Orson Welles

Orson Welles

70 (passed away Oct. 10th, 1985)
May. 6th, 1915
Born in
Kenosha, Wisconsin, USA
6' 1

Orson Welles' Main TV Roles

Show Character(s)
Magnum, P.I. TV Show
Magnum, P.I.
National Geographic Specials TV Show
National Geographic Specials
Ford Star Jubilee TV Show
Ford Star Jubilee
The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine (UK) TV Show
The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine (UK)

Main Movie Roles

Guest TV Roles

[none found]


His father was a well-to-do inventor, his mother a beautiful concert pianist; Orson Welles was gifted in many arts (magic, piano, painting) as a child. When his mother died (he was nine) he traveled the world with his father. When his father died (he was fifteen) he became the ward of Chicago's Dr. Maurice Bernstein.

In 1931 he graduated from the Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois; he turned down college offers for a sketching tour of Ireland. He tried unsuccessfully to enter the London and Broadway stages, traveling some more in Morocco and Spain (where he fought in the bullring). Recommendations by 'Thornton Wilder' and 'Alexander Woollcott' got him into Katherine Cornell's road company, with which he made his New York debut as Tybalt in 1934. The same year he married, directed his first short, and appeared on radio for the first time. He began working with 'John Houseman' and formed the Mercury Theatre with him in 1937.

In 1938 they produced The Mercury Theatre on the Air, famous for its broadcast version of "The War of the Worlds" (intended as a Halloween prank). His first film to be seen by the public was Citizen Kane (1941), a commercial failure losing RKO $150,000, but regarded by many as the best film ever made. Many of his next films were commercial failures and he exiled himself to Europe in 1948. In 1956 he directed Touch of Evil (1958); it failed in the U.S. but won a prize at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. In 1975, in spite of all his box-office failures, he received the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1984 the Directors Guild of America awarded him its highest honor, the 'D.W. Griffith' Award. His reputation as a film maker has climbed steadily ever since.

  • Is portrayed by 'Liev Schreiber' (qv) in _RKO 281 (1999) (TV)_ (qv), by 'Edward Edwards (I)' (qv) in _Rita Hayworth: The Love Goddess (1983) (TV)_ (qv), by 'Eric Purcell' (qv) in _Malice in Wonderland (1985) (TV)_ (qv), by 'Vincent D'Onofrio' (qv) in _Ed Wood (1994)_ (qv), and by 'Angus Macfadyen (I)' (qv) in _Cradle Will Rock (1999)_ (qv)
  • Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume One, 1981-1985, pages 861-864. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.
  • Told 'Peter Bogdanovich' (qv) that, as a practicing magician, he became adept at the old carny trick of fortune-telling, but he became so good at it that it scared him. He was worried that he'd come to believe he actually DID have the power to tell the future, like the self-deluded fortune tellers known as a "shut eye."
  • Was very good friends with 'Peter Bogdanovich' (qv), in whose house he lived for several years during Bogdanovich's affair with 'Cybill Shepherd' (qv). Welles even gave Bogdanovich written instructions to finish his last film, _The Other Side of the Wind (1972)_ (qv), before his death.
  • 'Merv Griffin' (qv) claims in his new DVD collection, "Merv Griffin: Interesting People" that Welles died two hours after giving Merv an interview in which he had said to ask him anything, "for this interview there are no subjects about which I won't speak." In the past, Welles refused to speak about the past.
  • Before deciding on adapting the life of 'William Randolph Hearst' (qv) in _Citizen Kane (1941)_ (qv), he intended his first film to be an adaptation of 'Joseph Conrad (I)' (qv)'s "Heart of Darkness". Coincidentally, he was 'Francis Ford Coppola' (qv)'s first choice for the role of Col. Kurtz in _Apocalypse Now (1979)_ (qv), itself an adaptation of "Heart of Darkness".
  • He made _The Lady from Shanghai (1947)_ (qv) towards the end of his marriage to 'Rita Hayworth' (qv). They were constantly fighting at the time and (some say as a comeuppance to Hayworth) he made her cut off most of her long, luxurious red hair and dye it bright platinum blonde.
  • Wanted to make films of two literary masterpices, 'Herman Melville' (qv)'s "Moby Dick" and 'Joseph Heller' (qv)'s "Catch-22", but had to be satisfied in having supporting roles in the films made of the two books by 'John Huston (I)' (qv) and 'Mike Nichols (I)' (qv).

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