Job Actor, film director, theatre director, screenwriter, playwright, film producer, radio personality
Years active 1931-1985
Known for Youthful prodigy
Top Roles Professor Charles Rankin, John Andrew MacDonald / Erik Kessler, Edward Rochester, Kane, Harry Lime
Top GenresDrama, Adventure, Film Adaptation, Crime, Comedy, Mystery
Top TopicsBook-Based, Spies, Based on Play
Top Collaborators (Director), (Producer), ,
Shares birthday with Stewart Granger, Rudolph Valentino, Ross Hunter  see more..

Orson Welles Overview:

Legendary actor, Orson Welles, was born George Orson Welles on May 6, 1915 in Kenosha, WI. Welles died at the age of 70 on Oct 10, 1985 in Los Angeles, CA and was cremated and his ashes scattered (buried) well on bullfighter Antonio Ordonez's estate, Rondo Spain.

Early Life

George Orson Welles was born on May 6th, 1915 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Although born into a fairly privileged family, Welles childhood was plagued with significant hardships. At the age of four, Welles parent separated and he moved to Chicago. His father was moderately successful inventor, making a small fortune from his patented carbon bike lamp. He soon succumbed to alcoholism and stopped working.  His mother was a concert pianist and found work at the Chicago Art Institute to support her family. After the death of his mother, the nine-year-old Welles was fostered by famed art professor Dudley Craft Watson. After the death of his father at age 15, Welles was then put under the guardianship of Maurice Bernstein who sent him to the independent Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois. It was there, where he had the freedom to create his own curriculum, that Welles flourished as he directed and acted in his own stage production. After graduation, Welles was offered a scholarship to Harvard but instead decided to travel, which he was free to do thanks to a small inheritance he received from his father.

Early Stage and Radio Career

When in Dublin, Ireland, Welles walked into the famed Gates Theatre and proclaimed himself a Broadway Star. Tough no one believed him, but they were impressed by his gusto and allowed him to join the theatre for their production of Jew Suss. The play marked his professional debut, for which he received great reviews and American stage producers took notice. In 1933, he toured with Katharine Cornell's company performing Shakespeare and they next year he would make his Broadway debut as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. 1934 also marked his first short film, The Hearts of Age, as well as his first radio gig. In 1936 Welles was hired as part of the Federal Theatre Project to direct a play for its all black Theater Unit. The result was Voodoo Macbeth, a retelling of Macbeth set in the court of King Henri Christophe. The play was incredibly well received and eventually went on tour with Welles flying out to play the lead when the original actor fell ill. He was 20 years old. After his tenure for the Federal Theater Project, Welles went on to form the Mercury Theatre. Their first stage product was a contemporary retelling of Julius Caesar set in Fascist Italy. He later moved the company to the medium of radio, which he would later claim as his first love. The company put on acclaimed productions of the classics.

The War of the Worlds

Welles was brought to national fame with his famed 1938 broadcast of H.G Wells War of the Worlds. The 60-minute broadcast was present the material as new bulletins, telling the events of the novel as if they were actual alien attacks on the world. Welles played the role of the radio news broadcaster. Although the program ended with Welles stating the whole story was a Halloween concoction, many listeners only heard a portion of the Broadcast. Many people panicked, believing the story to be real and fled their homes. Others called the called the station out of panic and/or confusion. Some condemned Welles, calling the stunt cruel and manipulative. The controversy only made Welles fame grow and soon Hollywood took notice.

Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons

In 1939 Welles signed a two-picture contract with RKO picture. Welles was offered complete artistic control of the film, with everything from script to cast to crew to final cut falling under his complete control. This level of control over a project was unheard for a rookie director. And with that control, at the tender age of 26, Orson Welles made what is considered not only the best film made by first time director, but the perhaps the best film of all time: Citizen Kane. The film, a loosely veiled biography shamed newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, centers on the material rise and spiritual fall of publishing powerhouse Charles Foster Kane. With full artistic control, Welles experimented with new filmmaking techniques that would revolutionize the world of cinema. His most noted technical innovation was the use of long lens with deep focus, simultaneously flattening the planes of the frame while maintaining everything in sharp focus. Welles also managed innovated the very nature of filmic story telling by telling the narrative of Kane through multiple points of views through a series of complex and non-linear flashbacks. Although praised by critics as a millstone in filmmaking, Hearst used all his power to combated its distribution, feeling the film cast him a most unfalteringly light. As a result, the film was nominated for nine academy awards but was a failure at the box-office. The film now consistently ranks on nearly every "Greatest Films of All Time" list.

The next year he began work on his second film The Magnificent Ambersons. The film focuses on the downfall of a wealthy small-town American family at the turnoff the 19th century. Like Citizen Kane, Welles initially had competed creative control over the film. However, as the project grew to be over budget and behind schedule, relations between RKO studios and Welles became stilted, causing Welles to lose authority over the final cut of his film. When Welles was forced to leave the editing process early, he left a 43 page memo instructing the studio how to edit the film. Instead of listening, the studio cut 43 minutes and shot a new, happier ending. The film was a complete financial failure and Welles and all the Mercury Player he brought with him to Hollywood were dismissed from the studio.

Later Hollywood

After the financial failures of both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons no studio would hire Welles as a director. He did, however, continue to get work as actor. In 1943, Welles portrayed Edward Rochester in the big screen adaption of Jane Eyre.  That same year he also married Hollywood star Rita Hayworth. In 1946 Welles was once again in the directors chair, this time for the film WWII noir The Stranger, in which he also starred. The film was biggest box office success of his career and helped restore some of his reputation with the Hollywood studios. His next film, however, did not fair so well. In 1947 he starred with his now estranged wife, Rita Hayworth, in the noir thriller Lady From Shanghai. Much like The Magnificent Ambersons, the studios were unhappy with Welles rough-cut and had the film edited significantly. Although the film has since been hailed as masterpiece of cinema, it initially failed at the box office. His next film was the highly stylized b-list budget Macbeth. Welles took liberties with many of Shakespeare passages and revisited some of religious themes from his 1938 stage production of the same play. The film was yet another financial failure, culminating in Welles leaving Hollywood, instead choosing to work in Europe.


In 1949 Welles starred opposite Joseph Cotton as the enigmatic Harry Lime in Carol Reed's The Third Man. The film became and international smash hit and lead to Welles starring in the weekly radio show The Lives of Harry Lime. His next film was the self financed Othello. The film was in production for three years as due to frequently running out of funds. When the film was finally release in 1952, it won the coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was well received in the European market. In the United States, however, the film was largely ignored. His next creative venture was 1955's Mr. Arkadin in which he directed and starred. After missing an editing deadline, Welles was removed from the project by the films producer. The result was multiple versions of same film.

Hollywood Take Two

Welles returned to Hollywood in 1956, co-starring in the John Huston film adaptation of Moby Dick. Soon after, he began work the film Touch of Evil. Once again, he served as both director and actor. The film centers on Mexican Police offer, played by Charleston Heston, as he investigates a car bombing near the U.S/Mexican border. Welles plays the films antagonists; corrupt police captain Hank Quinlan. The films opening sequence, a three minute long uncut tracking shot following the fate of the car bomb, remains one of the most studied film scenes to this day.  Although production on the film went smoothly and as planned, Universal Studio's still re-cut Welles original edit and added new material, ignoring Welles 58 page editing memo all together. The film was released as B-picture for double features and received little publicity in the United States. The film did, however, enjoy success in Europe. Welles continued to find work as an actor, co-starring in 1958's The Long, Hot Summer opposite Paul Newman. The next year he stared in the filmic retelling of the famed Leopold and Loeb case, Compulsion. In 1962, Welles returned to Europe to direct the Kafka adaptation of The Trial starring Welles and Anthony Perkins. It did not fair well at the box office. In 1966, he directed Chimes at Midnight, a Shakespearean tragedy that condensed five of his plays into a central story of Falstaff. That year he also acted in the Fred Zinnermann hit a Man for All Seasons. The next year, he appeared in the James Bond ensemble spoof, Casino Royale.

Later Career and Death

Welles continued to act in non-descript roles in both Hollywood and Europe, often just for the paycheck. He worked on several projects that remained unfinished, such as Don Quixote and The Other Side of the Wind. 1973, Welles released his final piece of directorial work, the personal essay documentary F for Fake. The film centers on art forger Elmyr de Hory and biographer Clifford Irving, questing the nature of authorship, expertise and their relationship to the value of art. The film was released to mix reviews, but has since been hailed as masterpiece. By the late 1970's Welles found steady work on Television, working on commercials and guest-starring on shows such as Magnum P.I, and Moonlighting. On October 10th, 1985, Welles was interviews on The Merv Griffin Show. Hours later, he was died of a heart attack in Hollywood home. He was 70 years old.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



Orson Welles was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one for Best Writing for Citizen Kane in 1941. He also won one Honorary Award in 1970 for superlative artistry and versatility in the creation of motion pictures .

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1941Best ActorCitizen Kane (1941)Charles Foster KaneNominated
1941Best DirectorCitizen Kane (1941)N/ANominated
1941Best WritingCitizen Kane (1941)N/AWon

Academy Awards (Honorary Oscars)

1970Honorary Awardfor superlative artistry and versatility in the creation of motion pictures


He was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the categories of Motion Pictures and Radio. In addition, Welles was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame and was immortalized on a US postal stamp in 1999.

BlogHub Articles:

: Mr. Arkadin (1955) and Compulsion (1959)

By 4 Star Film Fan on Nov 28, 2023 From 4 Star Films

Mr. Arkadin (also known as Confidential Report) has the abundance of canted angles and striking visual flourishes one usually attributes to the films of . It also boasts his ever more disorienting sense of space and shot-reverse-shot even as the international cast, financing, and locales... Read full article

What Ever Happened to – Book Giveaway (Jan)

By Annmarie Gatti on Jan 1, 2022 From Classic Movie Hub Blog

?What Ever Happened to ?: A Portrait of an Independent Career?We have Four Books to Giveaway this Month! CMH is happy to announce our first 2022 Classic Movie Book Giveaway as part of our partnership with University Press of Kentucky! This time, we?ll be giving away FOUR COPIES of ?Wh... Read full article

pursues Rita Hayworth in “The Lady from Shanghai”

By Stephen Reginald on Jun 17, 2021 From Classic Movie Man

pursues Rita Hayworth in “The Lady from Shanghai” The Lady from Shanghai (1947) is a film noir directed by and starring Rita Hayworth, , and Everett Sloane. Initially snubbed by the critics upon its initial release, the film has garnered a reput... Read full article

Joan Fontaine and star in “Jane Eyre”

By Stephen Reginald on Jan 9, 2021 From Classic Movie Man

Joan Fontaine and star in “Jane Eyre” Jane Eyre (1943) is a gothic romance directed by Robert Stevenson and starring and Joan Fontaine. Based on the classic novel by Charlotte Bronte, the screenplay was written by John Houseman, Aldous Huxley, and Robert St... Read full article

Edward G. Robinson Pursues Nazis in “The Stranger” directed by

By Stephen Reginald on May 27, 2020 From Classic Movie Man

Edward G. Robinson Pursues Nazis in “The Stranger” directed by The Stranger (1946) is a film noir directed by , produced by Sam Spiegel, and starring Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, and . The film concerns Mr. Wilson (Robinson) of the United ... Read full article

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Orson Welles Quotes:

Michael O'Hara: One who follows his nature keeps his original nature in the end.

Michael O'Hara: That's how I found her and from that moment I did not use my head, except to think about her.

Will Varner: Can't teach an old dog new tricks, but you sure can teach a young willing puppy just about anything.

read more quotes from Orson Welles...

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