skip navigation
Orson Welles

Orson Welles

Up
Down

| VIEW ALL

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:

TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (20)

Recent DVDs

 
 

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi DVD Enjoy two delightful children's movies on one DVD. Starring Les Tremayne, Mel... more info $9.98was $9.98 Buy Now

The Black Rose DVD Reuniting Tyrone Power and Orson Welles on screen, this film tells the story of... more info $19.98was $19.98 Buy Now

Prince Of Foxes DVD It's swashbuckling action and romantic intrigue in this costume drama set during... more info $19.98was $19.98 Buy Now

The Long, Hot Summer DVD "...Strikingly directed...Steamy with sex." -Martin Ritt, VarietyDirected by... more info $14.98was $14.98 Buy Now

Orson Welles' Don Quixote... See Orson Welles' masterful take on the Don Quixote legend! Though incomplete at... more info $24.98was $24.98 Buy Now

Touch Of Evil: 50th Anniversary Edition... The Ultimate Film Noir ExperienceExperience director Orson Welles' masterpiece... more info $26.98was $26.98 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

An undeniable pioneer in both radio and film, actor-director Orson Welles used his bona fide genius to change the face of both mediums with imagination, ambition and technically daring. Having started off as a performer on stage, most notably with John Houseman, with whom he formed the famed Mercury Theatre, Welles used his distinctive baritone voice to create innovative radio dramas. He became famous - notorious, even - following his 1938 broadcast of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds," which he presented as a real time news event, sparking panic among listeners who thought Martians really were invading New Jersey. The fame he achieved in the wake of the broadcast attracted RKO Pictures, where he made the most stunning directorial debut in the history of cinema with "Citizen Kane" (1941), long considered to be the greatest film ever made. Using innovative narrative and technological techniques, Welles singlehandedly changed the face of cinema, earning the nickname the Boy Wonder. He went on to direct "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942), though both films were financial failures that prompted his exit from RKO. After marrying Love Goddess Rita Hayworth and directing "The Stranger" (1946) and "Macbeth"...

An undeniable pioneer in both radio and film, actor-director Orson Welles used his bona fide genius to change the face of both mediums with imagination, ambition and technically daring. Having started off as a performer on stage, most notably with John Houseman, with whom he formed the famed Mercury Theatre, Welles used his distinctive baritone voice to create innovative radio dramas. He became famous - notorious, even - following his 1938 broadcast of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds," which he presented as a real time news event, sparking panic among listeners who thought Martians really were invading New Jersey. The fame he achieved in the wake of the broadcast attracted RKO Pictures, where he made the most stunning directorial debut in the history of cinema with "Citizen Kane" (1941), long considered to be the greatest film ever made. Using innovative narrative and technological techniques, Welles singlehandedly changed the face of cinema, earning the nickname the Boy Wonder. He went on to direct "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942), though both films were financial failures that prompted his exit from RKO. After marrying Love Goddess Rita Hayworth and directing "The Stranger" (1946) and "Macbeth" (1948), Welles began a 10-year self-imposed Hollywood exile that saw him appear onscreen in movies like "The Third Man" (1949) while directing well-received films overseas like "Othello" (1952) and "Mr. Arkadin" (1955). He returned to Hollywood to helm "Touch of Evil" (1958), a classic film noir, while suffering a commercial drubbing with his adaptation of Franz Kafka's "The Trial" (1962). His take on Shakespeare's famed character, Falstaff, in "Chimes at Midnight" (1966) again earned international acclaim despite being largely ignored in the United States. Though he fell on hard times in the 1970s, Welles nonetheless remained busy with numerous projects in various stages of completion while appearing onscreen in a number of performances and using his distinctive voice in a variety of narrator roles. When he died in 1985, Welles left behind a legacy as a consummate artist and true auteur whose influence was profoundly felt by several generations of filmmakers.

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.
  Falstaff (1967) Director
8.
  The Trial (1963) Director
9.
  Mr. Arkadin (1962) Director
10.
  Touch of Evil (1958) Director

CAST: (feature film)

2.
3.
 Gold Lust (1995) Narration
4.
 Last Sailors, The (1995) Narration
6.
 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