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A life in pictures: Orson Welles

BY Anna Walker

1st Jan 2015 Film & TV

A life in pictures: Orson Welles

An actor, director, composer and producer in his professional life and an artist, ladies man and activist in his personal life, Orson Welles was always a force to be reckoned with. The 11 rarely seen photos below illustrate the life of one of the most enigmatic talents the world stage has ever known. 

1. Orson Welles at the Mercury Theatre


When Orson Welles was just 22 he founded the Mercury Theatre in New York with producer John Houseman.

Theatre critic Richard France commented that "all the Mercury productions bore the credit lin, 'Production by Orson Welles', implying that he functioned not only as the director, but as designer, dramatist, and, most often, principal actor as well."


2. Recording War of the Worlds 

Performed as an episode of The Mercury Theatre on Air radio show, Welles's War of the Worlds adaptation was created as a Halloween special in 1938. So incredible was Welles's performance, that the broadcast cause mass panic. 

CBS supervisor Davidson Taylor received a telephone call at 8.32pm. He had been ordered to immediately interrupt the broadcast to confirm that the content was fictional. 

Actor Stefan Schnabel recalled the evening. "A few policemen trickled in, then a few more. Soon the room was full of policemen and a massive struggle was going on between the police, page boys and CBS executives, who were trying to prevent the cops from busting in and stopping the show. It was a show to witness."

Here Welles apologises to the press for the uproar:


3. Welles averting his eyes during his magic show

In 1943, along with his long-term friend Joe Cotten, Welles invested $40,000 of his own money into a show that was part magic show, part circus and part big top spectacle. He intended it as a show to entertain the troops of the Second World War, so members of the armed forces were permitted entry to the show for free, while the general public were charged an entrance fee. 

The show entertained more than 1,000 service members a night and all Welles's proceeds went to the War Assistance League.


4. Celebrating Rita Hayworth's birthday on board Erol Flynn's yacht 

On September 7, 1943, Orson Welles (then 28) and Rita Hayworth (25) eloped straight from a day's shooting for Colombia musical Cover Girl to marry in secret. 

Although their stormy marriage lasted only four years, in his final interview Welles said Hayworth had been "one of the dearest and sweetest women that ever lived…I was lucky enough to have been with her longer than any of the other men in her life…she was a wonderful wife"


5. Guest starring in I Love Lucy 


Pictured appearing as himself alongside Lucille Ball in an episode of I Love Lucy. The show was creatively titled Lucy Meets Orson Welles.


6. Pretending to be a bull with Rita Hayworth


When Rita Hayworth died, several love letters penned by Orson Welles were discovered hidden in her makeup case.

In the letters, he refers to her as "dearest angel girl" and explains how much he pines for her whilst separated for filming. 


7. With his wife and daughter

Orson Welles had four children; a son named Michael and three daughters named Christopher, Beatrice and Rebecca. 

Christopher has written a memoir about growing up with Welles for a father. It was certainly an unusual childhood. When she was just eight, Welles took her for lunch and dismissed her request for a hamburger and milkshake. Instead, he insisted she order oysters and repeatedly cried "down the hatch" throughout the meal. 


8. Photographing Rio Carnival 

Orson Welles photographing Rio Carnival
Image via Life

Whilst filming for his unfinished film It's All True in Brazil, Welles paid a visit to the four-day Rio Carnival. Welles got stuck in, grabbing one of his crew's 16mm cameras and diving into the crowd for close shots.

In later years, the filmmaker remarked to his biographer Barbara Lemming; "Who knows what happened? I was all covered in confetti trying to pretend I like carnivals, you know. I hate carnivals…"


9. Removing his Citizen Kane makeup

In 1939, RKO offered Welles a contract that promised to give him complete artistic control—unheard of for an untried director. After rejecting his first two film proposals, they finally agreed on the third. 

Frequently cited as the best film ever made, Welles co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in Citizen Kane. He was just 26. 


10. Laughing with Joe Cotten 

Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles were best friends for most of their adult lives. When Welles died in 1985, Cotten did not attend the memorial service, saying; "he did not want a funeral…He wanted no memorial services". Instead, Cotten sent a short message ending with the last two lines of a Shakespearian sonnet that Orson had sent to him for his last birthday.

"But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end."


11. Trimming his facial hair 

Orson Welles passed away after suffering a heart attack on the morning of October 11, 1985. His small funeral, attended by a select group of close friends, was the first time his three daughters had ever met. 

Within days, his wider circle of friends began planning a larger, public memorial tribute. It took place at the Director's Guild of American on November 2. 

In 1987, the cremated remains of Welles and his third wife Paola Mori were taken to Ronda in Spain. There they were buried on a friend's estate, inside a picturesque well covered with flowers


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