Orson Welles: Introduction

Best known as the director of Citizen Kane and for the radio broadcast of H.G. Wells's "War of the Worlds," Orson Welles was a polymath who excelled as an actor, writer, director, and producer on radio, film, and television. In fact, his reach went so far as television commercials, and by the end of his life, he was a household name for his Paul Masson wine commercials ("we will sell no wine before its time.")

Welles was the director of (in addition to Citizen Kane) The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady From Shanghai, Touch of Evil, and Chimes At Midnight. In addition to playing major roles in some of these films, he also starred in the classic The Third Man and has more than a hundred screen acting credits to his name.

Orson Welles began his career on stage, directing plays under the Federal Theatre Project and then with his company Mercury Theatre.

He took the Mercury Theatre to the Air, becoming a radio celeb with broadcasts of productions of various contemporary and classic plays. Not long after first tackling this art form, he altered broadcasting history to some degree with the Oct. 30, 1938 broadcast of H.G. Welles' "War of The Worlds." The story of Martians having landed in New Jersey was taken as real by thousands of listeners nationwide, causing a panic. The "hoax," as it has been called by history, propelled Welles to bona fide stardom and some measure of infamy.

He wasn't in radio long before resolving to conquer Hollywood. His directorial debut, Citizen Kane  would go on to be widely considered the best American film of all time. It won Welles immediate acclaim for its discontinuous storytelling, its gorgeous shots, and its social commentary.

It is hard to follow up the greatest film ever made, and Welles's career after Kane is marked more by its ambition and variety than by commercial and critical success. He would eventually gain a reputation as an erstwhile genius, ex-husband of Rita Hayworth, and a domineering, imposing presence. After death, his legacy remains one of an ambitious, well-educated man, a visionary with ambition and spirit, an adventurer who conquered all the forms of mass media--a sort of renaissance man.

Orson Welles died on Oct. 11, 1985.


  1. I have been downloading and listening to Orson's Welles Old time radio shows. I was nine when he died and only had a vague knowledge of the 'War of the Worlds' radio show when I was little. I think he was a amazing actor and a (surprisingly) funny performer.

    1. Was privileged to see him during one of his stage appearances where he talked about his life and his work in a very informal setting. Someone asked him if he found living in Wisconsin to be an inspiring place to live and he replied: "Well, it inspired me to leave..."

  2. "War of the Worlds" was broadcast several years before I was born. I have been fascinated by it since I learned about it in high school. In fact, as I learned more and more about Orson Welles and his magnificent talents and voice, I felt drawn to him and his work. I do recall seeing the movie "War Of the Worlds." However, at the time I was simply much too young to appreciate it. I still prefer the radio broadcast of 1937. Mr. or Dr. Welles( he should be addressed as Doctor, in my opinion) was so multi-talented as to have been a genius. Did he have faults? I am sure he did. I am Roman Catholic, and as Jesus said, in so many words, I have not come for the righteous but for the sinners(all of us).
    Orson Welles was active many years ago and in a society like ours, memory fades quickly--too quickly. Those who study the theatre, motion pictures, radio broadcasts, etc. would do well to study the methods and accomplishments of Dr. Orson Welles. I hope I will get to meet Dr. Welles someday that never ends and where reality is totally celestial in the presence of a loving, compassionate, merciful, and almighty Supreme Being--that place where there is and never will be a "War Of the Worlds." June 14, 2013, Friday, 10:21 P.M., PDT

  3. I am curious to know if he ever saw the movie "Blood Simple" and commented on it.

  4. Orson Welles once appeared on The Tonight Show on the same program as
    Orson Bean. Welles noted that Bean's name was not originally Orson (actually Dallas Burrows),confirmed later on the same show by Bean.


  5. Welles was working on DON QUIZOTE intermittently until his death in 1985. The film was eventually edited by Jesús Franco and was released in 1992. It did not include all the footage shot for the film and received mixed reviews.


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