Orson's acting debut came at the innocent age of 2, in an opera production of Madame Butterfly. Orson's mother died when he was only six, so he spent his younger years with his father, travelling the world. His only formal education came at the age of ten, when he spent five years at the Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois, where his love of theatre was fed and encouraged by headmaster, Roger Hill. Upon finishing there at age 16, he traveled the world again, acting where he could and gaining popularity, often concealing his age in order to get jobs.
Once Orson returned stateside, he started his Broadway career, courtesy of Katharine Cornell. Much like the rest of his career, his reception was hot and cold-some loved how large his presence was on stage, and others found him to hog the spotlight. While pursuing his Broadway work, Orson supplemented his income with radio performances, including the voice of the wizard, "The Shadow".
Orson was an innovator and master of the theatrical world. During his years on the radio, he was so convincing in his presentation that he frightened a nation into thinking an actual Martian invasion was happening in New Jersey. Despite his genius, his films were often disliked by critics, and his erratic behavior off-screen earned him a negative reputation.
His film and theatre productions were approached from new vantage points, often controversially like facist presentation of Julius Caesar for The Mercury Theater, which disbanded in 1939 and later his all-black cast of MacBeth. Orson took his creativity to the West Coast, putting together his Mercury production company. One of his best known roles was in the film he also wrote and directed, Citizen Kane, widely considered one of the greatest films of all time, though it did not gain many accolades until years later. In fact, it seems that many believe critics were too harsh to many during the middle of the twentieth century, and chief among those wronged was Welles.
Orson spent much of his adult life around Europe, first in Spain for many years, then in Italy and Morocco, acting as he was able, and producing films here and there. He was discouraged and troubled with money after the failure of his film, "Around The World in 80 Days", which he had funded substantially himself.
Orson was a large man, standing 6'2" and weighing over 200 pounds, with a personality that was just as large, as well as brash. His flat feet kept him from serving in the Army during World War II, but he was able to tour as a magician to buoy troop moral. His act included sawing Marlene Dietrich in half.
Orson's first marriage was to Virginia Nicholson, and ended in divorce. They had one son together, Christopher.
Orson's second wife was his costar from his movie, "The Lady From Shanghai", Rita Hayworth. They were married in 1943 and divorced not long after the movie was released in 1948. They had one daughter together, Rebecca.
Orson's third wife was Paola Mori, an Italian actress who co-starred with him in his film, "Mr. Arkadian". They were married in 1955 and had one daughter together, Beatrice.
Orson died October 10, 1985 in Los Angeles, California of a heart attack. He was buried in Chapel of the Pines, Hollywood, California.
Awards and honors
1933: Stage production of "Twelfth Night" for the Todd School for Boys received first prize from the Chicago Drama League after competition at the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933 Chicago World's Fair.
1942: "Citizen Kane" was nominated for numerous prizes at the 1941 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor in a Leading Role. The only Oscar won, however, was Best Original Screenplay, which Welles shared with Herman J. Mankiewicz.
1943: "The Magnificent Ambersons" was nominated for four 1942 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
1945: On May 24th, the Interracial Film and Radio Guild honored Welles for his contributions to interracial harmony through radio at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
1947: "The Stranger" was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
1952: "Othello" won the Palme d'Or at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival.
1959: For their ensemble work in Compulsion, Welles, Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell shared the prize for Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.
1968: Nominated for Best Foreign Actor in a Leading Role at the 21st British Academy Film Awards for his performance in "Chimes at Midnight" (released as "Falstaff" in the US).
1970: Given the first Career Golden Lion award in the Venice Film Festival.
1970: Given an Academy Honorary Award for "superlative and distinguished service in the making of motion pictures." Welles did not attend the ceremony: "I didn't go because I feel like a damn fool at those things. I feel foolish, really foolish. ... I made piece of film and said that I was in Spain, and thanked them."
1975: Given the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award.
1976: Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Album for "Great American Documents", shared with Helen Hayes, Henry Fonda and James Earl Jones.
1978: Presented with the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Career Achievement Award.
1979: Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Album for the original motion picture soundtrack for "Citizen Kane".
1979: Inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
1982: In Paris on February 23rd, presented with the Order of Commander of the Légion d'honneur, the highest civilian decoration in France, by President François Mitterrand.
1982: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture at the Golden Globe Awards for his role in "Butterfly", the same role that had him nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor, won by Ed McMahon in the same film, which also won the award for Worst Picture.
1982: Won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording for his role on "Donovan's Brain".
1983: Made a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.
1983: Awarded a Fellowship of the British Film Institute in 1983.
1984: Presented the D. W. Griffith Award, the Directors Guild of America highest honor.
1993: The 1992 audiobook version of "This is Orson Welles", by Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Album.
1998: In 1998, and again in 2007, the American Film Institute ranked "Citizen Kane" as the greatest American movie. These other Welles films were nominated for the AFI list: "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942, director/producer/screenwriter); "The Third Man" (1949, actor); "Touch of Evil" (1958, actor/director/screenwriter); and "A Man for All Seasons" (1966, actor).
1999: Ranked as the 16th Greatest Male Star of All Time by The American Film Institute.
2002: A highly divergent genus of Hawaiian spiders Orsonwelles is named in his honor.
2008: A statue of Welles is sculpted by Oja Kodar and erected in the city of Split.
2013: On February 10, the Woodstock Opera House in Woodstock, Illinois, dedicated its stage to Welles, honoring the site of his American debut as a professional theatre director.
↑ "Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KXQX-8MB : 8 May 2019), George Orson Welles, Immigration; citing 1942, Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro).
↑ "Vermont, St. Albans Canadian Border Crossings, 1895-1954," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QK3B-C8Q5 : 16 August 2019), Orson Welles, 1929; citing M1464, Soundex Index to Canadian Border Entries through the St. Albans, Vermont, District, 1895-1924, 558, NARA microfilm publications M1461, M1463, M1464, and M1465 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, publication year); FHL microfilm 2,155,328.
↑ "New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:24JX-9SY : 12 March 2018), Orson Welles, 1932; citing Immigration, New York, New York, United States, NARA microfilm publication T715 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
↑ "Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KCXM-8BN : 8 May 2019), null, Immigration; citing 1942, Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro).
↑ "United States Census, 1920," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MJQH-Y1C : accessed 1 May 2020), George O Wells in household of Richard H Wells, Chicago Ward 21, Cook (Chicago), Illinois, United States; citing ED 1158, sheet 1A, line 43, family 13, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 331; FHL microfilm 1,820,331.
↑ Ancestry.com. U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; WWII Draft Registration Cards for California, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 1917 Ancestry Record 2238 #18077693
↑ Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 01 May 2020), memorial page for Orson Welles (6 May 1915–10 Oct 1985), Find a Grave Memorial no. 3587, citing Antonio Ordóñez Estate Grounds, Ronda, Provincia de Málaga, Andalucia, Spain ; Maintained by Find A Grave .Find A Grave: Memorial #3587
↑ Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2014. Social Security Administration; Washington D.C., USA; Social Security Death Index, Master File Ancestry Record 3693 #66332351
The New England Historical & Genealogical Register, 1847-2011
Web: Obituary Daily Times Index, 1995-Current
"New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:242R-7NL : 12 March 2018), Orson Welles, 1942; citing Immigration, New York, New York, United States, NARA microfilm publication T715 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
"Louisiana, New Orleans Passenger Lists, 1820-1945," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KZQL-TSN : 12 March 2018), Orson Welles, 1927; citing Ship Atenas, affiliate film #116, NARA microfilm publications M259 and T905 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 2,311,466.