Throughout his career, the opinionated, stubborn Welles was no stranger to courting controversy or bending the rules. But he is also remembered as a brilliant genius – his debut film, Citizen Kane, is considered to be one of the greatest films in the history of cinema.
Here are 5 facts about the man behind Citizen Kane and the War of the Worlds panic…
1) HIS BIG HOP INTO SHOW BUSINESS
Welles was only a young boy when he got his first theatrical job, but it wasn’t the most glamorous of gigs. He stood in the window of a Chicago department store dressed as Peter Rabbit.
2) LYING HIS WAY TO THE TOP
Following the death of his father, Welles travelled around Europe in 1931. While walking his way across Ireland, he thought he would try his luck at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. He arrived unannounced, declaring himself to be a big Broadway star, and demanding a part on the next show. The owner, either duped by Welles or impressed by his brashness, gave him a shot and cast him in an adaptation of Jew Suss. Welles continued to work at the Gate in several productions before returning to America.
3) THE REAL CITIZEN KANE
Citizen Kane’s release in 1941 is a milestone moment in cinema, but there was one man who hated the film – without even seeing it. The main character, Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles, was based on the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and he didn’t find the comparison complimentary. He attempted to stop cinemas from showing the film, and his newspapers weren’t allowed to advertise or review Citizen Kane in any way. His efforts couldn’t stop the film’s release but his fierce lobbying did play a crucial part in Citizen Kane losing the Best Film Oscar to How Green Was My Valley.
4) THE TRICKSTER
As well as his on-screen trickery, Welles was a keen magician and a member of both the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Society of American Magicians. His fascination with illusions began when he met Harry Houdini as a child. He would perform shows in Hollywood – as well as to troops during World War II – and his routine included sawing his wife, movie belle Rita Hayworth, in half.
5) WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
Welles was well known for being a stubborn perfectionist and difficult to work with, meaning he died with a host of projects unfinished. For 15 years, he had been working on-and-off on an adaptation of Don Quixote, but the final film was never released. He had completed a version of The Merchant of Venice, playing Shylock himself, but several reels of the final negative were stolen from his office. Then there was the intriguing prospect of his Around the World in 80 Days – he had done an ambitious stage show of the story that received huge plaudits.
The October issue of History Revealed explores the night Orson Welles caused panic with his War of the Worlds broadcast. Pick up a copy in print or on digital devices.