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Orson Welles

Orson Welles

George Orson Welles (May 6, 1915 - October 10, 1985) is commonly considered one of Hollywood's greatest directors, as well as a fine actor and screenwriter.

Welles was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He had a bizarre childhood: His parents applied enormous pressure on his older brother Dickie to become a great and famous person. Dickie Welles was terribly unsuited to this role and became a homeless drunk. Orson inherited the role of wonder boy and seemed magically adept at it, though his personal relationships surely suffered because of it.

He made his stage debut in Dublin, Ireland, in 1931 and by 1934 was a radio producer in the United States. It was a radio production, War of the Worlds, broadcast on October 30, 1938, that first brought him public notoriety -- the program created panic among listeners who found it completely convincing. Welles's adaptation of H. G. Wells's classic novel simulated a news broadcast, cutting into a routine dance music program, describing the landing of Martian spacecraft in Grovers Mill, New Jersey. The broadcast was realistic enough to frighten many in the audience into believing that an actual Martian invasion was in progress. Recordings of the broadcast are still available (see old-time radio).

An arrogant man who showed little tact in dealing with film studios, Welles had trouble financing his films after Citizen Kane (1941). The gossip writer Louella Parsons convinced the yellow-press magnate, William Randolph Hearst, that he was the basis for Kane, a figure pilloried in scorn and derision. Hearst and his newspapers and other media outlets boycotted the film. Since the film clearly was based on Hearst, any dismay on Welles's part would have been disingenuous.

Studios often wrested control of the films from him, making drastic cuts or changing endings: Welles's original ending to The Magnificent Ambersons has been lost, apparently permanently. Touch of Evil was also butchered by the studio but has since been restored to something like what Welles intended.

Welles starred in many of his films and wrote the scripts, often using the talents of the Mercury Theatre company, which he had founded in 1937. These included several stories from English literature, such as Macbeth (1948), Jane Eyre (in which he appeared opposite Joan Fontaine), and Chimes at Midnight (1965), an underrated classic in which Welles played Falstaff.

During his career he won one Oscar and was nominated for a further four. One of his last notable film appearances was as Cardinal Wolsey in A Man for All Seasons(1966). In 1971 the Academy gave him an Honorary award "For superlative artistry and versatility in the creation of motion pictures".

Always a large figure of a man, he achieved full-blown obesity in his later years. He capitalized on his image in various advertising campaigns hawking certain brands of wines, hot dogs, and correspondence courses.

He was an aficionado of stage magic and often appeared at Hollywood's Magic Castle. He died of a heart attack in Hollywood, California (U.S.A.).


Note: This profile was written in or before 2003.

Orson Welles Facts

Birth NameGeorge Orson Welles
OccupationDirector, Actor
BirthdayMay 6, 1915
SignTaurus
BirthplaceKenosha, Wisconsin, USA
Date of deathOctober 10, 1985 (age 70)
Height6' 1½" (1m87)  How tall is Orson Welles compared to you?
Awards1971 Academy Awards: Honorary Award

Selected Filmography

Citizen Kane
Citizen Kane: 75th Anniversary
Othello
Film Noir: The Stranger
The Stranger
Chimes at Midnight
Film Noir 10-Movie Spotlight Collection
Touch of Evil
Dark Film Mysteries
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