Remembering Orson Welles: The Man Who Lived a Life Like No Other

“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story!”

It’s been many years since the man, known for his innovative work in theater, radio and film, died on October 10, 1985. A pioneer in all three, George Orson Welles, better known as Welles, was born in Kenosha on May 6, 1915.

He was the most successful American motion-picture actor, producer, director, and writer. Moreover, when it comes to his lifetime achievements, he is no slouch. His narrative techniques, use of pictures, dramatic light, and music effects in all his work, is what made him reach the zenith.

The Man Who Changed The Art

Welles was a born actor, writer, magician, and artist. He left school at fifteen only to peruse his acting career. At eighteen, he co-edited and showcased Shakespeare plays and a commercial textbook called Everybody’s Shakespeare.

He then did Tybalt in Rome and Juliet and Broadway as Chorus. Moreover, by twenty, he inaugurated his own acting company with the name, The Mercury Theater.


Orson Welles (1915 – 1985), American actor, producer, writer, and director. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

The Mercury Theater comes to limelight after the massive success of modern-dress Julius Caesar with Welles playing Brutus. Dramatizing novels, stories of H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds and many more skyrocketed Wills acting company and his career too. He becomes that popular that every work done by him as a director becomes the work of perfection.

Not So Happy- Welles Initial Days

Born to the incredible bright family; his mother was a concert pianist, and his father was the inventor of carbide lamp who makes a living by inventing lamps for bicycles. Despite being from a very brilliant pedigree, Welles childhood was beyond happiness.

His parents separated when he was 4, then his mother died of jaundice, and his father’s business starts faltering. Six years later, after his mother’s death, Welles’s father, an alcoholic, died, leaving Orson lone at the age of fifteen.


1941: Orson Welles takes the lead role in his film ‘Citizen Kane’, directed by himself for RKO. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Stability comes into his life when Maurice Bernstein took Welles in his life and became his legal guardian. The Maurice saw his talents and enrolled him in a Todd School in Woodstock, where the Welles found his love for theater.

The Carrier That Began With A Lie

Like any other young people, Welles spends most of his time traveling. While wandering in Ireland in 1931, he stopped by the Gate Theater in Dublin and represented him as the star of Broadway, to audition himself.

The brash, confident and young actor captivated everybody through his intense and heartfelt audition. He then made his debut through Jew Suss, but that also didn’t work for Orson, and he returned to the US the following year because of not having the work permit.


Orson Welles starring in The Lady from Shanghai with his wife at the time, Rita Hayworth. Welles not only starred in the film but was also the writer and director. This trick mirror scene was also his idea. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)

Later, through Broadway with a role of Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, he came into the light and even grabbed the attention of a very renowned director, John Houseman. John cast Welles in his upcoming Federal Theater Project.

Citizen Kane Became The Rabble-Rouser

After much hard work that made Orson glued to the stage, Welles thought of creating Citizen Kane, which is arguably the best art-movies ever came out of Hollywood. However, unlike all of his theater work and impressive writings, Citizen Kane received a considerable backlash.

The movie included the life of one of America’s renowned newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst. The plot revolved around a benevolent young man who later becomes an obsessed media mogul who wants to keep all power in his hand.


Alan Arkin and Martin Balsam to the left and right of Orson Welles in a scene from the film ‘Catch-22’, 1970. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)

Further, William made many efforts to block the showing of the film, he even ordered all the newspapers, owned by him, to refrain from its advertisement, promotions or even mentioning of Citizen Kane.

Some speculations, even state that Hearst agreed to pay the production cost, only if the studio decided to demolish every single copy of the film. However, oppression failed to defeat the artist and the film survived and flourished.

I Don’t Need an Oscar!

Welles gave his only Oscar Award to his cinematographer as a replacement for hard cash! Why?

Citizen Kane was a huge success, and the film got nominated for nine Academy Awards later in 1942, but the pioneer actor, director, and writer took only one award, i.e., Best Original Screenplay. While for many directors, Oscar would be an award to be displayed on shelves, for Welles, it was a pure GOLD.


Leaving Caxton Hall, Westminster, London after their 08.30 wedding are film world celebrity Orson Welles and Paola Mori. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

However, when the director was filming his other film, ‘The Other Side Of The Wind’ he realized that he didn’t pay well to his cinematographer, Grave Graver, who did all the excellent work of Citizen Kane. So, to compensate the amount, Welles handed his only award to Grave.

Interesting Facts about Welles

  • He was a smart traveler

Since New York has always been crowded and traveling from one place to another is a fuss, Welles managed to reach quickly.


He hires ambulances to help him swiftly shuttle between studios, theater, and other places.

  • He Always Had A Backup

Even though Welles had a considerable fan base on stage and radio, and he was a top-notch writer, he was always ready for the possibility of the abrupt end of his fame. If he failed to grab success as an actor, director, and screenwriter, he was prepared for the next big thing- MAGIC!


Actor Orson Welles explains the radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds to reporters after it caused widespread panic.

Welles has always been fascinated by magic. He learned his first trick from Harry Houdini when he was a young lad and continued with magic as his lifelong, exciting hobby.

The Tragic Death

Orson has very nasty habits; he became the penchant of booze, tobacco, and scotch. In his middle age, he becomes morbidly obese and weighs around 400 pounds. Due to these habits, he was marginalized by cinema, which caught him to depression, more weight, and alcohol.

Then on October 10, 1985, when he was recording his final interview, he got a fatal heart attack and died. Further, he wasn’t buried in any cemetery; instead, his ashes were buried in a flower-covered well on the property of Antonio Ordonez, who was a bullfighter.


LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 27: Orson Welles’ working draft script for Citizen Kane is displayed at Sotheby’s on February 27, 2014, in London, England. Sotheby’s ‘1000 Ways of Seeing’ highlights the private collection of Stanley J Seeger who devoted much of his life to collecting a vast array of special objects. More than 1000 works will be auctioned from the collection on March 5th and 6th 2014 in London. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

While Orson Welles he had a bucket of achievements one could ever dream of, his last days of deterioration countered the fame, leaving his fans and artists with conflicting views about his personality.

However, Citizen Kane remains stain-free and still makes its way to the best films ever made in the history.