skip navigation
Orson Welles

Orson Welles

Up
Down

share:

TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (24)

Recent DVDs

Voyage of the Damned ... In 1939, 937 Jewish Germans were offered safe haven in Havana, Cuba. They... more info $15.95was $24.98 Buy Now

The Woman in the Window / The... An intellectual college professor is mesmerized by the painting of a beautiful... more info $5.95was $6.95 Buy Now

Looney Tunes: Golden... More Looney Tunes. Your wish is our command. Because in this 4-disc set are 60... more info $29.95was $39.98 Buy Now

Prince of Foxes ... In Renaissance Italy, power-hungry Cesare Borgia (Orson Welles) dispatches his... more info $18.95was $19.98 Buy Now

Sacred Classics ... Eight classic Biblical tales featuring cinema legends like Orson Welles and... more info $6.95was $9.99 Buy Now

Also Known As: George Orson Welles Died: October 9, 1985
Born: May 6, 1915 Cause of Death: heart attack
Birth Place: Kenosha, Wisconsin, USA Profession: actor, screenwriter, director, producer, author, vaudevillian

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

lles ¿ who by this time was of proper girth to play Falstaff ¿ fashioned together from five of Shakespeare's historical plays: Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry V and Richard II. Hailed internationally and even held in the highest regard by the filmmaker himself, "The Trial" ranked among Welles¿ finest achievements.While he continued to appear onscreen in a variety of roles ¿ playing Cardinal Wolsey in "A Man for All Seasons" (1966), criminal mastermind Le Chiffre in the farcical "Casino Royale" (1967), and the blind prophet Tiresias in "Oedipus the King" (1968) ¿ Welles struggled to make his own films, leaving a trail of projects in various unfinished stages behind. He turned to French television for his next directing effort, "The Immortal Story" (1968) a satisfying minor work that was an adaptation of an Isak Dinesen story. His final completed film, "F for Fake" (1973), was a diverting collage of documentary and staged footage that investigated the line separating reality and illusion. Originally blasted by critics for being self-indulgent, "Fake" gained prominence over time as one of his most celebrated works, thanks in part to a key endorsement from filmmaker...

lles ¿ who by this time was of proper girth to play Falstaff ¿ fashioned together from five of Shakespeare's historical plays: Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry V and Richard II. Hailed internationally and even held in the highest regard by the filmmaker himself, "The Trial" ranked among Welles¿ finest achievements.

While he continued to appear onscreen in a variety of roles ¿ playing Cardinal Wolsey in "A Man for All Seasons" (1966), criminal mastermind Le Chiffre in the farcical "Casino Royale" (1967), and the blind prophet Tiresias in "Oedipus the King" (1968) ¿ Welles struggled to make his own films, leaving a trail of projects in various unfinished stages behind. He turned to French television for his next directing effort, "The Immortal Story" (1968) a satisfying minor work that was an adaptation of an Isak Dinesen story. His final completed film, "F for Fake" (1973), was a diverting collage of documentary and staged footage that investigated the line separating reality and illusion. Originally blasted by critics for being self-indulgent, "Fake" gained prominence over time as one of his most celebrated works, thanks in part to a key endorsement from filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. In fact, Welles ¿ who was once interviewed by Bogdanovich for the American Film Institute ¿ took the young director of "The Last Picture Show" (1971) under his wing and served as his mentor. In return, Bogdanovich let Welles stay in his mansion when the older director was down on hard times.

While struggling with numerous health ailments brought on by his obesity ¿ at times he topped 400 pounds ¿ Welles continued and often aborted film projects, though he did manage to finish "Filming Othello" (1979), a documentary he made about making his 1952 film. Turning to television commercials in the late 1970s, Welles famously served as the spokesman for Paul Masson wine, whose catchphrase "We will sell no wine before its time" captured the public¿s imagination in a variety of TV and print ads. Following a supporting turn as J.P. Morgan in the biopic "The Secret of Nikola Tesla" (1979), he narrated the Nostradamus documentary "The Man Who Saw Tomorrow" (1981) before briefly serving as the voice of the unseen Robin Masters on Tom Selleck¿s hit series "Magnum, P.I." (CBS, 1980-88) and appearing as himself in a special film noir-inspired episode of the offbeat series, "Moonlighting" (ABC, 1985-98). On Oct. 10, 1985, Welles appeared on "The Merv Griffin Show" (NBC/CBS/syndicated, 1962-1986) to conduct what turned out to be his final interview. Welles was upbeat, jovial and uncharacteristically forthcoming with Griffin, who had interviewed him many times previously, though he remained fairly tightlipped concerning his many alleged conquests with women. Two hours after filming the interview, Welles suffered a heart attack in his Los Angeles home. He was 70. At the time of his death, "The Other Side of the Wind," a project he had begun filming in the 1970s, remained unfinished. Obviously autobiographical, it was the story of a famous filmmaker (John Huston) struggling to find financing for his film, just as Welles was forced to do many times. As an unseen fragment, it was a sad and ironic end for a filmmaking maverick who was, in the words of Martin Scorsese, "responsible for inspiring more people to be film directors than anyone else in history of the cinema."

By Shawn Dwyer

ter, Rebecca Welles. Professionally, he augmented his career by turning more to acting, playing Edward Rochester opposite Joan Fontaine as the titular "Jane Eyre" (1944). He returned to the director¿s chair for "The Stranger" (1946), a film noir from independent producer Sam Spiegel, which starred Welles as a Nazi war criminal hiding out in a small town as a college professor, only to find his cover blown by an unassuming antiques dealer (Edward G. Robison). Though well received by critics and his only box office success upon release, "The Stranger" was devoid of his characteristic touch and was regarded as his most traditional Hollywood fare. He reinvigorated his filmmaking flair with "The Lady from Shanghai" (1948), a stunning film noir in which Welles starred opposite his now estranged wife. His rumored infidelities over the years with such lovers as Marlene Dietrich had caused fissures in the relationship, which only exacerbated Hayworth¿s already crippling insecurities. A confident man, Welles simply could not understand nor comfort Hayworth ¿ let alone face his part in adding to her insecurities in the first place. The couple had already separated before the collaboration began, with the actress filing for divorce once filming was completed. The couple divorced in 1947. As for the picture itself, the disjointed film noir divided critics at the time and ignited the ire of producer and Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn, who hated the movie mainly because Welles had the audacity to chop off and bleach his biggest star¿s most famous asset: Hayworth¿s flowing red hair. The film¿s standing improved over time, with its famed hall-of-mirrors finale marking a superb example of Welles' gift for audacious visual images.

Welles moved on to direct an informal and impressive Shakespeare trilogy, which was started by an eccentric, atmospheric version of "Macbeth" (1948), in which he played the title role and encouraged his actors to speak with thick Scottish burrs. Its centerpiece ¿ a sequence that began with Macbeth's decision to kill the king, followed by the murder and ending with the discovery of the crime by Macduff (Dan O¿Herlihy) ¿ was captured in a single 10-minute take. The film, however, proved unsuccessful and was dismissed at the Venice Film Festival. After the film¿s failure, Welles began a self-imposed, 10-year exile from Hollywood. Four years later, he tried to answer critics with a striking version of "Othello" (1952), which won the Palm d¿Or at the Cannes Film Festival, though again his film was largely ignored in the United States. In between those films, Welles appeared onscreen in a number of movies, most notably "The Third Man" (1949), a Cold War film noir in which he played the enigmatic Harry Lime, who fakes his death to hide criminal activities which are uncovered by his unsuspecting, longtime friend (Joseph Cotten). Hailed as a masterpiece in film noir, "The Third Man" offered one of Welles most remembered performances outside of his own work. Meanwhile, Welles followed up "Othello" with "Mr. Arkadin " (1955), an acerbic profile of a powerful man (Welles) that showed signs of the brilliance that marked "Citizen Kane," but was hindered by an episodic narrative and spotty acting.

Welles returned to Hollywood to direct and act in "Touch of Evil" (1958), a film noir masterpiece that starred Charlton Heston as a Mexican police officer getting framed for a border murder by his American counterpart (Welles). From its stunning long-take opening of a car bombing to its tragic denouement, "Touch of Evil" reiterated the director¿s overarching vision of the world as an exacting moral network where each human act has endless and unforeseen moral consequences. One of the last made in the classic film noir period, the film stood the test of time as one of the genre¿s very best. After a supporting role in John Huston¿s adventure drama "The Roots of Heaven" (1958) and a leading performance in "Compulsion" (1959), which was based on the famed Leopold and Loeb murder, Welles adapted Franz Kafka¿s novel, "The Trial" (1962), a nightmarish extension of the author¿s vision of a society completely devoid of a moral sense. But once again, his film floundered upon release, only this time critics remained polarized on its merits even decades later when his most dismissed work was seen in more sympathetic light. Meanwhile, he directed the final film in his unofficial Shakespeare trilogy, "Chimes at Midnight/Falstaff" (1966), which We

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
2.
  Filming "Othello" (1987) Director
3.
  Fake? (1974)
4.
  F for Fake (1973) Director
5.
6.
  The Immortal Story (1969) Director
7.
  Chimes at Midnight (1965) Director
8.
  The Trial (1963) Director
9.
  Touch of Evil (1958) Director
10.
  Mr. Arkadin (1955) Director

CAST: (feature film)

2.
3.
 Gold Lust (1995) Narration
4.
 Last Sailors, The (1995) Narration
5.
 Gold Lust (1995) Presenter
7.
 Last Sailors, The (1995) Presenter
8.
10.
 Orson Welles' Don Quixote (1992) Narration
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Born with anomalies of the spine which caused Welles pain throughout his life
:
Moved to Chicago as a child
:
First stage appearance, a walk-on bit in the Chicago Opera's production of "Samson and Delilah" at age five; then played "Madame Butterfly"'s child "Trouble"
:
Parents separated when Welles was six; traveled after divorce
1927:
Became ward of Chicago doctor, Maurice Bernstein, at age 12 (date approximate)
1931:
Began tour of Ireland
1931:
First leading stage role at Dublin's Gate Theater in "Jew Suss"
1932:
Returned to USA
1934:
Broadway acting debut (as Tybalt) in "Romeo and Juliet"
1934:
Co-directed and acted in short film, "The Hearts of Age"
1934:
Radio acting debut
1936:
First major stage success as director, "Macbeth" (for Federal Theater Project, Harlem); featured an all-black cast which later went to Broadway and toured the country; often referred to as the "voodoo Macbeth" due to the Haitian setting and African-influenced witchcraft theme
1937:
Formed Mercury Theater with John Houseman
1937:
During one Broadway season, helmed four major successes for the Mercury Theatre, beginning with a modern-dress "Julius Caesar"; generally hailed as one of the great stage talents of the day
1938:
Made national headlines with CBS radio broadcast (for "Mercury Theatre of the Air") of H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds" (the night of October 30)
1938:
First short film as solo director, "Too Much Johnson" (also co-producer; writer); was to be incorporated into play of same name which never made it to Broadway; sole extant print allegedly lost in fire in 1970
:
Signed by RKO; given carte blanche; originally planned several other films, including an adaptation of "Heart of Darkness," before settling on the less ambitious "Citizen Kane"
1940:
Was voice-over narrator of RKO's "Swiss Family Robinson"
1941:
Feature film directing, producing, acting and co-writing (with Herman Mankiewicz) debut, "Citizen Kane"
1942:
Just before completion of shooting of second film, "The Magnificent Ambersons," was sent by RKO (through a Nelson Rockefeller-run government office) as cultural ambassador to South America to keep positive relations with USA; shot footage for omnibus film "It's All True"; due to wartime flying restrictions unable to directly supervise editing of "Ambersons" from Brazil; film subsequently taken out of his hands and edited by Robert Wise with new footage added; after new ownership at RKO, Welles' contract ended
1943:
With romantic leading role as Rochester in "Jane Eyre" began acting in films directed by others
:
Rejected by draft board (due to asthma and flat feet); during remaining war years had various radio shows and worked as a journalist, often praising his friend, President Roosevelt
1946:
Directed and starred in (for producer Sam Spiegel/Sam S Eagle) only commercially successful directorial effort, "The Stranger"
:
Self-imposed exile in Europe; had trouble with back taxes
1953:
TV acting debut in Peter Brook's "King Lear"
1954:
Hosted BBC series, "The Orson Welles Sketchbook" (date approximate)
1955:
Wrote and starred in the stage play "Moby Dick--Rehearsed"; performed in London
:
Returned to USA for starring role on Broadway in own production of "King Lear"; hired first as actor, then director, of Charlton Heston screen vehicle "Touch of Evil"
:
Moved back to Europe
:
Returned to USA in 1970s
:
Regularly seen in TV commercials for Paul Masson wines in 1980s
1993:
Reconstruction of substantial parts of "It's All True" publicly premiered at New York Film Festival
1998:
Restored version of "Touch of Evil" using Welles' 17-page memo as guideline premiered
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Todd School: Woodstock , Illinois - 1931

Notes

There was a special issue of the film journal Persistence of Vision dedicated to Welles.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Virginia Nicholson. Actor. Married on November 14, 1934 in secret ceremony; remarried formally in West Orange New Jersey; formally spearated in December 1939; divorced decree granted in Reno on February 1, 1940; born in 1916; met at Todd School summer festival that Welles coordinated in 1934 while she was student at Miss Hare's University for girls; married screenwriter Charles Lederer (nephew of Marion Davies) c. 1940 after divorce from Welles.
companion:
Dolores Del Rio. Actor. Married to Cedric Gibbons at time of relationship c. 1939-42; older than Welles; popular Hollywood film star of the 1920s and 30s who returned to her native Mexico in the mid-40s and enjoyed considerable success onstage and in film there; acted in "Journey Into Fear" (1942), set up by and also starring Welles.
wife:
Rita Hayworth. Actor, dancer. Married in 1943; divorced in 1947; popular film star of the 1940s and 50s in such films as "You Were Never Lovelier" (1942), "Gilda" (1952) and "Miss Sadie Thompson" (1953); worked once with Welles, on "The Lady from Shanghai" (1948).
wife:
Paola Mori. Actor. Met c. 1954; married on May 8, 1955; divorced; born c. 1931; died in a car crash in August 1986; Welles starred her as his daughter in "Mr. Arkadin" (1955); mother of Beatrice Welles.
companion:
Oja Kodar. Actor, screenwriter, director. Welles' companion in his later years; survived him.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

father:
Richard Head Welles. Manufacturer, inventor, hotel owner. Born in Missouri in 1872; died on December 28, 1930 in Chicago of heart and kidney failure at age 58; made money as manufacturer of bicycle and auto lamps in Kinosha Wisconsin; sold business so as not to have to change from the popular carbide lamp he had invented to electrical model; invented glider attached to steam-driven engine.
mother:
Beatrice Welles. Amateur concert pianist, composer. Born in Springfield, Ohio c. 1879, died on May 10, 1924 of acute yellow atrophy of the liver at age 43.
guardian:
Maurice Bernstein. Doctor. Discovered Orson Welles to be a prodigy at 18 months of age; gave Welles artistic gifts; named Welles' legal guardian after father's death in 1930; nicknamed "Dadda" by Welles.
brother:
Richard Ives Welles. Ten years Orson's senior; expelled from Todd School; institutionalized in mental homes during the early 1930s.
daughter:
Christopher Feder. Born 1937; mother Virginia Nicholson; appeared as MacDuff's son in "Chimes at Midnight".
daughter:
Rebecca Welles. Born in 1944; mother, Rita Hayworth.
daughter:
Beatrice Welles-Smith. Cosmetics company owner. Born in November 1955; mother, Paola Mori; named after Welles' mother; played a page in father's movie "Chimes at Midnight" (1966); owns Beatrice Welles, a cosmetics company; married to Christoper Smith (a supplier of in-room movies to Las Vegas hotels); lives in Welles' Las Vegas home.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Fabulous Orson Welles" Hutchinson
"The Cinema of Orson Welles" Film Library of the Museum of Modern Art
"The Films of Orson Welles"
"The Panic Broadcast: Portrait of an Event" Little, Brown
"A Ribbon of Dreams: The Cinema of Orson Welles" A.S. Barnes & Co. Inc.
"Focus on Orson Welles" Prentice-Hall
"American Visions: The Films of Chaplin, Ford, Capra and Welles, 1936-1941" Arno Press
"Orson Welles: A Critical View" Elm Tree Books
"Orson Welles" Viking
"Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius"
"The Making of Citizen Kane" University of California Press
"Orson Welles: A Biography" Viking
"Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles" Scribner
"Orson Welles: A Bio-Bibliography" Greenwood Press
"The Complete Films of Orson Welles" Carol Publishing Group
"This Is Orson Welles" HarperCollins
"The Magnificent Ambersons: A Reconstruction" University of California Press
"Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu" Viking
"Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles" Alfred A. Knopf
"Orson Welles, Shakespeare and Popular Culture" Columbia University Press
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Contributions

Suue ( 2008-04-04 )

Source: not available

Daughter Rebecca Welles died 10/17/2004 in Tacoma Wa

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute