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Orson Welles (1915)

George Orson Welles

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  Summary  

George Orson Welles (May 6, 1915– October 10, 1985) was an American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theater, and television after starting his career in radio drama. Welles is noted for his innovative dramatic productions as well as his distinctive voice and personality. He was always an outsider to the studio system and directed only 13 full-length films in his career, although his first feature film, Citizen Kane, is widely considered a seminal movie classic. While he struggled for creative control in the face of studios, many of his films were heavily edited and others left unreleased. His distinctive directorial style featured layered and nonlinear narrative forms, innovative uses of lighting such as chiaroscuro, unusual camera angles, sound techniques borrowed from radio, deep focus shots, and long takes. He has been praised as a major creative force and as "the ultimate auteur."

After directing a number of high-profile theatrical productions in his early twenties, including an innovative adaptation of Macbeth and The Cradle Will Rock, Welles found national and international fame as the director and narrator of a 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds performed for the radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was reported to have caused widespread panic when listeners thought that an invasion by extraterrestrial beings was occurring. Although these reports of panic were mostly false and overstated, they rocketed Welles to instant notoriety.

Citizen Kane , his first film with RKO, in which he starred in the role of Charles Foster Kane, is often considered the greatest film ever made. Several of his other films, including The Magnificent Ambersons , The Lady from Shanghai , Touch of Evil , Chimes at Midnight , and F for Fake , are also widely considered to be masterpieces.

In 2002, he was voted the greatest film director of all time in two separate British Film Institute polls among directors and critics, and a wide survey of critical consensus, best-of lists, and historical retrospectives calls him the most acclaimed director of all time. Well known for his baritone voice, Welles was also an extremely well regarded actor and was voted number 16 in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Stars list of the greatest American film actors of all time. He was also a celebrated Shakespearean stage actor and an accomplished magician, starring in troop variety shows in the war years.

  Biography  

 early life
Welles was born May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, son of Richard Hodgdon Head Welles (1873, Missouri – December 28, 1930, Chicago, Illinois) and Beatrice Ives (1882 or 1883, Springfield, Illinois – May 10, 1924, Chicago, Illinois). His family was raised Roman Catholic. Despite his parents' affluence, Welles encountered many hardships in childhood. In 1919, his parents separated and moved to Chicago. His father, who had made a fortune as the inventor of a popular bicycle lamp, became an alcoholic and stopped working. Welles's mother, a concert pianist, played during lectures by Dudley Crafts Watson at the Chicago Art Institute to support her son and herself (the oldest Welles boy, "Dickie", had been institutionalized at an early age because he had learning difficulties). Beatrice died of jaundice in 1924 in a Chicago hospital a few days after Welles's ninth birthday. After his mother's death, Welles ceased pursuing his interest in music. He was taken in by Dudley Crafts Watson and lived with the family at Watson's family home, "Trillium Dell", on Marshman Avenue in Highland Park, Illinois. At the age of ten, Orson with Watson's third daughter, Marjorie , ran away from home. They were found a week later, singing and dancing for money on a street corner in Milwaukee. His father died when Orson was 15 during the summer after Orson's graduation from Todd School for Boys, an independent school in Woodstock, Illinois. Maurice Bernstein, a physician from Chicago, became his guardian.

At Todd School, Welles came under the influence of Roger Hill, a teacher who later became Todd's headmaster. Hill provided Welles with an ad hoc educational environment that proved invaluable to his creative experience, allowing Welles to concentrate on subjects that interested him. Welles performed and staged his first theatrical experiments and productions there. Following graduation from Todd, Welles was awarded a scholarship to Harvard University. Rather than enrolling, he chose to travel. Later, he briefly studied for a time at the Art Institute of Chicago. He returned a number of times to Woodstock to direct his alma mater's student productions.

 personal life
 Relationships and family
In 1934, Welles eloped with Chicago-born actress and socialite Virginia Nicolson. They divorced in 1940 after Welles's affair with Vera Zorina was vaguely mentioned in Walter Winchell's column.

Since 1932, Welles had fallen in love with the older Mexican actress, Dolores del Río. They lived a torrid romance between 1938 and 1942. They acted together in the movie Journey into Fear but the affair ended soon afterward.

Welles married Rita Hayworth in 1943. The couple became estranged during the making of The Lady from Shanghai. After five years, Hayworth filed for divorce, her reason to the press being, "I can't take his genius any more." During his last interview and only two hours before his death, Welles answered Merv Griffin's suggestive comment "But one of your wives—oh, I have envied you so many years for Rita Hayworth", by calling her "one of the dearest and sweetest women that ever lived" and saying that he was "lucky enough to have been with her longer than any of the other men in her life."

In 1955 Welles married Italian actress Paola Mori (née Countess Paola di Girifalco, 1930–1989). Estranged for decades, the couple never divorced. Croatian-born actress Oja Kodar became Welles's longtime companion both personally and professionally from 1966 onwards. They lived together for the last 24 years of his life. A year after Orson's death, Mori and Kodar finally agreed on the settling of his will. On the way to their meeting to sign the papers, however, Mori was killed in a car accident.

Welles had three daughters from his marriages: Christopher Welles Feder ; Rebecca Welles Manning (December 17, 1944 – October 14, 2004, with Rita Hayworth), and Beatrice Welles . His only known son, British director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (Sir Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 5th baronet), is from Welles's affair with Irish actress Geraldine Fitzgerald, then the wife of Sir Edward Lindsay-Hogg, 4th baronet. In her autobiography, In My Father's Shadow, Welles Feder wrote about being a childhood friend and neighbor of Lindsay-Hogg's and always suspecting he might be her half-brother.

After the death of Rebecca Welles Manning in 2004, a man named Marc McKerrow was revealed to be her biological son, and so the direct descendant of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. McKerrow's reactions to the revelation and his meeting with Oja Kodar are documented in the 2008 film Prodigal Sons.

Some of Welles's claimed familial ties have not held up under scrutiny. Despite the persistent urban legend, promoted by Welles himself, he was not the great-grandson of Abraham Lincoln's wartime Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. Perhaps the genesis of the myth dates to a 1970 interview on The Dick Cavett Show during which Welles remarks about his venerable great-grandfather Gideon Welles. Orson Welles's father was Richard Head Welles, son of Richard Jones Welles; Gideon Welles had no son by that name. His sons were Hubert (1833–1862), John Arthur (1845–1883), Thomas G. (1846–1892), and Edgar Thaddeus Welles (1843–1914).

 Physical characteristics
Welles achieved a height of six feet at the age of fourteen. Peter Noble's biography describes him as "A magnificent figure of a man, over six feet tall, handsome, with flashing eyes and a gloriously resonant speaking-voice"According to a 1941 physical exam taken when he was 26, Welles was 6 feet tall and weighed . His eyes were brown. Other sources cite that he was tall, but the slates from costume tests made during the 1940s show him as . Welles gained a significant amount of weight in his 40s, eventually rendering him morbidly obese, at one point weighing nearly four hundred pounds . His obesity was severe to the point that it restricted his ability to travel, aggravated other health conditions, including his asthma, and even required him to go on a diet in order to play the famously portly Sir John Falstaff. Some have attributed his over-eating and drinking to depression over his marginalization by the Hollywood system.

 Religious beliefs
In April 1982, Merv Griffin interviewed Welles and asked about his religious beliefs. Welles replied, "I try to be a Christian, I don't pray really, because I don't want to bore God." After the success of his 1941 film Citizen Kane, Welles announced that his next film would be about the life of Jesus, and that he would play the lead role. However, Welles never got around to making the film. He narrated the Christian documentary The Late, Great Planet Earth as well as the 1961 Biblical film about the life of Christ, King of Kings.

 politics
Welles was politically active from the beginning of his career. He remained a man of the left throughout his life, and always defined his political orientation as "progressive". He was a strong supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, and often spoke out on radio in support of progressive politics. In particular, he was an early and outspoken critic of American racism and the practice of segregation. He campaigned heavily for Roosevelt in the 1944 election. For several years, he wrote a newspaper column on political issues and briefly toyed with running for office. In 1970, Welles narrated a satirical political record on the administration of President Richard Nixon entitled The Begatting of the President.

In the 2006 book, Whatever Happened to Orson Welles?, writer Joseph McBride made several controversial claims about Welles. Though Welles said otherwise during his lifetime, McBride claimed Welles left America in the late 1940s to escape McCarthyism and the Hollywood blacklist. McBride also claimed, in spite of the sexual content of Welles's contemporary work (F for Fake and the unfinished Other Side of the Wind which contained an explicit - for the time - sex scene involving Oda Kodar), that Welles was extremely puritanical about sex based on his comment to Peter Bogdanovich that The Last Picture Show was "a dirty movie".

Welles once told Cahiers du cinéma about sex in film, "In my opinion, there are two things that can absolutely not be carried to the screen: the realistic presentation of the sexual act and praying to God."

 death
On October 10, 1985, Welles did his final interview on The Merv Griffin Show. He died two hours later of a heart attack at his home in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, California, the same day as his Battle of Neretva co-star Yul Brynner. Welles's ashes were buried on the property of a long time friend, retired bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez, in Ronda, Spain.

 legacy
The 1996 documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane chronicles the battle between Welles and Hearst. A 1999 HBO docudrama, RKO 281, tells the story of the making of Citizen Kane, starring Liev Schreiber as Orson Welles.

Tim Robbins's 1999 film Cradle Will Rock chronicles the process and events surrounding Welles and John Houseman's production of the 1937 musical by Marc Blitzstein. In it, Welles is played by actor Angus MacFadyen.

Playwright and actor Austin Pendleton wrote the play Orson's Shadow about Welles and his collaboration with Laurence Olivier. It deals with the time that Welles directed Laurence Olivier in a production of Eugène Ionesco's play Rhinoceros. According to this play, Welles privately disliked Olivier's film adaptations of Shakespeare's works (which were far more successful than Welles's), at one point stating that Olivier's film of Hamlet "looked like a Joan Crawford movie". Welles struggled with getting Olivier to play not merely someone lower-class but getting Olivier to play someone utterly non-descript.

Author Kim Newman has featured Orson Welles as a character in several stories from his Anno Dracula series.

In the Tim Burton-directed biopic Ed Wood , Welles (played by Vincent D'Onofrio and dubbed by Maurice LaMarche) makes a brief "cameo appearance", giving advice to director Edward D. Wood, Jr. who idolises Welles. Inspired, Wood proceeds to finish his film Plan 9 from Outer Space, sometimes called one of the worst films of all time. Though Ed Wood is based on Wood's life, in reality the scene is entirely fictional: Wood never met Orson Welles. D'Onofrio would again portray Welles in the 2005 30-minute film Five Minutes Mr. Welles concerning Welles's role in the film The Third Man.

Although the character Brain from the animated series Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain was not initially modeled after Welles, Maurice LaMarche was shown a picture of Brain and tasked with finding a voice for the character. LaMarche immediately thought of Welles and decided to do his Welles impersonation. LaMarche also played Welles in The Critic (where his "later work", ads for such products as 'Mrs. Pell's Fishsticks', is referenced) and in the Futurama episode "Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences", in which he performs a WOTW-like play.

One of the recurring celebrity characters on the influential Canadian sketch comedy TV show Second City Television was John Candy's impersonation of Welles. ON SCTV, Candy-as-Welles appeared in an embarrassing array of commercials, talk shows, and other low-budget productions. It's unknown whether or not Welles ever saw Candy's impersonation.

The film Fade to Black, released in 2006, is a fictional thriller based on Welles' 1948 journey to Rome to star in the movie Black Magic''.

Me and Orson Welles, released in November 2009, stars Zac Efron as a teenager who convinces Welles to cast him in Welles's 1937 production of Julius Caesar, based on Robert Kaplow's novel.

The final segment of The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror XVII" features a parody of Welles's 1938 War Of The Worlds radio broadcast in which, having been fooled once, the people of Springfield refuse to believe that an actual alien invasion is taking place. Welles was again voiced by Maurice LaMarche in the episode.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Orson Welles", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.