Orson Welles biography, writer, director, producer and actor — one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th Century
Orson Welles biography (May 6, 1915 — October 10, 1985)
Critical appreciation for Orson Welles has increased since his death. He is now widely acknowledged as one of the most important dramatic artists of the 20th century, in 2002 being voted in a BFI Top Ten Directors poll by the British Film Institute as the greatest film director of all time.
Orson Welles first gained wide notoriety for his October 30, 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Adapted to sound like a contemporary news broadcast, it caused a large number of listeners to panic. Welles and his biographers subsequently claimed he was exposing the gullibility of American audiences in the tense preamble to the Second World War. In the mid-1930s, his New York theater adaptations of an all-black voodoo Macbeth and a contemporary allegorical Julius Caesar became legendary. Orson Welles was also an accomplished magician, starring in troop variety spectacles in the war years. During this period he became a serious political activist and commentator through journalism, radio and public appearances closely associated with Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1941, he co-wrote, directed, produced and starred in Citizen Kane, often chosen in polls of film critics as the greatest film ever made. Citizen Kane is the only film of Orson Welles for which he possessed sufficient funds and complete creative control to the final cut, and the rest of his career was often obstructed by lack of funds, incompetent studio interference and bad luck, both during exile in Europe and brief returns to Hollywood. Despite these difficulties Othello won the 1952 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Touch of Evil won the top prize at the Brussels World Fair, while Orson Welles himself considered The Trial and Chimes at Midnight to be the best of his efforts.
Although Orson Welles remained on the margins of the main studios as a director/producer, his larger-than-life personality made him a bankable actor. In his latter years, he struggled against a Hollywood system that refused to finance his independent film projects, making a living largely through acting, commercials, and voice-over work. Orson Welles received a 1975 American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement award, the third person to do so after John Ford and James Cagney.
Youth and early career of Orson Welles (1915 to 1934)
Orson Welles was born in 1915 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the second son of Richard Head Orson Welles, then a manufacturer of vehicle lamps, and Beatrice Ives, a concert pianist and suffragette. He was raised a Roman Catholic. The family appears in the 1920 US Federal Census in Chicago, where his father was working as a salesman.
Orson Welles was declared a child prodigy by Dr. Maurice Bernstein, a Chicago physician. When Orson Welles was six, his parents divorced. Beatrice was a major influence in the formation of Orson Welles’s character, teaching him Shakespeare, as well as the piano and violin. Not long after his mother’s death, he began a period filled with international travel. When he was 11, Maurice Bernstein took him to Havana. The next year passenger records suggest that his father took him to Europe. By 1929, he was traveling alone. He took trips to Europe alone in 1932 and 1933.
Beatrice Orson Welles died of jaundice on May 10, 1924 in a Chicago hospital, four days after Orson Welles’ ninth birthday. After his mother’s death, Orson Welles would no longer pursue his interest in music. Richard Orson Welles became an alcoholic and died when Orson was 15, the summer after Orson’s graduation from the Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, Illinois. Orson Welles later revealed in interviews that he felt that he had neglected and betrayed his father.
Maurice Bernstein became his guardian. There is some question about Maurice’s suitability as a guardian as evidenced by his history. Born in Russia, he came to Chicago in 1890, studied and became a successful physician. In a very few years, he had several wives, including the Chicago Lyric Opera soprano, Edith Mason. Edith divorced company director Giorgio Polacco to marry Bernstein. Not long thereafter, they divorced and she remarried Polacco. In 1930, Bernstein was living in the Highland Park district of Chicago as a wealthy physician with another wife and child, claiming to have been born in Illinois to parents from New York.
At Todd, Orson Welles came under the positive influence and guidance of Roger Hill, a teacher who later became Todd’s headmaster. Hill provided Orson Welles with an ad hoc educational environment that proved invaluable to his creative experience, allowing Orson Welles to concentrate on subjects that interested him. Orson Welles performed and staged his first theatrical experiments and productions there.
On his father’s death, Orson Welles traveled to Europe with the aid of a small inheritance. While on a walking and painting trip through Ireland, he strode into the Gate Theatre in Dublin and claimed he was a Broadway star. Gate manager Hilton Edwards later claimed he didn’t believe him but was impressed by his brashness and some impassioned quality in his audition. Orson Welles made his stage debut at the Gate in 1931, appearing in Jew Suss as the Duke. He acted to great acclaim, acclaim that reached the United States. He performed smaller supporting roles as well. On returning to the United States he found his brief fame ephemeral and turned to a writing project at Todd that would become the immensely successful Everybody’s Shakespeare, and subsequently, The Mercury Shakespeare. Orson Welles traveled to North Africa while working on thousands of illustrations for the Everybody’s Shakespeare series of educational books, a series that remained in print for decades.
An introduction by Thornton Wilder led Orson Welles to the New York stage. He toured in three off-Broadway productions with Katharine Cornell’s company. Restless and impatient when the planned Broadway opening of Romeo and Juliet was canceled, Orson Welles staged a drama festival of his own with the Todd School, inviting Micheal MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards from Dublin’s Gate Theatre to appear, along with New York stage luminaries. It was a roaring success. The subsequent revival of Romeo and Juliet brought Orson Welles to the notice of John Houseman, who was then casting for an unusual lead actor and about to take a lead role in the The Federal Theatre Project. Houseman was especially impressed by Orson Welles’ youth, wed to what appeared to be an overabundant creative certainty and drive.
By 1935 Orson Welles was supplementing his earnings in the theater as a radio actor in New York City, working with many of the actors who would later form the core of his Mercury Theatre. He married actress and socialite Virginia Nicholson in 1934. They had one daughter, Christopher, who became known as Chris Orson Welles Feder, an author of educational materials for children. Orson Welles also shot an eight-minute silent short film, The Hearts of Age with Nicholson.
Orson Welles renown in theater and radio (1936 to 1939)
In 1936, the Federal Theatre Project (part of Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration) put unemployed theater performers and employees to work. Orson Welles was hired by John Houseman and assigned to direct a project for Harlem’s American Negro Theater. Wanting to give his all-black cast a chance to play classics, he offered them Macbeth, moved to Haiti at the court of King Henri Christophe (and with a setting of voodoo witch doctors). Jack Carter played Macbeth. The play was rapturously received and later toured the nation. It is considered a landmark of African-American theatre. At 20 Orson Welles was hailed as a prodigy.
After the success of Macbeth, Orson Welles mounted the absurd farce Horse Eats Hat. He consolidated his — White Hope — reputation with Dr Faustus. This was even more ground-breaking theatre than Macbeth, using light as a prime unifying scenic element in a nearly blacked-out stage. In 1937, he rehearsed Marc Blitzstein’s pro-union — labor opera’ The Cradle Will Rock. Because of severe federal cutbacks and perhaps rumored Congressional worries about communist propaganda in the Federal Theatre, the show’s premiere at the Maxine Elliott Theatre was canceled and the theater locked and guarded by National Guardsmen. In a last-minute theatrical coup Orson Welles announced to waiting ticket-holders that the show was being transferred to the Venice, about twenty blocks away. Cast, crew and audience walked the distance on foot. Since the unions forbade the actors and musicians performing from the stage, The Cradle Will Rock began with Blitzstein introducing the show and playing the piano accompaniment on stage, with the cast performing their parts from the audience. This impromptu performance was a tremendous hit.
Resigning from the Federal Theatre, Orson Welles and Houseman formed their own company, the Mercury Theatre, which included actors such as Agnes Moorehead, Joseph Cotten, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Frank Readick, Everett Sloane, Eustace Wyatt and Erskine Sanford, all of whom would continue to work for Orson Welles for years. The first Mercury Theatre production (1937) was a melodramatic and heavily edited version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, set in a contemporary frame of fascist Italy. Cinna the Poet dies at the hands not of a mob but a secret police force. According to Norman Lloyd, who played Cinna, — it stopped the show. — The applause lasted more than 3 minutes and the production was widely acclaimed.
Orson Welles was increasingly active on radio, as an actor and soon as a director and producer. He played Hamlet for CBS on The Columbia Workshop, adapting and directing the play himself. The Mutual Network gave him a seven-week series to adapt Les MisÃ©rables, which he did with great success. Orson Welles was chosen to anonymously play Lamont Cranston, The Shadow, in late 1937 (again for Mutual) and in the summer of 1938 CBS gave him (and the Mercury Theatre) a weekly hour-long show to broadcast radio plays based on classic literary works. The show was titled The Mercury Theatre on the Air, with original music by Bernard Herrmann, who would continue working with Orson Welles on radio and in films for years.
Their October 30 broadcast, H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, brought Orson Welles notoriety and instant fame on both a national and international level. The fortuitous mixture of news bulletin format with the between-breaks dial spinning habits of listeners from the rival and far more popular Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy program, created widespread confusion among late tuners. Panic spread among many listeners who believed the news reports of an actual Martian invasion. The resulting panic was duly reported around the world and disparagingly mentioned by Adolf Hitler in a public speech a few months later. Orson Welles’ growing fame soon drew Hollywood offers, lures which the independent-minded Orson Welles resisted at first. However, The Mercury Theatre on the Air, which had been a — sustaining show’ (without sponsorship) was picked up by Campbell Soup and renamed The Campbell Playhouse.
Orson Welles in Hollywood (1939 to 1948)
RKO Pictures president George Schaefer eventually offered Orson Welles what is generally considered the greatest contract ever offered to an untried director: complete artistic control. RKO signed Orson Welles in a two-picture deal; including script, cast, crew, and most important, final cut. With this contract in hand, Orson Welles (and nearly the entire Mercury Theatre) moved to Hollywood. He commuted weekly to New York to maintain his The Campbell Playhouse commitment.
Orson Welles toyed with various ideas for his first project for RKO Pictures, settling on an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which he worked on in great detail. He planned to film the action with a subjective camera from the protagonist’s point of view. However, as the international political climate darkened this created marketing restrictions across Europe. When a budget was drawn up, RKO’s enthusiasm cooled. The anti-fascist tenor of the story was now suddenly problematic. RKO also declined to approve another Orson Welles’ project, The Smiler with the Knife, for similar political reasons and ostensibly because they lacked faith in Lucille Ball‘s ability to carry the leading lady role.
In a sign of things to come, Orson Welles left The Campbell Playhouse in 1940, due to creative differences with the sponsor. The show continued without him, produced by John Houseman. In perhaps another sign of things to come, Orson Welles’ first actual experience on a Hollywood film was as narrator for RKO’s 1940 production of Swiss Family Robinson.
Orson Welles found a suitable film project in an idea he conceived with screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (who was then writing radio plays for The Campbell Playhouse). Initially called American, it would eventually become Orson Welles’s first feature film, Citizen Kane (1941).
Mankiewicz based his original notion on an expose of the life of William Randolph Hearst, whom he knew socially but now hated, having once been great friends with Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies. Mankiewicz was now banished from her company because of his perpetual drunkenness. This “larger-than-life” character was also loosely modeled on Robert McCormick, Howard Hughes, and Joseph Pulitzer, because Orson Welles’ wanted to create a broad, complex character, intending to show him in the same scenes from several points of view. The use of multiple narrative perspectives in Conrad’s — Heart of Darkness — also influenced Orson Welles’ treatment. Supplying Mankiewicz with 300 pages of notes Orson Welles urged him to write the first drafts of a screenplay under the watchful nursing of John Houseman, who was posted to ensure Mankiewicz stayed on the wagon. On Orson Welles’s instruction, Houseman wrote the opening narration as a pastiche of The March of Time newsreels. Taking these drafts, Orson Welles drastically condensed and rearranged them, then added scenes of his own.
The resulting character of Charles Foster Kane is loosely based on parts of Hearst’s life. Nonetheless, with perhaps sly and barely disguised malice towards their young boss, Mankiewicz and Houseman cunningly worked in autobiographical allusions to Orson Welles himself, most noticeably in the treatment of Kane’s childhood. Orson Welles then added features from other famous American lives to create a general and mysterious personality rather than the narrow journalistic portrait intended by Mankiewicz, whose first drafts included scandalous claims about the death of the film director Thomas Ince, killed on an excursion on a Hearst yacht. Ironically, Mankiewicz later argued, probably astutely, that if this material had been left in Hearst would never have dared to make the public connection to his own life and would have left the film alone.
Once scripting was completed Orson Welles attracted some of Hollywood’s best technicians, including Gregg Toland, considered one of the finest cinematographers of the time, who walked into his office and announced he wanted to work on the picture. For the cast, Orson Welles primarily used actors from his Mercury Theatre. Grasping that films were a collaboration, he invited suggestions from everyone, but only if they were directed through him.
There was little concern over the Hearst connection when Orson Welles completed production on the film. However, Mankiewicz handed a copy of the final shooting script to his friend Charles Lederer, now husband of Orson Welles’ ex-wife Virginia Nicholson and nephew of Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies. Hedda Hopper saw a small ad in a newspaper for a preview screening of Citizen Kane and went. Hopper, realizing immediately that the film was based on features of Hearst’s life, reported this back to him and threatened to give — Hollywood, Private Lives — if that was what it wanted. Thus began the struggle over the attempted suppression of Citizen Kane.
Hearst’s media empire boycotted the film. It exerted enormous pressure on the Hollywood film community by threatening to expose 15 years of suppressed scandals and the fact that most of the studio bosses were Jewish. At one point, the heads of the major studios jointly offered RKO the cost of the film in exchange for the negative and all existing prints, for the express purpose of burning it. RKO declined, and the film was given a limited release. Meanwhile, Hearst successfully intimidated theater chains by threatening to ban advertising for any of their other films in any of his papers if they showed Citizen Kane. RKO didn’t own many theaters, so few movie houses actually dared to screen Citizen Kane.
While the film was critically well-received, by the time it reached the general public the positive tide of publicity had waned. It garnered nine Academy Award nominations but won only for Best Original Screenplay, shared by Mankiewicz and Orson Welles. The delay in its release and its uneven distribution contributed to its average result at the box-office, making back its budget and marketing, but RKO lost any chance of a major profit. The fact that Citizen Kane ignored many Hollywood conventions also meant that the film confused and angered the 1940s cinema public. Exhibitor response was scathing; most theater owners complained bitterly about the adverse audience reaction and the many walkouts, and only a few saw fit to acknowledge Orson Welles’s artistic technique. RKO shelved the film and did not re-release it until 1956. During the 1950s, the film came to be seen by young French film critics such as Francois Truffaut as exemplifying the — auteur theory, — in which the director is the — author — of a film. Truffaut, Godard and others were inspired by Orson Welles’ example to make their own films, giving birth to the Nouvelle Vague. In the 1960’s Citizen Kane became popular on college campuses, both as a film-study exercise and as an entertainment subject. Its frequent revivals on television, home video, and DVD have enhanced its ‘classic’ status, and it ultimately recouped its costs.
The 1996 documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane chronicles the battle between Orson Welles and Hearst. In 1999, RKO 281, an HBO docudrama, tells the story of the making of Citizen Kane, starring Liev Schreiber as Orson Welles.
Orson Welles After Citizen Kane
Orson Welles’ second film for RKO was The Magnificent Ambersons, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Booth Tarkington. George Schaefer hoped to make back the money lost by Citizen Kane. Ambersons had already been adapted for The Campbell Playhouse by Orson Welles, who wrote the screen adaptation himself. Toland was not available, so Stanley Cortez was named cinematographer. The meticulous Cortez, however, was slow and the film lagged behind schedule and over budget.
At RKO’s request, simultaneously, Orson Welles worked on an adaptation of Eric Ambler’s spy thriller, Journey Into Fear, which he co-wrote with Joseph Cotten. In addition to acting in the film, Orson Welles was also producer. Direction was credited solely to Norman Foster. Orson Welles later stated that they were in such a rush that the director of each scene was whoever was closest to the camera.
Orson Welles was then offered a new radio series by CBS. Called The Orson Welles Show, it was a half-hour variety show of short stories, comedy skits, poetry and musical numbers. Joining the original Mercury Theatre cast was Jiminy Cricket, — on loan from Walt Disney — . The variety format was unpopular with the listeners, and Orson Welles was soon forced into full half-hour stories instead.
To further complicate matters during the production of Ambersons and Journey into Fear, Orson Welles was approached by Nelson Rockefeller and Jock Whitney to produce a documentary film about South America. This was at the behest of the federal government’s Good Neighbor Policy, a wartime propaganda effort designed to prevent Latin America from allying with the Axis Powers. Orson Welles saw his involvement as a form of national service, because his physical condition excused him from direct military service.
Expected to film the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Orson Welles rushed to finish the editing on Ambersons and his acting scenes in Journey into Fear. Ending his CBS radio show, he lashed together a rough cut of Ambersons with Robert Wise, who had edited Citizen Kane, and left for Brazil. Unfortunately, to get Ambersons made, Orson Welles had renegotiated away his original contract for final cut.
Wise was to join him in Rio to complete the film but never arrived. Other moves were afoot at RKO. A provisional final cut arranged via phone call, telegram, and shortwave radio was previewed without Orson Welles’ approval in Pomona in a double bill, to a mostly negative audience response, in particular to the character of Aunt Fanny played by Agnes Moorehead.
Whereas Schaefer argued that Orson Welles be allowed to complete his own version of the film, and that an archival copy be kept with the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, RKO was in no mood for such aesthetic niceties.
RKO studio management was in turmoil as Charles Koerner staged a management coup against Schaefer. It took control of the film, formed a committee which was ordered to remove fifty minutes of Orson Welles’ footage, re-shot sequences, rearranged the scene order, and tacked on a happy ending. Schaefer was replaced as RKO President by Koerner, who released the shortened film on the bottom of a double-bill with the Lupe Velez comedy Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost, thus providing the last nail in the coffin for both Orson Welles’s and Schaefer’s careers. Ambersons was an expensive flop for RKO, though it received four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Agnes Moorehead.
Orson Welles’ South American documentary, titled It’s All True, budgeted at one million dollars with half of its budget coming from the U.S. Government upon completion, was treated scarcely better by RKO. They closed down the production, withdrew most of the crew and kicked the Mercury staff out of the studio while Orson Welles was still in Brazil.
In It’s All True, Orson Welles recreated the journey of the jangadeiros, four poor fisherman who had made a 1500-mile journey on their open raft to petition Brazilian President Vargas about their working conditions. The four had become national folk heroes, Orson Welles first read of their journey in Time. Despite their leader, Jacare, dying during a filming mishap, Orson Welles begged to be able to finish the film. He was given a limited amount of black-and-white stock and a silent camera. He completed the sequence, but RKO refused to let him complete the film. Surviving footage was released in 1993, including a rough reconstruction of the Four Men on a Raft segment. Meanwhile, RKO launched a premeditated publicity campaign against Orson Welles, falsely claiming he had gone to Brazil without a screenplay, and that he had squandered a million dollars. Their official company slogan was pointedly changed to — Showmanship in place of Genius. —
Unable to continue work as a film director after the twin disasters of The Magnificent Ambersons and It’s All True, Orson Welles worked on radio. CBS offered him two weekly series, Hello Americans, based on the research he’d done in Brazil, and Ceiling Unlimited, sponsored by Lockheed, a wartime salute to advances in aviation. Both featured several members of his original Mercury Theatre. Within a few months, Hello Americans was canceled and Orson Welles was replaced as host of Ceiling Unlimited by Joseph Cotten. Orson Welles guest-starred on a great variety of shows, notably guest-hosting Jack Benny’s show for a month in 1943. He took an increasingly active role in American and international politics and used journalism to communicate his forceful ideas widely.
In 1943 Orson Welles married Rita Hayworth. They had one child, Rebecca Orson Welles, and divorced five years later in 1948. In between, Orson Welles found work as an actor in other directors’ films. He starred in the 1943 film adaptation of Jane Eyre, trading credit as associate producer for top billing over Joan Fontaine. He also had a cameo in the 1944 wartime salute Follow the Boys, in which he performed his Mercury Wonder Show magic act and sawed Marlene Dietrich in half after Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn refused to allow Hayworth to perform.
In 1944 Orson Welles was offered a new radio show, broadcast only in California. Orson Welles’ Almanac was another half-hour variety show, with Mobil Oil as sponsor. After the success of his stand-in hosting on The Jack Benny Show, the focus was primarily on comedy. His hosting on Jack Benny included several self-deprecating jokes and story lines about his being a — genius — and overriding any ideas advanced by other cast members. The trade papers were not eager to accept Orson Welles as a comedian, and Orson Welles often complained on-air about the poor quality of the scripts. When Orson Welles started his Mercury Wonder Show a few months later, traveling to Armed Forces camps and performing magic tricks and doing comedy, the radio show was broadcast live from the camps and the material took a decidedly wartime flavor. Of his original Mercury actors, only Agnes Moorehead was left. The series was canceled by year’s end due to poor ratings.
While his suitability as a film director remained in question, Orson Welles’ popularity as an actor continued. Pabst Blue Ribbon gave Orson Welles their radio series This Is My Best to direct, but after one month he was fired for creative differences. He started writing a political column for the New York Post, again called Orson Welles Almanac. While the paper wanted Orson Welles to write about Hollywood gossip, Orson Welles explored serious political issues. His activism for world peace took considerable amounts of his time. The Post column eventually failed in syndication because of contradictory expectations and was dropped by the Post.
Orson Welles’ work after World War II (1946-1948)
In 1946, International Pictures released Orson Welles’ film The Stranger, starring Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young and Orson Welles. Sam Spiegel produced the film, which follows the hunt for a Nazi war criminal living under an alias in America. While Anthony Veiller was credited with the screenplay, it had been rewritten by Orson Welles and John Huston. Orson Welles’ most imaginative work on the film was cut out by Spiegel, and the result apart from some bravura sequences on the clock tower or evoking the small town atmosphere, was a comparatively conventional Hollywood thriller. It was successful at the box office but Orson Welles resolved not to have a career as a cog in a Hollywood studio. He resumed his struggle for the creative control which had originally brought him to Hollywood.
In the summer of 1946, Orson Welles directed a musical stage version of Around the World in Eighty Days, with a comedic and ironic rewriting of the Jules Verne novel by Orson Welles, incidental music and songs by Cole Porter, and production by Mike Todd, who would later produce the successful film version with David Niven. When Todd pulled out from the lavish and expensive production, Orson Welles supported the finances himself. When he ran out of money at one point, he convinced Columbia president Harry Cohn to send him enough to continue the show, and in exchange Orson Welles promised to write, produce, direct and star in a film for Cohn for no further fee. The stage show would soon fail due to poor box-office, with Orson Welles unable to claim the losses on his taxes. He wound up owing the IRS several hundred thousand dollars, and in a few years time Orson Welles would seek tax-shelter in Europe.
At the same time in 1946 he began two new radio series, The Mercury Summer Theatre for CBS and Orson Welles Commentaries for ABC. While Summer Theatre featured half-hour adaptations of some of the classic Mercury radio shows from the 1930s, the first episode was a condensation of his Around the World stage play, and remains the only record of Cole Porter’s music for the project. Several original Mercury actors returned for the series, as well as Bernard Herrmann. It was only scheduled for the summer months, and Orson Welles invested his earnings into his failing stage play. Commentaries was a political soap-box, continuing the themes from his New York Post column. Again Orson Welles lacked a clear focus, until the NAACP brought to his attention the case of Isaac Woodward. Orson Welles devoted the rest of the run of the series to Woodward’s cause, was the first broadcaster to bring it to national attention, and caused shock waves across the nation. Soon Orson Welles was being hung in effigy in the South and The Stranger was banned in several southern states. ABC was unable to find a sponsor for the radio show and soon canceled it. Orson Welles never had a regular radio show in America again and would never direct another anywhere.
The film for Cohn wound up being The Lady from Shanghai, filmed in 1947 for Columbia Pictures. Intended to be a modest thriller, the budget skyrocketed after Cohn suggested that Orson Welles’ then-estranged second wife Rita Hayworth co-star. Cohn was enraged by Orson Welles’ rough-cut, in particular the confusing plot and lack of close-ups, and ordered extensive editing and re-shoots. After heavy editing by the studio, approximately one hour of Orson Welles’ first cut had been removed. While expressing dismay at the cuts, Orson Welles was particularly appalled by the soundtrack, objecting to the musical score he thought more suitable for a Disney cartoon and the lack of the ambient soundscape he had designed. The film was considered a disaster in America at the time of release. Orson Welles recalled people refusing to speak to him about it to save him embarrassment. Not long after release, Orson Welles and Hayworth finalized their divorce. Though the film was acclaimed in Europe, it was not embraced in the US for several decades.
Unable to find work as a director at any of the major studios, in 1948 Orson Welles convinced Republic Pictures to let him direct a low-budget version of Macbeth, which featured papier mÃ¢chÃ© sets, cardboard crowns and a cast of actors lip-syncing to a prerecorded soundtrack. Republic did not care for the Scottish accents on the soundtrack and held up release for almost a year. Orson Welles left for Europe, while his co-producer and life-long supporter Richard Wilson reworked the soundtrack. Orson Welles ultimately returned and cut twenty minutes from the film at Republic’s request and recorded narration to cover the gaps. The film was decried as another disaster. In the late 1970s, Macbeth was restored to Orson Welles’ original version.
Orson Welles in Europe (1948 to 1956)
Orson Welles left Hollywood for Europe in late 1947, enigmatically saying he had chosen — freedom — . This must refer to both acting offers and the possibility of directing and producing films again. There is now compelling evidence that Orson Welles was blacklisted in Hollywood, after years of propaganda by the Hearst empire labeling him a communist and years of FBI investigations prompted by J. Edgar Hoover.
In Italy he starred as Cagliostro in the 1948 film Black Magic. His co-star, Akim Tamiroff, impressed Orson Welles so much that he appeared in four of Orson Welles’ own productions during the 1950s and 1960s.
The following year, Orson Welles appeared as Harry Lime in The Third Man, written by Graham Greene, directed by Carol Reed, starring Mercury Theatre alumnus Joseph Cotten, and with a memorable zither score by Anton Karas. The film was an international smash hit, but Orson Welles unfortunately turned down a percentage of the gross in exchange for a lump-sum advance. A few years later British radio producer Harry Alan Towers would resurrect the Lime character for radio in the series The Lives of Harry Lime. The 1951 series included new recordings by Karas, was very successful, and ran for 52 weeks. Orson Welles claimed to write a handful of episodes — a claim disputed by Towers, who maintains they were written by Ernest Borneman — which would later serve as the basis for the screenplay of Orson Welles’ Mr. Arkadin (1955).
Orson Welles also appeared as Cesare Borgia in the 1949 Italian film Prince of Foxes, with Tyrone Power and Mercury Theatre alumnus Everett Sloane, and as the Mongol warrior Bayan in the 1950 film version of the novel The Black Rose (again with Tyrone Power). During this time, Orson Welles was channeling his money from acting jobs into a self-financed film version of Shakespeare’s play Othello.
From 1949 to 1951, Orson Welles worked on Othello, filming on location in Europe and Morocco. The film featured MicheÃ¡l MacLiammÃ³ir as Iago and Hilton Edwards as Desdemona’s father Brabantio (Edwards and MacLiammÃ³ir ran the Gate Theatre in Ireland and had given Orson Welles his first professional job as actor in 1931). Suzanne Cloutier starred as Desdemona and Campbell Playhouse alumnus Robert Coote appeared as Iago’s lackey Roderigo.
Filming was suspended several times over the years as Orson Welles ran out of funds and left to find other acting jobs, accounted in detail in MacLiammÃ³ir’s published memoir Put Money in Thy Purse. When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival it won the Palme d’Or, but was not given a general release in the United States until 1955 (by which time Orson Welles had re-cut the first reel and re-dubbed most of the film, removing Cloutier’s voice entirely), and it played only in New York and Los Angeles. The American release prints had a technically flawed soundtrack, suffering from a complete drop-out of sound at every quiet moment, and it was one of these flawed prints that was restored by Orson Welles’s daughter, Beatrice Orson Welles-Smith in 1992 for a wide re-release. The restoration included reconstructing Francesco Lavagnino’s original musical score (which was inaudible) and adding ambient stereo sound effects (which weren’t in the original film). Though still active in Italy, Lavagnino was not consulted. The subject of great controversy among film scholars, the restoration went on to a successful theatrical run in America. A print of the US version was released on laser-disc in 1995 and soon withdrawn after a legal challenge by Beatrice Orson Welles-Smith. The original Cannes version has survived but is not commercially available.
In 1952 Orson Welles continued finding work in England, after the success of the Harry Lime radio show. Harry Alan Towers offered Orson Welles another series, The Black Museum, with Orson Welles as host and narrator, and this would also run 52 weeks. Director Herbert Wilcox offered him the part of the murdered victim in Trent’s Last Case, based on the novel by E. C. Bentley. And in 1953 the BBC hired Orson Welles to read an hour of selections from Walt Whitman’s epic poem Song of Myself. Towers hired Orson Welles again, to play Professor Moriarty in the radio series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starring John Gielgud, and Ralph Richardson.
Late in 1953, Orson Welles returned to America to star in a live CBS Omnibus television presentation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. The cast included MicheÃ¡l MacLiammÃ³ir and Alan Badel. While Orson Welles received good notices, he was guarded by IRS agents, prohibited to leave his hotel room when not at the studio, prevented from making any purchases, and the entire sum (less expenses) he earned went to his tax bill. Orson Welles returned to England after the broadcast.
In 1954, director George More O’Ferrall offered Orson Welles the title role in the Lord Mountdrago segment of Three Cases of Murder, costarring Alan Badel. Herbert Wilcox cast him as the antagonist in Trouble in Glen opposite Margaret Lockwood, Forrest Tucker and Victor McLaglen. And director John Huston cast him as Father Mapple in his film adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck.
Orson Welles’ next turn as director was the film Mr. Arkadin (1955), produced by Louis Dolivet Orson Welles’ political mentor from the 1940s. It was filmed in France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Based on several episodes of the Harry Lime radio show, it stars Orson Welles as a paranoid billionaire who hires a petty smuggler to delve into the secrets of his seedy past. Orson Welles’ absurd and obvious makeup has been the subject of much derision, but it may have been the intent to show a character who was in disguise and hiding his true identity. The film stars Robert Arden, who had worked on the Harry Lime series, Orson Welles’ third wife, Paola Mori, whose voice was completely dubbed by actress Billie Whitelaw, and guest stars including Akim Tamiroff, Michael Redgrave, Katina Paxinou, and Mischa Auer. Frustrated by Orson Welles’ slow progress in the editing room, producer Dolivet removed Orson Welles from the project and finished the film without him. Eventually five different versions of the film would be released, two in Spanish and three in English. The version which Dolivet completed was retitled Confidential Report and was the version furthest from Orson Welles’s original intention. In 2005 Stefan Droessler of the Munich Filmmuseum oversaw a reconstruction of what might have been Orson Welles’ original intention. It was released by the Criterion Company on DVD and is considered by Orson Welles scholar and director Peter Bogdanovich to be the best version available.
Also in 1955 Orson Welles directed two television series for the BBC. The first was Orson Welles’ Sketchbook, a series of six 15-minute shows featuring Orson Welles drawing in a sketchbook to illustrate his reminiscences for the camera (including such topics as the filming of It’s All True and the Isaac Woodward case), and the second was Around the World with Orson Welles, a series of six travelogues set in different locations around Europe (such as Venice, the Basque Country between France and Spain, and England). Orson Welles served as host and interviewer, his commentary including documentary facts and his own personal observations (a technique he would continue to explore). A seventh episode of this series, based on the Gaston Dominici case, was suppressed at the time by the French government, but was reconstructed after Orson Welles’s death and released to video in 1999.
In 1956 Orson Welles completed Portrait of Gina, posthumously aired on German television under the title — Viva Italia’, a 30-minute personal essay on Gina Lollobrigida and the general subject of Italian sex symbols. Dissatisfied with the results — Orson Welles recalled he had worked on it a lot and the result was something that looked as though it had been worked on a lot — he left the only print behind at the Hotel Ritz in Paris. The film cans would remain in a lost and found locker at the hotel for several decades, where they were rediscovered after Orson Welles’ death.
Orson Welles returns to Hollywood (1956 to 1959)
In 1956, Orson Welles returned to Hollywood, guesting on radio shows (notably as narrator of Tomorrow, a nuclear holocaust drama produced by the Federal Civil Defense Administration). He guest starred on television shows, including I Love Lucy and began filming a projected pilot for Desilu, owned by his former protege Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz, who had recently purchased the defunct RKO studios. The film was The Fountain of Youth, based on a story by John Collier. Originally deemed not viable as a pilot, the film wasn’t aired until 1958. It won the Peabody Award for excellence.
Orson Welles’ next feature film role was in Man in the Shadow for Universal Pictures in 1957, starring Jeff Chandler.
Orson Welles stayed on at Universal to co-star with Charlton Heston in the 1958 film of Whit Masterson’s novel Badge of Evil (which Orson Welles famously claimed never to have read). Originally only hired as an actor, Orson Welles was promoted to director by Universal Studios at the suggestion (and insistence) of Charlton Heston. Reuniting many actors and technicians with whom he’d worked in Hollywood in the 1940s (including cameraman Russell Metty [The Stranger], make-up artist Maurice Siederman (Citizen Kane), and actors Joseph Cotten, Marlene Dietrich, and Akim Tamiroff), filming proceeded smoothly, with Orson Welles finishing on schedule and on budget, and the studio bosses praising the daily rushes. Out of the blue, the studio wrested Touch of Evil from Orson Welles’ hands, re-edited it, re-shot scenes, and shot new exposition scenes to clarify the plot. Despite the trauma of having the film ripped from his creative control for no ostensible reason, Orson Welles wrote a 58-page memo outlining suggestions and objections. The studio followed a few of the ideas, but cut another 30 minutes from the film and released it. Even in this state, the film was widely praised across Europe, awarded the top prize at the Brussels World’s Fair.
In 1978, the long preview version of the film was rediscovered and released. In 1998, editor Walter Murch and producer Rick Schmidlin, consulting the original memo, used a workprint version to attempt to restore the film as close as possible to the memo. This is at best a compromise that should not be mistaken for Orson Welles’ original intent. Orson Welles stated in that memo that the film was no longer his version — it was the studio’s, but as such, he was still prepared to help them with it.
As Universal reworked Evil, Orson Welles began filming his adaptation of Miguel Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote in Mexico, starring Mischa Auer as Quixote and Akim Tamiroff as Sancho Panza. While filming would continue in fits and starts for several years, Orson Welles would never complete the project.
Orson Welles continued acting, notably in The Long, Hot Summer (1958) and Compulsion (1959), but soon returned to Europe to continue his pattern of self-producing low budget films over which he would have creative control and final cut.
Orson Welles return to Europe (1959 to 1970)
Orson Welles returned to Europe and resumed acting jobs. He continued shooting Don Quixote in Spain, but replaced Mischa Auer with Francisco Reiguera.
In Italy in 1959, Orson Welles directed his own scenes as King Saul in Richard Pottier’s film David and Goliath. In Hong Kong he co-starred with Curt Jurgens in Lewis Gilbert’s film Ferry to Hong Kong.
In 1960 in Paris he co-starred in Richard Fleischer’s film Crack in the Mirror. In Yugoslavia he starred in Richard Thorpe’s film The Tartars. He also staged a play at the Gate Theatre in Dublin which compressed five of Shakespeare’s history plays in order to focus on the story of Falstaff. Keith Baxter played Prince Hal and Orson Welles called the adaptation Chimes at Midnight.
By this time he had completed filming on Quixote. Though he would continue toying with the editing well into the 1970s, he never completed the film. On the scenes he did complete, Orson Welles voiced all the actors and provided the narration. In 1992 a version of the film was completed by director Jess Franco, though not all the footage Orson Welles shot was available to him. What was available had decayed badly. While the Orson Welles footage was greeted with interest, the post-production by Franco was met with harsh criticism.
In 1961 Orson Welles directed In the Land of Don Quixote, a series of eight half-hour episodes for the Italian television network RAI. Similar to the Around the World with Orson Welles series, they presented travelogues of Spain and included Orson Welles’ wife, Paola, and their daughter, Beatrice. Though fluent in Italian, the network was not interested in Orson Welles providing Italian narration because of his accent, and the series sat unreleased until 1964, by which time the network had added Italian narration of its own. Ultimately, the episodes were restored with the original musical score Orson Welles had approved, but sans narration.
In 1962 Orson Welles directed his adaptation of The Trial, based on the novel by Franz Kafka and produced by Alexander Salkind and Michael Salkind. The cast included Anthony Perkins as Josef K, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Paola Mori and Akim Tamiroff. While filming exteriors in Zagreb, Orson Welles was informed that the Salkinds had run out of money, meaning that there could be no set construction. No stranger to shooting on found locations, Orson Welles soon filmed the interiors in the Gare d’Orsay, at that time an abandoned railway station in Paris. Orson Welles thought the location possessed a — Jules Verne modernism — and a melancholy sense of — waiting — , both suitable for Kafka. The film failed at the box-office. Peter Bogdanovich would later observe that Orson Welles found the film riotously funny. During the filming, Orson Welles met Oja Kodar, who would later become his muse, star and partner for 20 years.
Orson Welles continued taking what work he could find acting, narrating or hosting other people’s work, and began filming Chimes at Midnight, which was completed in 1966. Filmed in Spain, it was a condensation of five Shakespeare plays, telling the story of Falstaff and his relationship with Prince Hal. The cast included Keith Baxter, John Gielgud, Jeanne Moreau and Margaret Rutherford, with narration by Ralph Richardson. Music was again by Francesco Lavagnino. Jess Franco served as second unit director.
In 1966, Orson Welles directed a film for French television, an adaptation of The Immortal Story, by Isak Dinesen. Released in 1968, it stars Jeanne Moreau, Roger Coggio and Norman Eshley. The film had a successful run in French theaters. At this time Orson Welles met Kodar again, and gave her a letter he had written to her and had been keeping for four years; they would not be parted again. They immediately began a collaboration both personal and professional, which would continue for the rest of his life. The first of these was an adaptation of Isak Dinesen’s The Heroine, meant to be a companion piece to The Immortal Story and starring Kodar. Unfortunately, funding disappeared after one day’s shooting. After completing this film, he appeared in a brief cameo as Cardinal Wolsey in Fred Zinnemann’s adaptation of A Man for All Seasons — a role for which he won considerable acclaim.
In 1967 Orson Welles began directing The Deep, based on the novel Dead Calm by Charles F. Williams and filmed off the shore of Yugoslavia. The cast included Jeanne Moreau, Laurence Harvey and Kodar. Personally financed by Orson Welles and Kodar, they could not obtain the funds to complete the project, and it was abandoned a few years later after the death of Harvey. The surviving footage was eventually restored by the Filmmuseum MÃ¼nchen.
In 1968 Orson Welles began filming a TV special for CBS under the title Orson’s Bag, combining travelogue, comedy skits and a condensation of Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice with Orson Welles as Shylock. Funding for the show sent by CBS to Orson Welles in Switzerland was seized by the IRS, reputedly due to the anger of Richard Nixon over a record Orson Welles had not written but had narrated, the political satire The Begatting of the President. Without funding, the show was not completed. The surviving portions were eventually restored by the Filmmuseum MÃ¼nchen.
In 1969, Orson Welles authorised the use of his name for a cinema in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Orson Welles Cinema remained in operation until 1986, with Orson Welles making a personal appearance there in 1977.
Drawn by the numerous offers he received to work in television and films, and upset by a tabloid scandal reporting his affair with Kodar, Orson Welles abandoned the editing of Don Quixote and moved back to America in 1970.
Orson Welles return to the United States and final years (1970 to 1985)
Orson Welles returned to Hollywood, where he continued to self-finance his own film and television projects. While offers to act, narrate and host continued, Orson Welles also found himself in great demand on talk shows, and made frequent appearances for Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, Dean Martin, and Merv Griffin. Orson Welles’s primary focus in this period was filming The Other Side of the Wind, a project that took six years to film but has remained unfinished and unreleased. An early role was portraying Louis XVIII of France in Waterloo (1970).
In 1971 Orson Welles directed a short adaptation of Moby Dick, a one-man performance on a bare stage, reminiscent of his stage production Moby Dick Rehearsed from the 1950s. Never completed, it was eventually restored by the Filmmuseum MÃ¼nchen. He also appeared in La DÃ©cade prodigieuse, co-starring with Anthony Perkins and directed by Claude Chabrol, based on a detective novel by Ellery Queen.
In 1971 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave him an honorary award — For superlative artistry and versatility in the creation of motion pictures — . Orson Welles pretended to be out of town and sent John Huston to claim the award. Huston criticized the Academy for awarding Orson Welles while they refused to give him any work.
In 1972 Orson Welles acted as on-screen narrator for the film documentary version of Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book Future Shock.
In 1973 Orson Welles completed F for Fake, a personal essay film about art forger Elmyr d’Hory and the biographer Clifford Irving. Based on an existing documentary by Francois Reichenbach, it included new material with Oja Kodar, Joseph Cotten, Paul Stewart and William Alland.
Working again for British producer Harry Alan Towers, Orson Welles played Long John Silver in director John Hough’s 1973 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island, which had been the second story broadcast by The Mercury Theatre on the Air in 1938. Orson Welles also contributed to the script, his writing credit was attributed to the pseudonym — O. W. Jeeves’.
In 1975, the American Film Institute presented Orson Welles with their third Lifetime Achievement Award (the first two going to director John Ford and actor James Cagney). At the ceremony, Orson Welles screened two scenes from the nearly finished The Other Side of the Wind. By 1976, Orson Welles had almost completed the film. Financed by Iranian backers, ownership of the film fell into a legal quagmire after the Shah of Iran was deposed. Written by Orson Welles, the story told of a destructive old film director looking for funds to complete his final film. It starred John Huston and the cast included Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Norman Foster, Edmond O’Brien, Cameron Mitchell, and Dennis Hopper. As of 2006, all legal challenges concerning ownership of the film have been settled and end money for completing the film is being sought, in part from the Showtime cable network.
In 1979 Orson Welles completed his documentary Filming Othello, which featured Michael MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards. Made for West German television, it was also released in theaters. That same year, Orson Welles completed his self-produced pilot for The Orson Welles Show television series, featuring interviews with Burt Reynolds, Jim Henson and Frank Oz and guest-starring The Muppets and Angie Dickinson. Unable to find network interest, the pilot was never broadcast.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Orson Welles participated in a series of famous television commercial advertisements, acting as the on-camera spokesman for the Paul Masson wine company. The sign-off phrase of the commercials — — We will sell no wine before its time — — became a national catchphrase. He was also the voice behind the long-running Carlsberg — Probably the best lager in the world — campaign. The — probably — tag is still in use today. During coverage of these commercials on Ads Infinitum, Victor Lewis Smith, a critic of Masson wines, fondly remarked that Orson Welles endorsements of the wine were proof he was — a genius, but a lying bastard — and promptly showed an outtake of Orson Welles being impossible to work with in a commercial shoot.
In 1979 he also appeared in the biopic — The Secret Life of Nikola Tesla. —
In 1982 the BBC broadcast The Orson Welles Story for the Arena series. Interviewed by Leslie Megahey, Orson Welles examined his past in great detail, and several people from his professional past were interviewed as well. It was reissued in 1990 as With Orson Welles: Stories of a Life in Film.
During the 1980s, Orson Welles worked on such film projects as The Dreamers, based on two stories by Isak Dinesen and starring Oja Kodar, and The Orson Welles Magic Show, which reused material from his failed TV pilot. Another project he worked on was Filming The Trial, the second in a proposed series of documentaries examining his feature films. While much was shot for these projects, none of them were completed. All of them were eventually restored by the Filmmuseum MÃ¼nchen.
Orson Welles in his later years was unable to get funding for his many film scripts, but came close with The Big Brass Ring and The Cradle Will Rock: Arnon Milchan had agreed to produce The Big Brass Ring if any one of six actors — Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, or Burt Reynolds — would sign on to star. All six declined for various reasons. Independent funding for The Cradle Will Rock had been obtained and actors had signed on, including Rupert Everett to play the young Orson Welles, location filming was to be done in New York City with studio work in Italy. While pre-production went without a problem, three weeks before filming was to begin the money fell through. Allegedly Orson Welles approached Steven Spielberg to ask for assistance in rescuing the film, but Spielberg declined. The scripts to both films were published posthumously. After a studio auction, he complained that Spielberg spent $50,000 for the Rosebud sled used in Citizen Kane, but would not give him a dime to make a picture. Orson Welles retaliated by publicly announcing the sled to be a fake, the original having been burned in the film, but he later recanted the claim.
Death of Orson Welles
Orson Welles died of a heart attack at his home in Hollywood, California at age 70 on October 10, 1985. He had various projects underway, including a film adaptation of King Lear, The Orson Welles Magic Show, and The Dreamers. His final interview had been recorded the day before, on The Merv Griffin Show and with his biographer Barbara Leaming. The last film roles before his death included voice work in the animated films The Enchanted Journey, on-screen in Henry Jaglom’s film Someone to Love, released in 1987 and the 1986 film The Transformers: The Movie, providing the booming voice for the villainous Transformer Unicron. According to Nelson Shin, the director of The Transformers: The Movie, Orson Welles was so weak by the time of recording that it became necessary to run his voice through a synthesizer.
His wife Paola and daughter Beatrice had the cremation performed, and his ashes were eventually placed in a dry well at a friend’s estate in Ronda, Spain.
Unfinished projects of Orson Welles
Orson Welles’ exile from Hollywood and reliance on independent production meant that many of his later projects were filmed piecemeal or were not completed. In the mid-1950s, Orson Welles began work on the Cervantes’ masterpiece Don Quixote, initially a commission from CBS television. Orson Welles expanded the film to feature length, developing the screenplay to take Quixote and Sancho Panza into the modern age. Filming stopped with the death of Francisco Reiguera, the actor playing Quixote, in 1969. Orson Welles continued editing the film through the next few decades and had supposedly completed a rough cut in the mid 1970s. By his death however, the footage of many scenes had been lost around the world during Orson Welles’ travels. A search continues for Orson Welles’ later edits and other missing footage, but they likely no longer exist. An incomplete version of the film was released in 1992.
In 1970 Orson Welles began shooting The Other Side of the Wind, about the effort of a film director (played by John Huston) to complete his last Hollywood picture, and is largely set at a lavish party. Although in 1972 the film was reported by Orson Welles as being — 96% complete — , the negative remained in a Paris vault until 2004, when Peter Bogdanovich (who also acted in the film) announced his intention to complete the production. Footage is included in the documentary Working with Orson Welles (1993).
Other unfinished projects include The Deep, an adaptation of Charles Williams’ Dead Calm — abandoned in 1970 one scene short of completion due to the death of star Laurence Harvey — and The Big Brass Ring, the script of which was adapted and filmed by George Hickenlooper in 1999.
The 1995 documentary Orson Welles: One-Man Band, included on the Criterion Collection DVD release of F for Fake, features scenes from several of these unfinished projects, as well as footage from an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice starring Orson Welles that was never aired due to vital footage being allegedly stolen; several short subjects such as the titular One-Man Band, a Monty Python-esque spoof in which Orson Welles plays all but one of the characters (including two characters in drag); footage of Orson Welles reading chapters from Moby Dick; and a comedy skit taking place in a tailor shop and co-starring Charles Gray. One short, also included in the documentary, is a comedy routine in which Orson Welles (filmed in the 1970s) plays a reporter interviewing a king, also played by Orson Welles, but in footage shot in the 1960s; Orson Welles finished the skit and edited it together years later. The documentary also includes two completed and edited sequences from the unreleased The Other Side of the Wind, and footage from an unbroadacast television pilot for a talk show (he is shown interviewing The Muppets and discussing his rationale for doing the talk show, which was produced in the round). The documentary is built around a college lecture given by Orson Welles not long before his death, in which he displays frustration at being unable to complete so many projects. According to Oja Kodar, interviewed in the documentary, Orson Welles always traveled with camera equipment and would shoot film whenever the mood struck him, even if there were no immediate prospects for commercial release of such material.
Orson Welles in popular culture
- Orson Welles, an avid comic book fan, made a guest appearance in Superman #62, — Black Magic on Mars! — , in which Orson Welles and Superman teamed up against Martler, a fascist Martian.
- In 1971, Orson Welles had voiced at least one toy commercial for Mattel Hot Wheels rechargeable — Sizzlers — cars.
- He has been portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio with his voice dubbed by Maurice LaMarche in Ed Wood and the 2005 short film Five Minutes, Mr Orson Welles, Angus Macfadyen in Cradle Will Rock, Liev Schreiber in RKO 281, Jean Guerin in Heavenly Creatures, Danny Huston in the upcoming Fade to Black, Paul Shenar in The Night That Panicked America, Eric Purcell in Malice in Wonderland, John Candy in Second City Television, David Benson in the Doctor Who audio drama Invaders From Mars and the voice of Maurice LaMarche in various animation and films.
- Orson Welles voiced original trailers for The Incredible Shrinking Man in 1957, Star Wars in 1977, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 .
- The Brain, the genius lab mouse in the cartoon series Pinky and the Brain, was loosely based on Orson Welles. The Brain even parodies Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds broadcast and his infamous radio commercial argument. Voice artist Maurice LaMarche provided the voice of The Brain, and would later portray a bloated Orson Welles at the low point of his television career in The Critic.
- Orson Welles performed the narration on two tracks on the 1987 CD version of the 1976 album Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project. This narration was also included on Alan Parsons’ 2004 CD A Valid Path.
- In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Orson Welles as the 16th greatest male star of all time.
- Orson Welles performed narration for two songs by the heavy metal band Manowar, a favorite of his niece. The songs are — Dark Avenger — (from Battle Hymns, 1982) and — Defender — (from Fighting the World, 1987). Fighting The World was released two years after his death; Defender is among Orson Welles’s last performances.
- He was the voice of Robin Masters, the famous writer and playboy in the TV series Magnum, P.I.. Orson Welles’s sudden death forced the character to be largely written out of the series.
- His last filmed appearance was on the television show Moonlighting. He recorded an introduction to an episode entitled — The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice, — which was partially filmed in black and white. The episode aired five days after his death and was dedicated to his memory.
- Orson Welles was the great-grandson of Gideon Orson Welles, United States Secretary of the Navy in the administrations of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson (1861 — 69).
- In DC Comics’ The Shadow Strikes #11 (1989), the Shadow teams up with a radio announcer named Grover Mills — a character based on the young Orson Welles — who has been impersonating the Shadow on the radio. The character’s name is taken from Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, which is the name of the town where Orson Welles’ infamous Martian invasion supposedly happened