Joseph Cotten Profile
Joseph Cotten's aristocratic presence, restrained acting and beautifully modulated speaking voice made him an ideal leading man -- and one whose silky attractiveness could take on a sinister air when the occasion demanded.
Born on May 15, 1905, in Petersburg, Virginia, Cotten worked for a time as a drama critic for The Miami Herald before being signed by stage impresario David Belasco in 1930. After stage experience in New York, Cotten joined Orson Welles' Mercury Theater in 1937 and two years later was starring opposite Katharine Hepburn on Broadway in The Philadelphia Story.
In 1941 Cotten was brought to Hollywood by Welles, who cast him in the first three feature films made by the flamboyant actor-producer-writer-director. After the classic Citizen Kane, in which Cotten plays Jedediah Leland, the former school chum with whom Kane decides to establish a newspaper, came The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Welles' adaptation of the Booth Tarkington novel, with Cotten cast as Eugene Morgan, the kindly suitor of the mistress of the Amberson Mansion (Dolores Costello). Next Cotten was cast in Journey Into Fear, a thriller produced by Welles and adapted by Cotten himself from the novel by Eric Ambler.
Cotten had one of his best screen roles in Shadow of a Doubt (1943), an unsettling Alfred Hitchcock thriller in which he plays the suave, charming uncle of a young woman (Teresa Wright) who begins to suspect that he may be a mass murderer. In another well-regarded thriller, Gaslight (1944), Cotten takes the sympathetic role of a Scotland Yard inspector who befriends a woman (Oscar® winner Ingrid Bergman) who fears her husband is trying to drive her insane.
After excellent performances in Duel in the Sun (1946) and The Farmer's Daughter (1947), Cotten won the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival for his performance in Portrait of Jennie (1948), a romantic fantasy in which he plays an artist who falls in love with a mysterious girl (Jennnifer Jones) who may be a ghost. Cotten was reunited with Orson Welles in Carol Reed's Cold War espionage classic The Third Man, playing a novelist who unravels the mysteries surrounding Welles' shifty character.
Although he hit his career peak in the 1940s, Cotten remained active in the next four decades, appearing frequently on television and in such movies as the science fiction adventure From the Earth to the Moon (1958), based on the Jules Verne story; the Bette Davis Southern-Gothic horror film Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964); a film version of the Edward Albee stage drama A Delicate Balance (1973); and the Michael Cimino Western Heaven's Gate (1980). Cotten's final film was The Survivor (1981); he was forced to retire after suffering a stroke. His second wife (from 1960 until his death in 1994) was actress Patricia Medina.
by Roger Fristoe