May 6, 1915 – October 10, 1985
“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our loveand friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”
by Chris Dandeneau
Bit of background: George Orson Welles was born May 6,1915 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to Beatrice Ives Welles (suffragist, communityactivist, and accomplished pianist) and Richard Head Welles (inventor andbusinessman). His birthplace at 6116 Seventh Avenue (in 1915 it was 463 ParkAvenue), is now part of Kenosha’s Library Park Historic District. Welles was thesecond of his parents’ two children, the oldest being Richard Ives Welles Jr.(b. 1905). Richard Jr. was a huge disappointment to his father, and was latercommitted to the Kankakee Institute in Wisconsin. In her biography on OrsonWelles, Barbara Leaming wrote about an instance when a corpse reported to beRichard Jr. (it wasn’t) washed up on the banks of the Mississippi River.According to Leaming, Orson remembered his father saying, “That’s good, atleast the family is rid of him!” Orson’s father was an alcoholic and awomanizer, so his marriage seemed doomed from the start. Orson’s parentsseparated when he was 6. In 1924, Orson’s mother – thought by many to be theartistic influence in his life – died of jaundice. Six years later, Orson’sfather died of heart and kidney failure. Orson received most of his father’sestate, with only a small portion going to Richard Jr. In 1937, Wellesco-founded the Mercury Theatre, which performed at the Comedy at 108 West 41stSt. in New York (the Comedy was demolished in 1970). Welles expanded the Mercuryoperation in July of 1938, to include weekly radio dramas for CBS. Known as MercuryTheatre on the Air, it garnered infamy with its October 30, 1938broadcast of The War of the Worlds. (Not to be confused with the psychoticmeltdown we’ve been privy to recently) This clever adaptation of the H.G.Wells’ classic caused panic for thousands of listeners, who thought an actualinvasion from Mars was taking place. The chaos created by the broadcast helpedWelles gain international fame. In 1939, Welles signed with RKORadio Pictures, Inc., at the time one of Hollywood’s “Big Five”film studios.
After a few failed attempts to make a film (one of which was based on JosephConrad’s Heart of Darkness – later the basis for ApocalypseNow), Welles struck gold with Citizen Kane. While the filmwas not commercially successful at the time of its release, it is now consideredby many critics to be the best motion picture ever made. At its most simplistic,Citizen Kane tells the story of the rise and subsequent fall of arags-to-riches child. The film was controversial even before its release, becauseit appeared to be a fictional account of the powerful real-life newspaperpublisher, William Randolph Hearst. Spurred on by Hollywood gossip witches, HeddaHopper and Louella Parsons, Hearst tried to keep the film from ever seeing thelight of day. One story by Welles claims that he was tipped off by police thatHearst had planted an underage girl and two photographers in his hotel room, inan attempt to have leverage for blackmail. A terrific film based on thisstory is called RKO 281.
Regardless, the commercial failure ofCitizen Kane was seen by many as a direct result of boycotts andthreats made by Hearst. The irony of the Hearst-Kane fiasco is that while Hearsttried vehemently to keep the population from seeing the film, many people onlyrecognize the name William Randolph Hearst in association with CitizenKane. The film was successful with critics at its time of release,receiving nine Oscar nominations (it was booed during the ceremony) and winningone, for Best Original Screenplay. That particular Oscar statuette wasauctioned off in 1999.
Welles’ follow-up to Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons(1942), would foreshadow some of the problems that Welles would face in hiscareer as a filmmaker. During production of Ambersons,Welles was asked by the U.S. government to shoot a documentary about SouthAmerica. While working on that project (titled It’s All True) inBrazil, RKO took control of Ambersonsand proceeded to do some heavy editing. It’s All True became oneof Welles’ many endeavors throughout his career that would remain unfinished.Welles developed a reputation in Hollywood as a fiscally irresponsible director,who had trouble keeping to schedule. Throughout his life’s work, he would beplagued with problems of film financing and studio interference.
In the late 1940s, Welles moved to Europe. It was here thefilmmaker, effectively exiled from Hollywood, would produce much of his laterwork. The creative and filmmaking independence Welles insisted upon, ultimatelyled to reduced budgets. Some of the films made by him in Europe include Othello(1952 Palm d’Or winner) and The Trial (1963). In 1971, Wellesreceived an honorary Academy Award. He was now being praised by the sameHollywood that had previously shunned him.
Welles was frequently overweight, but became obese later in life. For the last decade or so of his life, he was reduced todoing commercials and made regular appearances on the talk-show circuit, oftendrunk.
Welles’ final roles were as the voice of Unicron in Tranformers:The Movie (released in 1986), and an introduction to a black and whitesequence for an episode of Moonlighting. For all othercredits, visit here.
The night before the Cybil Shepherd/Bruce Willis show, Wellesappeared drawn and haggard during a luncheon with Burt Reynolds at Ma Maison. That happens a lot to Burt Reynolds.
George Orson Welles died of a heart attack inthis home on October 10, 1985
Probably in the Master Bedroom
Orson died on the same day as Yul Brynner and the same week as RockHudson and Nelson Riddle. One report states that it wasn’t Welles’ home,but the home of friend Aleksander Deviec in which he drewhis last breath.
He was cremated, and his ashes were buried inside an old wellon the property of retired bullfighter, Antonio Ordonez (who died on December 19,1998), in Ronda, Malaga, Spain.
Fact I’ve saved in my Orson file for years, from Bob in TN: Welles and hiswife shareda little poodle, Kiki. On occasion, the poodle would be transportedfrom LA to Vegas, via limousine, with instructions from Orson to stop at Barstowand exercise the dog for 15 minutes.
Marriages and children: Orson Welles was married three times, most notably toRita Hayworth (which makes me believe love exists). His first marriage was toVirginia Nicholson, an actress whom he directed in his short film TheHearts of Age (shot at the age of 19). The couple had one daughter,Christopher Welles, born March 27, 1938. They divorced in February of 1940. RitaHayworth, who needs no description, was Welles’ second wife. The two met duringa production of a story called There Are Frenchmen and Frenchmenfor The Orson Welles Show. The couple had one daughter, RebeccaWelles, on December 17, 1944. Hayworth and Welles were divorced in 1948. Orson’sthird (and last) wife was an Italian actress named Paola Mori, whom he met at acast party for the film The Adventures of Don Juan (1948). Thecouple had one daughter, Beatrice Welles, on November 13, 1955. In 1962, whilemarried to Mori, Welles met Oja Kodar during the filming of his movie TheTrial. For the rest of his life, Welles would remain married to Mori butkeep a relationship going with Kodar. Upon Welles’ death, there was a disputeover the terms of his will. Mori and Kodar were to settle the dispute through asigned agreement on August 14, 1986, but Mori was killed in a car accident onAugust 12, 1986, (missed it by thatmuch!).
Some random notes: In the film Citizen Kane, there is a scene whereKane’s close friend, Jedidiah Leland (Joseph Cotton), is drunk after Kane (OrsonWelles) loses his election bid for governor of New York. Leland informs Kanethat he wants a transfer to their Chicago paper. Leland makes his case by sayingto Kane, “Well, you said yourself, you were looking for someone to dodramatic crimitism” The use of “dramatic crimitism” (instead of”dramatic criticism”) was unintentional. Welles – probably thinkingthat the scene was going to be reshot – shows a faint smirk. The scene was notre-shot, and the flubbed line actually adds some realism to Leland’s drunkenstate.
Citizen Kane was also the motionpicture debut of Agnes Moorehead. She played Kane’s mother.
Orson Welles, and past presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, were alldescendants of John Alden, a passenger on the Mayflower.
Orson Welles turned down the chance to be the voice of Darth Vader.
He was also considered for the part of Mr. Roarke,on Fantasy Island.
Sweet Lady Jane at 8360 Melrose Ave. inLA is said to be haunted by a ghost of Orson Welles.
The website for Sweet LadyJane has the bakery opening on May 5, 1988. Q: Welles died in 1985 so was therea different business there, or am I missing something? A: I phoned SweetLady Jane, and apparently it is in the location of the old Ma Maison restaurant,frequented by Orson Welles (and where murderer JohnSweeney worked). Nice Bonnie explained that someone once offhandedlymentioned that Orson ate there, so often he probably haunts the place now. It got repeated, and now is legend.
Pinks was another favorite spot of Orson Welles. He is said to haveeaten 17 hot dogs in one sitting. InJune of 2012 Los Angeles Magazine‘sAskChris went to Pinks for the answer:
A Sedona home (65 Sycamore Road) that Welles rented with Paola Mori and hisdaughter, Beatrice, was on sale (found it on the internet) for almost $1.4million.
Citizen Kane costar and former David Gest beard,Ruth Warrick, died in January 2005.
Some Orson Welles quotes:
“The best thing commercially, which is the worst artistically, by andlarge, is the most successful.”
“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stopyour story.”
“Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when called upon toact in accordance with the dictates of reason.”
“My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four – unlessthere are three other people.”
The Encyclopedia of Orson Welles – Chuck Berg and Tom Erskine
Orson Welles – Barbara Leaming
Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles – David Thomson
Check out this great link about the”Martian landing site” from War of the Worlds, HERE.