Best Known For
Orson Welles wrote, directed and starred in the film Citizen Kane, among others, which remains one of the most influential films ever made.
Watch a short video about Orson Welles and how he spooked America with his radio rendition of the "War of the Worlds" in 1938.
On October 30, 1938, a young Orson Welles performed a radio version of "The War of the Worlds" presented as a news bulletin.
Full trailer for the documentary film "Citizen Hearst" about William Randolph Hearst and the Hearst media empire.
Watch a short video about Steven Spielberg and uncover the ways that this director used his street smarts to learn the fundamentals of film making.
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Born on May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Orson Welles began his career as a stage actor before going on to radio, creating his unforgettable version of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. In film, he left his artistically indelible mark with such films as Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. He died of a heart attack in Los Angeles, California, on October 10, 1985.
"Movie directing is a perfect refuge for the mediocre."
A pioneer in both film and radio, Orson Welles was born on May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His parents, Richard and Beatrice, were both incredibly bright people who introduced their son to worlds that went far beyond his Wisconsin roots.
Through his father, an inventor who'd made a fortune inventing a carbide lamp for bicycles, Welles met actors and sportsmen. His mother was a concert pianist who taught Welles how to play the piano and the violin.
But his childhood was far from easy. Welles' parents separated when he was 4, and Beatrice died from jaundice when he was 9. When Richard Welles' successful business began to falter, he turned to the bottle. He died when Orson was 13.
Stability was found in the care of Maurice Bernstein, who took Welles in and became his official guardian when he was 15. Bernstein saw Welles' creative talents and enrolled him in the Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois, where Orson discovered his passion for the theater.
Following the Todd School, Welles left for Dublin, Ireland, paying his way with a small inheritance he'd received. There, he captivated audiences in a production of Jew Suss at the Gate Theatre.
Welles had announced his arrival in Dublin by declaring himself a Broadway star. By the age of 19, the brash and confident young actor made his Broadway debut with his role as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. His performance caught the attention of director John Houseman, who cast Welles in his Federal Theatre Project.
The Houseman-Welles partnership proved to be an important one. In 1937, the 21-year-old Welles, fresh off directing an all-black cast in a version of Macbeth, teamed up with Houseman to form the Mercury Theatre. Its first production, an adaption of Julius Caesar in contemporary dress and with tones of Fascist Italy, was a huge success. Several more acclaimed stage productions followed before the Mercury moved into radio and began producing a weekly program, "The Mercury Theatre on the Air," which ran on CBS from 1938 to 1940, and again in 1946.
Critical praise was heaped upon the series soon after the program launched, but ratings were low. All that changed on October 30, 1938, when Orson Welles aired his adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds.
The program simulated a news broadcast, and Welles, as its narrator, described in breathless detail the alien invasion and attack on New Jersey. The program included news reports and eyewitness accounts, and sounded so real that listeners panicked over what they perceived to be a real event. When the truth came out, duped believers were outraged.
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In the 1940s and 1950s, the United States was in the grips of a "red scare." Many prominent individuals suspected of sympathizing with liberal or humanitarian causes were branded a communist threat, and even accused of espionage. Hollywood was a major focus of the accusations, and after 10 actors refused to testify in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the blacklist was created. Hundreds of actors, actresses, directors, screenwriters and other entertainment professionals were barred from working. Here are some of the famous people who were on the Hollywood blacklist.
Blacklisted 25 people in this group
Actors Turned Directors 56 people in this group
Best Screenplay Oscar Winners 34 people in this group