifer.
- Compiler, Invasion from Mars, Interplanetary Stories: Thrilling Adventures in Space, Dell, 1949.
- (With others) The Lives of Harry Lime, News of the World, 1952.
- Mr. Arkadin, Crowell, 1956.
- Coauthor and narrator of adaptations of novels for radio and recordings.Author of column "Orson Welles' Almanac," for the New York Post, 1945.
April 8, 2004: The film The Third Man, in which Welles starred,was restored for its 50th anniversary and shown in New York. Source:
New York Times, www.nytimes.com, April 8, 2004.September 2, 2005: A production of Welles's stage adaptation of HermanMelville's Moby-Dick, which was first performed in London in 1955, opened in East Hampton, New York, at the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall. Called Moby Dick Rehearsed, the play was directed by Tony Walton. Source:
New York Times, www.nytimes.com, September 2, 2005.
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