Happy birthday Orson Welles!

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Orson Welles (May 6, 1915 – October 10, 1985) was an American director, producer, and writer who produced work for film, stage, and radio. His most notable work is Citizen Kane (1941), which is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, if not the greatest. It also won an Academy Award for Best Writing. He is also very well known for his radio broadcasts, including The War of the Worlds (1938). He was also the youngest person to be given total creative control over and funding for his films by a studio. His work is remembered for its uniquely nonlinear narrative style and use of light.


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Welles was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin to Richard Hodgdon Head Welles and Beatrice Welles. His parents separated when Welles was young, and they all moved to Chicago. His father had some money from his invention of a bicycle lamp. When he was nine years old, his mother died of hepatitis. When he was 13 years old, his father died and Welles was eventually left in the care of a local physician. While attending the Todd School for Boys, he met Roger Hill, who ended up being very influential to his education, encouraging him to study the subjects that interested him. This is where he first worked on and appeared in theatrical productions.

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After receiving a scholarship to Harvard University, Welles decided to instead travel around Europe with some of the money he was left in his father's inheritance. While in Ireland, he lied about being a Broadway star and ended up on stage at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. Once he returned to the United States, where word of his performance had reached, he found his fame disappointing and returned to the Todd school to write. The product of this was Everbody's Shakespeare, which had huge popular success.


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By the time he was 19, Welles was performing on Broadway in Romeo and Juliet. He caught the attention of director John Houseman, with whom he would go on to form the Mercury Theater. Their first production was an incarnation of Julius Caesar that invoked fascist themes. It was very successful, and after a few more successful shows, the production moved to radio, titled, "The Mercury Theater on Air" and running on weekly on CBS. On one broadcast in 1938, called "The War of the Worlds," the premise was of a feigned news broadcast that depicted an alien invasion. After this, Welles was hailed as a genius and courted by Hollywood.

He was offered total creative control and a share of the profits to write, produce, and direct two films, the riskiest film contract ever to be signed, as Welles was only 24 years old and had never produced a film. This deal eventually resulted in Citizen Kane (1941), which ultimately garnered nine Academy Award nominations and pioneered many film techniques.


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His next project, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) caused Welles' first tensions with Hollywood studios. The film was behind schedule and over budget. Moreover, when Welles was commissioned to produce a wartime propoganda documentary in South America, which also became a budget disaster, he was excluded from the final edit of The Magnificent Ambersons. This experience embittered him and he had trouble finding work as a director afterward. He finally did find work in radio, including on Hello Americans and Orson Welles' Almanac.

He married actress Rita Hayworth in 1943 and they had one child. They divorced five years later.

He eventually found his way back to film and appeared in The Third Man (1949). He directed Othello (1952) and Mr. Arkadin (1955).

Welles also directed theater for the stage, including an adaptation of Around The World in Eighty Days (1946). Later, to make up for money he borrowed from Columbia Pictures to finish the production, he produced The Lady from Shanghai (1947).


Many of his films in his later years had very low ratings, but by the late 1970's Hollywood had begun to acknowledge his contributions again. He earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1975.


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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Tuesday, 06 May 2014
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