One the greatest artists of the 20th century, Orson Welles created groundbreaking work for the stage, radio, television and motion pictures.

Born in Kenosha, Wisconsin on May 6, 1915, to an inventor and a concert pianist, Welles was a child prodigy. By the time he was 16, Welles had acted at the Gate Theater in Dublin. Two years later, he was Broadway bound following a national tour with Katharine Cornell.

By 1936, Welles was assigned to direct a play for the Federal Theatre Project's Negro Theater Unit. His choice of Macbeth, set in Haiti, was an artistic and commercial triumph. Breaking with the Federal Theatre Project, Welles formed the Mercury Theatre in 1938. His modern dress Julius Caesar, set in fascist Italy, electrified Broadway. It is no wonder he was featured on the cover of TIME magazine just days after his 23rd birthday.

Concurrent with his stage success was his stardom on radio. He had acted in a number of productions, most notably The Shadow, before launching is own Mercury Theatre On the Air. His infamous The War of the Worlds broadcast on October 30, 1938 convinced many jittery Americans that Martians had invaded. Today students across US learn about this famous broadcast during their History Class.

Hollywood was intrigued and RKO Pictures hired the boy wonder, giving him total artistic control to write, direct, produce and star in his first motion picture. The result was Citizen Kane, widely considered to be the finest movie ever made.

For his sophomore effort, Welles directed The Magnificent Ambersons, but was dispatched by RKO to South America to work on a wartime documentary before he could complete post-production work on Ambersons. In his absence, the studio re-edited the dark story and inserted a happy ending. RKO dismissed Welles before he completed his South American documentary It’s All True.

Welles’ reputation took an undeserved battering that would haunt him for decades. Despite this, he would turn out now classic films for Hollywood studios: The Stranger, Macbeth, The Lady From Shanghai and Touch of Evil. As an independent filmmaker working in Europe, Welles would raise funds and invest his own money into such films as Chimes at Midnight, Mr. Arkadin, Immortal Story, F For Fake and Othello, which was honored with the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1952. He appeared as an actor in numerous films, such as The Third Man, as a means to earn money to make his own movies.

Not content to succeed on radio, stage and film, Welles labored on several projects during the Golden Age of Television, including The Fountain of Youth, which received the prestigious Peabody Award after it aired in 1958.

Away from the stage, Welles was politically outspoken whether he was campaigning for President Franklin D. Roosevelt or championing the cause of Isaac Woodard, an African-American veteran beaten and blinded by police.

Following Welles’s death on October 5, 1985, his ashes were buried in a dry well on the estate of his longtime friend, bullfighter Antonio Ordonez in Ronda, Spain.

For more information about the life, career and work of Orson Welles
wellesnet: the orson welles web resource

 

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