Orson Welles (1915–1985)Actor | Writer | Director

Date of Birth 6 May 1915, Kenosha, Wisconsin, USA
Date of Death 10 October 1985, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA  (heart attack)
Birth Name George Orson Welles
Height 6' 1½" (1.87 m)

His father was a well-to-do inventor, his mother a beautiful concert pianist; Orson Welles was gifted in many arts (magic, piano, painting) as a child. When his mother died (he was nine) he traveled the world with his father. When his father died (he was fifteen) he became the ward of Chicago's Dr. Maurice Bernstein. In 1931, he graduated from the Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois; he turned down college offers for a sketching tour of Ireland. He tried unsuccessfully to enter the London and Broadway stages, traveling some more in Morocco and Spain (where he fought in the bullring). Recommendations by Thornton Wilder and Alexander Woollcott got him into Katherine Cornell's road company, with which he made his New York debut as Tybalt in 1934. The same year, he married, directed his first short, and appeared on radio for the first time. He began working with John Houseman and formed the Mercury Theatre with him in 1937. In 1938, they produced "The Mercury Theatre on the Air", famous for its broadcast version of "The War of the Worlds" (intended as a Halloween prank). His first film to be seen by the public was Citizen Kane (1941), a commercial failure losing RKO $150,000, but regarded by many as the best film ever made. Many of his next films were commercial failures and he exiled himself to Europe in 1948. In 1956, he directed Touch of Evil (1958); it failed in the United States but won a prize at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. In 1975, in spite of all his box-office failures, he received the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1984, the Directors Guild of America awarded him its highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award. His reputation as a filmmaker has climbed steadily ever since.

Spouse (3)

Paola Mori (8 May 1955 - 10 October 1985) (his death) (1 child)
Rita Hayworth (7 September 1943 - 1 December 1948) (divorced) (1 child)
Virginia Nicolson (14 November 1934 - 1 February 1940) (divorced) (1 child)

One of the most recognizable deep voices in all of film, radio or television.
Frequently cast Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane and Oja Kodar
Frequently wrote, directed and starred in films that feature the rise and fall of main characters (Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane (1941), Gregory Arkadin in _Confidential Report (1955)_, Detective Hank Quinlan in Touch of Evil (1958)) who, in classic Shakespearean style, are unmade by their own vices.
Known for his use of low camera angles, tracking shots, deep focus and elaborate crane shots in his films.

Once ate 18 hot dogs in one sitting at Pink's, a Los Angeles hot dog stand.
Welles' Oscar statuette sold for $861,542, when it was auctioned by Nate D. Sanders Memorabilia on December 20, 2011.
H.G. Wells was driving through San Antonio, Texas, and stopped to ask the way. The person he happened to ask was none other than Welles', who had recently broadcast "The War of the Worlds" on the radio. They got on well and spent the day together.
ABC-TV wanted him to play Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island (1977), but the series' producer, Aaron Spelling, insisted on Ricardo Montalban.
He died on the same day as his The Battle on the River Neretva (1969) co-star Yul Brynner: October 10, 1985.
Ashes are buried inside an old well covered by flowers, within the rural property of the now-deceased, then-retired bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez, Ronda, Malaga, Spain.
One of only six actors to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his first screen appearance. The other five actors are: Paul Muni, Lawrence Tibbett, Alan Arkin, James Dean and Montgomery Clift.
On October 30, 1938, he directed "The Mercury Theatre On the Air" in a dramatization of "The War of the Worlds", based on H.G. Wells' novel. Setting the events in then-contemporary locations (The "landing spot" for the Martian invasion, Grover's Mill, New Jersey, was chosen at random with a New Jersey road map) and dramatizing it in the style of a musical program interrupted by news bulletins, complete with eyewitness accounts, it caused a nationwide panic, with many listeners fully convinced that the Earth was being invaded by Mars. The next day, Welles publicly apologized. While many lawsuits were filed against both Welles and the CBS radio network, all were dismissed. The incident is mentioned in textbook accounts of mass hysteria and the delusions of crowds.
Despite his reputation as an actor and master filmmaker, he maintained his memberships in the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Society of American Magicians (neither of which are unions, but fraternal organizations), and regularly practiced sleight-of-hand magic in case his career came to an abrupt end. Welles occasionally performed at the annual conventions of each organization, and was considered by fellow magicians to be extremely accomplished.
A bootleg tape of a short-tempered (and foul-mouthed) Welles arguing with a recording engineer during a voice-over session has been widely distributed. It was used as the basis for an episode of the animated series Pinky and the Brain (1995), with The Brain reading cleaned-up versions of Orson's rantings (the episode's title, "Yes, Always", is taken from one of Welles' complaints). Ironically, the actor who plays The Brain, Maurice LaMarche, dubbed the voice of the actor who portrays Welles in Ed Wood (1994).
He was born on the same day that Babe Ruth hit his very first home run.
He tried to make a film version of Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra' book "Don Quixote". He started working on it in 1955 and continued to film through the 1970s with Francisco Reiguera and Akim Tamiroff starring. An incomplete version was released in Spain in 1992.
Made a Hollywood satire, The Other Side of the Wind, starring John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich. Though it was completed, the post-production process was not and the film also ran into legal problems.
Posthumously inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1988.
Frank Sinatra was the godfather of his and Rita Hayworth's daughter, Rebecca Welles.
Host/narrator of the BBC/Mutual Radio's "The Black Museum" (1952).
He portrayed the title character on the syndicated radio show "The Lives of Harry Lime" (also known as "The Third Man") (1951-52). This was based on his character from the film The Third Man (1949).
Has the distinction of appearing in both the American Film Institute and British Film Institute's #1 movie. For AFI, it was Citizen Kane (1941). For BFI, it was The Third Man (1949). Welles shares this distinction with Joseph Cotten, who also starred in both movies.
He was the studio's first choice to play the voice-over role of OMM in THX 1138 (1971). However, director George Lucas insisted on casting the relatively unknown stage actor James Wheaton instead.
Has provided voice for some songs by the heavy metal band Manowar: "Dark Avenger" and "Defender".
He became obese in his 40s, weighing over 350 pounds towards the end of his life.
Was possibly not as tall as is often reported. According to Simon Callow's "Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu", medical records exist from a Welles physical in 1941. His weight is listed as 218, and his height at 72" - 6 feet even. Biographers Charles Higham and Frank Brady describe Welles as being 6'2", though they never provide a source. Biographer Barbara Leaming often comments on his height, but never gives an exact measurement. An early Current Biography article on Welles describes him as being "tall and chubby", while a later one gives the obviously incorrect 6'3-1/2" height. If you average all the figures and based on his size compared to other actors, he probably in fact stood a little over 6 feet tall (6'1" to 6'2").
Was voted the Second Greatest Film Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890- 1945". Pages 1168-1185. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
His 1937 Broadway stage production of William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar"--in which the setting was changed to a modern Fascist Rome to reflect the Benito Mussolini era, but in which Shakespeare's language was completely retained--became, and still remains, the longest-running Broadway production of the play. Welles played Brutus. This production was never filmed, but years later Welles' former working partner John Houseman produced a traditional film version of the play for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, starring James Mason as Brutus, Marlon Brando as Marc Antony, and John Gielgud as Cassius.
Was suggested as a possible suspect by author Mary Pacios, in the mutilation murder of actress Elizabeth Short, known as "The Black Dahlia" case, in Los Angeles in 1947. Among other reasons, Pacios suggested Welles as a suspect because Welles' artwork for the surreal bizarre funhouse set in The Lady from Shanghai (1947) was similar in many ways to the mutilation and bisection of Elizabeth Short. Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures--the studio that produced The Lady from Shanghai--ordered the footage cut before release because of its disturbing resemblance to the murder.
When he signed on to direct Touch of Evil (1958), instead of reading the book on which it was based--a pulp novel named "Badge of Evil"--Welles completely changed an early draft of the script.
Told Peter Bogdanovich that, as a practicing magician, he became adept at the old carny trick of fortune-telling, but he became so good at it that it scared him. He was worried that he would come to believe he actually did have the power to tell the future, like the self-deluded fortune tellers known as a "shut eye".
He had wanted to make films of two literary masterpieces, Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" and Joseph Heller's "Catch-22", but had to be satisfied in having supporting roles in the films made of the two books by John Huston (Moby Dick (1956)) and Mike Nichols (Catch-22 (1970)).
Wrote his novel "Mr. Arkadian" during an extended stay with Laurence Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh. Welles was appearing at Olivier's St. James Theater in London at the time.
Laurence Olivier had wanted to cast him as Buckingham in Richard III (1955), his film of William Shakespeare's play "Richard III", but gave the role to Ralph Richardson, his oldest friend, because Richardson wanted it. In his autobiography, Olivier says he wishes he had disappointed Richardson and cast Welles instead, as he would have brought an extra element to the screen, an intelligence that would have gone well with the plot element of conspiracy.
Lobbied to get the role of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972), even offered to lose a good deal of weight in order to get the role. Francis Ford Coppola, a huge fan of his, had to turn him down because he already had Marlon Brando in mind for the role and felt Welles would not be right for the role.
He made The Lady from Shanghai (1947) towards the end of his marriage to Rita Hayworth. They were constantly fighting at the time and (some say as a comeuppance to Hayworth) he made her cut off most of her long, luxurious red hair and dye it bright platinum blonde.
Was named #16 on the 50 Greatest Screen Legends list of the American Film Institute.
Was the narrator for many of the trailers for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).
Before deciding on adapting the life of William Randolph Hearst in Citizen Kane (1941), Welles intended his first film to be an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". Coincidentally, he was Francis Ford Coppola's first choice for the role of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (1979), itself an adaptation of "Heart of Darkness".
His average dinner famously consisted of two steaks cooked rare and a pint of scotch whiskey. This contributed to his obesity in his later life and his eventual death.
Ranked #9 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Greatest directors ever!" [2005].
His father was an alcoholic.
Considered black and white to be "the actor's best friend", feeling that it focused more on the actor's expressions and feelings than on hair, eye or wardrobe color.
Was very good friends with Peter Bogdanovich, in whose house he lived for several years during Bogdanovich's affair with Cybill Shepherd. Welles even gave Bogdanovich written instructions to finish his last film, The Other Side of the Wind, before his death.
Was a passionate painter
Most of his movie projects never got finished or released due to financial problems and disputes with studio executives. Some of his unfinished productions are: The Deep (1970) (Laurence Harvey's death made a finished movie impossible), The Merchant of Venice (1969) and Don Quixote (1992).
Longtime companions with Oja Kodar. They lived together until his death.
Has been played by Vincent D'Onofrio twice: Ed Wood (1994) and Five Minutes, Mr. Welles (2005).
In the 1930s, he worked at various radio stations in New York City, at different times of the day. He found it difficult to be on time for his live shows because he had to use taxicabs and the heavy New York City traffic meant that he was often late. He soon found a loophole in the law that said you didn't have to be sick to hire an ambulance, so he did just that and had the drivers blast their sirens as he traveled from one station to the next, and that way he was on time.
Profiled in in J.A. Aberdeen's "Hollywood Renegades: The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers" (Palos Verdes Estates, CA: Cobblestone Entertainment).
Merv Griffin claimed in his DVD collection "Merv Griffin: Interesting People" that Welles died two hours after giving Merv an interview in which he had said to ask him anything, "for this interview, there are no subjects about which I won't speak". In the past, Welles refused to speak about the past.
His performance as Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949) is ranked #93 on Premiere magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.
His performance as Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane (1941) is ranked #12 on Premiere magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.
Hated working on The Transformers: The Movie (1986), where he voiced Unicron. When asked about the film, he not only could not remember the name of his character, but he described the film as being "I play a big toy who attacks a bunch of smaller toys.".
John Ford, whom Welles admired as the greatest American director and who, in turn, admired Welles as a director and actor, wanted to cast him as Mayor Frank Skeffington in his movie adaption of Edwin O'Connor's novel The Last Hurrah (1958). Welles was unable to accept the role due to scheduling conflicts, and Spencer Tracy was cast instead.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume One, 1981-1985, pages 861-864. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.
CBS wanted him to host The Twilight Zone (1959) but the producers felt that he requested too much money. He was ultimately ruled out in favor of the show's creator, Rod Serling.
Was George Lucas' first choice as the voice for Darth Vader, but he thought the voice would be too recognizable.
He was of German, Irish and Scottish heritage.
He was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute in recognition of his outstanding contribution to film culture.
Was close friends with Bud Cort.
He was awarded 2 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures at 1600 Vine Street; and for Radio at 6652 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
He died only two hours after being interviewed on The Merv Griffin Show (1962) on October 10, 1985. Reportedly, Welles died working with a typewriter in his lap.
When execs at RKO could not decide to greenlight Citizen Kane (1941), Welles asked the studio for film equipment and a small crew so he could spend the midway time doing test shots. Not wanting its new import from New York to sour on his deal with RKO, the studio granted the request. Welles proceeded to shoot actual scenes of the movie. By the time execs realized what he had done, Welles had many key scenes completed. RKO greenlit the film, having already--albeit unknowingly--financed the picture.
Was friends with Josip Broz Tito, a partisan guerrilla leader who fought the Nazis in World War II Yugoslavia, and who later became president of the country.
His last completed work as director was "The Orson Welles Show", a never broadcast television show.
He directed two actors to Oscar nominations: Himself (Best Actor, Citizen Kane (1941)), and Agnes Moorehead (Best Supporting Actress, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)).
He and John Huston were good friends from the 1940s to Welles' death in 1985. Both men coincidentally made their spectacular debut as directors in 1941 (Welles with Citizen Kane (1941) and Huston with The Maltese Falcon (1941)). Both would eventually be directed by the other: Welles' had a cameo in Huston's adaptation of Moby Dick (1956) and Huston played the lead in Welles' unfinished The Other Side of the Wind.
He remained good friends with Joseph Cotten until the end of his life, despite a working relationship that was often considered demanding of the older Cotten.
George, his given name, was in honor of his father's friend, humorist George Ade.
Film critics lobbied for him to record an audio commentary for Citizen Kane (1941), but he refused, stating that he was tired of talking about it.
Welles was so impressed with Dorothea Durham that he walked on stage where she was performing at the Club Rhumboogie and put $500 in her hand. Durham, who went by the stage name La Garbo, was a popular dancer in the 1930s and 1940s on the West Coast. She also danced at the Cotton Club in Harlem and in Duke Ellington's "Jump for Joy", and appeared as a dancer in movies such as Cabin in the Sky (1943).
Once referred to the audience as "the big, many-headed beast crouching out there in the darkness".
Became a father for the first time at age 22 when his first wife Virginia Nicolson gave birth to their daughter Christopher Welles on March 27, 1938.
Became a father for the second time at age 25 when his married lover Geraldine Fitzgerald gave birth to their son Michael Lindsay-Hogg on June 5, 1940.
Became a father for the third time at age 29 when his second wife Rita Hayworth gave birth to their daughter Rebecca Welles on December 17, 1944.
Became a father for the fourth time at age 40 when his third wife Paola Mori gave birth to their daughter Beatrice Welles on November 13, 1955.
The Last Picture Show (1971) was filmed in black and white because of Welles' famous remark to Peter Bogdanovich and Polly Platt, when director and crew were uncertain on how to film the locations without using too many colors. Welles, who was on the set, replied: "Of course you'll film it in black and white!" The advice proved to be helpful because the film was praised for (among other qualities) its cinematography, which earned Robert Surtees an Oscar nomination.
His full name is George Orson Welles. He was named "George" in honor of writer George Ade, who was a friend of the family. His middle name was in honor of another family friend, a man named Orson Wells (without the "e").
He had three Shakespearean roles in common with Laurence Olivier: (1) Welles played Othello in Othello (1951) while Olivier played him in Othello (1965), (2) Welles played King Lear in Omnibus: King Lear (1953) while Olivier played him in King Lear (1983) and (3) Welles played Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (1969) while Olivier played him in The Merchant of Venice (1973).
Laurence Olivier strongly considered casting Welles as the Duke of Buckingham in Richard III (1955) but felt obligated to cast his close friend Ralph Richardson in the role. Olivier came to regret this decision as he believed that Welles would have added an element of conspiracy to the film.
Has been played by Steven Lamprinos in Hollywood Mouth 2 (2014). The director of that film, Jordan Mohr, wanted an Orson Welles character in the movie because she is from Venice, California, where Touch of Evil (1958) was filmed.
Was the voice of Unicron in the theatrical release of The Transformers: The Movie (1986), but was replaced by Roger C. Carmel (after he died) for the third season of the animated series The Transformers (1984).
Along with Laurence Olivier, Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Kenneth Branagh, Clint Eastwood and Roberto Benigni, he is one of only seven men to receive Academy Award nominations for both Best Actor and Best Director for the same film: Welles for Citizen Kane (1941), Olivier for Hamlet (1948), Allen for Annie Hall (1977), Beatty for both Heaven Can Wait (1978) and Reds (1981), Branagh for Henry V (1989), Eastwood for Unforgiven (1992) and Benigni for Life Is Beautiful (1997).
Spoke French fluently.