Family and Relationships

The Three Wives

Orson was known to carry a certain charm for ladies who encountered him. He responded by throwing as much verve into matters of the heart as he did into his work.

Virginia Nicholson

He did everything young, with marriage as no exception. On Dec. 23, 1934, the nineteen-year-old married Virginia Nicholson, whom he’d met at one of his Summer drama festivals at the Todd school. Described by Barbara Leaming as “a porcelain skinned beauty,” Virginia endeared herself to Orson with “the wonderfully outrageous stories she would tell him when they were alone.”

Virginia gave birth, on Mar. 27, 1938, to a baby girl named Christopher.

Orson’s marriage to Virginia was marked by his infidelities to her and his absences. It came to an end five years after it began, on Feb. 1, 1940. Welles was at the crest of the success of his Mercury Theatre empire, about to begin work on Citizen Kane.

Rita Hayworth

Enter Rita Hayworth. She was born Margarita Carmen Cansino in Brooklyn in 1918. She had been spotted dancing in Tijuana in a family act and invited to Hollywood just before her eighteenth birthday. In Tinsel Town, she met a series of hucksters interested in trading what they could do for her career for sexual favors. One of these was Harry Cohn, head of production at Columbia Pictures. It was he who introduced her to Orson and from whom Orson saved her.

Welles and Hayworth began to living together while the bombshell actress was still engaged to another man. The two were married in a Santa Monica courthouse on Sept. 7, 1943 in between halves of Hayworth’s photoshoot for Cover Girl. Rita gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Rebecca Welles, on Dec. 17, 1944. Not quite a year later, she was dating the singer Tony Martin and announced her separation from Welles.

Welles’ statement to the press was included the rhetorical question, “[n]ow why is it that a girl will marry a guy, knowing what he is, having no illusions whatever, and then never be satisfied until she has made him over entirely on a new plan of her own?”

When the two of them worked together in The Lady From Shanghai, Rita broke off her relationship with Martin, and she and Orson tried a reconciliation. Various attempts ultimately ran aground, and Rita ended up marrying Prince Aly Khan, who became a loving step-father to Rebecca.

Countess Paola Mori Di Girfalco

Welles’s third and last wife was Countess Paola Mori Di Girfalco, whom he met in the Summer of ‘52. Paola had spent several years of her life in a concentration camp. She and Welles were married in 1955, two days before his 40th birthday. They remained married til the end of his life.

Colleagues and Cronies

The early life section discusses Orson’s life-long relationship with Dr. Maurice Bernstein, as well as a long-time friendship and professional relationship with Roger “Skipper” Hill, his head master at Todd.

In addition to these two confidantes, Welles had several friends and professional collaborators with whom he worked repeatedly, over a period of decades.

Joseph Cotten

Born in Virginia in 1905, Cotten made his Broadway debut in 1930 and met Orson Welles not much later. He became a member of the Mercury Theater and starred in 1936’s “Horse Eats Hat,” “Julius Caesar,” “Danton’s Death,” and “The Shoemaker’s Holiday.”

Outside of Welles-produced plays, he started to make a big name for himself by starring alongside Katharine Hepburn in a Broadway production of “Philadelphia Story.”

His career exploded, though, when Welles cast him in the key role of Jedediah LeLand in Citizen Kane. It was a critically-acclaimed performance, and one that, because of the magnitude of Citizen Kane, one that made Cotten recognizable worldwide.

Cotten would go on to play big roles in The Magnificent Ambersons, Journey Into Fear, and The Third Man.

John Houseman

Born in Romania, educated in England, and carving out a career as a businessman in America, Houseman would become a drama producer and long-time friend of Welles. He met Orson while the former was auditioning for a role in a production of Romeo and Juliet he was producing. Houseman’s considerable impression of the young Welles was what made this figure so obscene and terrible was the pale, shiny child’s face under the unnatural growth of dark beard, from which there issued a voice of such clarity and power that it tore like a high wind through the genteel, modulated voice of the well-trained professionals around him.
He gave Welles the part, but ultimately cast him in another of his projects, Panic.

The two would pair up as Welles quickly became not just an actor but a producer and director. They began to collaborate on Mercury Theatre projects. During the production of The Smiler With a Knife, according to Houseman’s claim, an ugly fight resulted in Welles hurling a couple of cans of sterno at the older man.

A less violent class would occur later, when each person was considering filming separate versions of Julius Caesar. Neither would put out a finished product.

Houseman would go on to be known as a versatile man in the world of film and drama. He had many acting credits, including the role of Mr. Stratton’s cantankerous, ultrarich father on the 80’s sitcom Silver Spoons.

Hilton Edwards

Hilton Edwards and Orson Welles had a long and somewhat checkered relationship. It began, as did many of Welles’s longterm relationships, when Welles was young and in need of work, and continued when he was the one giving the work and producing and directing his own projects.

Edwards, along with his longterm lovel Micheal MacLiammor, was the co-director of the prestigious theatre The Gate in Dublin in the 1930’s. Orson auditioned for Edwards and MacLiammor and landed a part in Jew Suss, a part for which he would be lauded.

Orson hit it off with Edwards a bit more than MacLiammor, and Edwards appeared at some of Orson’s Shakespeare festivals at Todd. Said Orson later, “Hilton was a born hetero. And our friendship was the friendship of two men, with no sexual overtones. I think that bothered Micheal, that put him out of it, you see--the worst threat you can imagine.”

Later, MacLiammor would appear in Welles’s near-fiasco filming of Othello; Hilton and he were still together, and when Welles delayed in paying MacLiammor, it caused a pitched conflict between the three.

Oja Kodar

A sculptor from Zagreb, Kodar made a good first impression on Welles upon meeting him in 1960. She was a free spirit and a talented artist. She was also gorgeous, and served as a sort of muse for Welles, who dreamed up various projects to be vehicles for her, all unfinished.

The most involved was a movie long in development and never delivered, The Other Side of the Wind. Oja Kodar’s involvement in this fiasco included trying to help secure financing, though it seemed to Welles she was pocketing some of the money and reporting to him failed attempts.

Other friends

Some others with whom Welles was either a longtime friend, close friend, or frequent collaborator included the actor Everett Sloane, the actress Agnes Moorehead, Charlton Heston, Micheal MacLiammor, and Marlene Dietrich.


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