George Orson Welles was an American actor, director, writer and producer who worked in theater, radio and film. He is best remembered for his innovative work in all three media: in theater, most notably Caesar (1937), a groundbreaking Broadway adaptation of Julius Caesar; in radio, the 1938 broadcast "The War of the Worlds", one of the most famous in the history of radio; and in film, Citizen Kane (1941), consistently ranked as one of the all-time greatest films.
He is considered not only one of the greatest directors of film but also that of the theater, as well as a fine actor, screenwriter, broadcaster and producer.
George was born May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, son of Richard Head Welles (b. Richard Hodgdon Wells, November 12, 1872, near St. Joseph, Missouri; d. December 28, 1930, Chicago, Illinois) and Beatrice Ives Welles (b. September 1, 1881, Springfield, Illinois; d. May 10, 1924, Chicago). He was named after his paternal great-grandfather, influential Kenosha attorney Orson S. Head, and his brother George Head.
He descends from seven Mayflower passengers; Francis Cooke, John Cooke, Richard Warren, John Alden, William & Alice Mullins and Priscilla Mullins.
Awards and honors
1933: Welles's stage production of Twelfth Night for the Todd School for Boys received first prize:330 from the Chicago Drama League after competition at the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933, the 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 24, 1945, the Interracial Film and Radio Guild honored Welles for his contributions to interracial harmony through radio. Presented at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, the guild's second annual awards ceremony also honored Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Norman Corwin, Bing Crosby, Bette Davis, Lena Horne, James Wong Howe, Earl Robinson, Nathan Straus and Miguel C. Torres.
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, Orson Welles, Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell shared the prize for Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.
1968: Welles was nominated for Best Foreign Actor in a Leading Role at the 21st British Academy Film Awards for his performance in Chimes at Midnight.
1970: Welles was given the first Career Golden Lion award in the Venice Film Festival.
1970: Welles was 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: Welles was 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: Welles was 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: Welles was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
1982: In Paris on February 23, 1982, President François Mitterrand presented Welles with the Order of Commander of the Légion d'honneur, the highest civilian decoration in France.
1982: Welles was 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: Welles won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording for his role on Donovan's Brain.
1983: Welles was made a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.
1983: Welles was awarded a Fellowship of the British Film Institute in 1983.
1984: In 1984 the Directors Guild of America presented Welles with its greatest honor, the D. W. Griffith Award.
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 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: The American Film Institute ranked Welles as the 16th Greatest Male Star of All Time.
2002: A highly divergent genus of Hawaiian spiders Orsonwelles is named in his honor.
2008: In 2008, a statue of Welles sculpted by Oja Kodar was erected in the city of Split.
2013: On February 10, 2013, the Woodstock Opera House in Woodstock, Illinois, dedicated its stage to Welles, honoring the site of his American debut as a professional theatre director.