"We know a remote farm in Lincolnshire where Mrs. Buckley lives. Every July, peas grow there..."
Actor, writer, director, artist, young genius, and patron saint of Large Hams.
Welles started his career on the stage because of his confidence and chutzpah. From there, he came to do the Mercury Radio Theater with a regular troupe. The highlight of his career there was his 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds, which was so convincing that people actually believed aliens had landed in New Jersey. (This story, albeit true, is often highly exaggerated. There were no riots.)
From there, he made his first movie for RKO Pictures, Citizen Kane. He got complete artistic control; he directed it, produced it, wrote at least some of it, and played the lead. Citizen Kane was a groundbreaking film, generally considered one of, if not the best of all time, OF ALL TIME! - so much so that it's created Hype Aversion. It's very enjoyable despite that.
Unfortunately, the film tanked at the box office, as Charles Foster Kane was thought to be Inspired By William Randolph Hearst, who was still alive and better at maintaining his power than Kane was. When a large percentage of the papers are against your film, it needs heavy promotion from the studio to succeed. Since Hearst was still alive, it didn't get it. It was Vindicated by History about two decades too late.
Welles went on to try to film The Magnificent Ambersons; he intended it to be an epic. This had a considerably higher budget than Citizen Kane, and great ambition. Unfortunately, he took too long, his Auteur License was revoked and Executive Meddling came into play; about half the footage was cut out of the film and probably Lost Forever. The remainder of the film suggests what sort of greatness the complete work would've had, but didn't have the probable full measure.
Welles made several films after those two, including F for Fake, Touch of Evil, and The Trial. Although nothing he did was as well known as Citizen Kane, many of his movies were excellent and still remain worth seeing.
After burning almost every bridge in Hollywood, he was reduced to doing mostly voiceover work... most infamously for a frozen peas commercial. His tagline in commericals for the Paul Masson winery, "We will sell no wine... before its time," became a meme in The Seventies. A bit of a Grammar Nazi.
He was rather overweight in his later years, leading to many jokes relating to the fact that his final role would be that of a planet. What's funny is that his last role really was a planet.
Maurice LaMarche can do a spot-on impression of him. Has also been played by actors Vincent D'Onofrio in Ed Wood (with the voice dubbed over by LaMarche) and Christian McKay in the Richard Linklater film Me and Orson Welles.
His career provides examples of:
- Animated Adaptation: The Brain from Animaniacs and Pinky and The Brain, right down to one segment which parodied the infamous frozen pea commercial.
- Backhanded Apology: When he apologized for War of the Worlds, he said he was stunned that people believed it was true. He basically called them stupid.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: As detailed in F for Fake, Welles's first professional acting job was when he was touring Europe at age 16 and ran out of money in Dublin. He then entered the famous Gate Theatre and demanded a part, claiming to be a famous American Broadway star. He got one.
- Big Eater: Legendarily so. His average dinner consisted of two steaks cooked rare and a pint of scotch, and at one time he ate 18 hot dogs in one sitting at a Los Angeles hot dog stand. This undoubtedly led to his later obesity and was a common source of jokes at his expense, including from himself:
"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people."
- Clock Tower: The Stranger.
- Dyeing for Your Art: Redhead Rita Hayworth went blonde for The Lady From Shanghai.
- Executive Meddling: Many of his films after Citizen Kane. Most infamously, The Magnificent Ambersons was cut by 40 minutes and had a new ending added on, and Touch of Evil was re-cut by the studio.
- Fake Brit: in his Shakespeare adaptations Chimes at Midnight and Macbeth.
- The Film of the Book: The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady From Shanghai, Touch of Evil, The Trial
- Film Noir: The Stranger, The Lady From Shanghai, and Touch of Evil.
- Although not a straight-up noir, his adaptation of The Trial still makes use of much of the mainstays of the genre, especially in terms of visuals and character archetypes.
- Franz Kafka: The Trial. Still probably the best adaptation of a Kafka work.
- Grammar Nazi: His mounting rage when a commercial director kept trying to make him read some awful, awful copy has achieved immortality as an Internet audio file.
- Hall of Mirrors: The memorable climax to The Lady From Shanghai.
- Hilariously Drunken Outtakes: "AAAHH..!... the... Ff-f-rencchampagne..."
- Also, this.
- I Love Lucy: Welles guest starred on an episode helpfully titled "Lucy Meets Orson Welles", which among other things referenced his love of magic and his infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Welles was also contracted to a Desilu pilot which ended in creative differences between himself and Desi Arnez.
- This could be either Hilarious in Hindsight or a Funny Aneurysm Moment, depending on how you look at it: Lucille Ball and Orson Welles were longtime friends from their mutual work in radio, and before making Citizen Kane, Welles pitched a comic thriller based on the novel The Smiler With the Knife with Ball in the lead role, but it was vetoed due to the studio's belief that Lucille Ball was a washed-up B-actress with no comedic talent.
Welles: You mean all those stories of what she did (to celebrities) in Hollywood and Europe were true?
- Large Ham: more in his later years as a character actor.
- Magnum Opus Dissonance: He found Kane to be an assemblage of gimmicks that painted an unfairly mean picture of some real people. The Trial and Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight were his favourites of his works.
- Missing Episode:
- The Other Side of the Wind, a late period Welles film that was supposedly "96% complete" in the 1970s but remains unreleased due to legal disputes.
- Falstaff is also tied up in rights issues, preventing people from seeing a damn good movie (bootlegs are available if you can find the right sites)
- The Magnificent Ambersons: Welles' cut was changed drastically by the studio without his permission. To rub salt on the wound, they burned the footage they removed so Welles couldn't change it back. Editor Robert Wise insisted that the test audiences were literally laughing at how bad it was, ninety percent of the score cards calling it terrible... and the other ten percent calling the film as a masterpiece. The studio simply couldn't gamble that ninety percent of its audience were wrong. The destruction of the footage, however gives us one of the most maddening what-ifs of cinema history.
- Mockumentary: The Trope Maker, with his famous radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds.
- Money, Dear Boy: The only reason he was in Transformers (or commercials).
- Narrator: Welles in The Magnificent Ambersons and F for Fake. Also applies to many of the jobs he did for money.
- The Oner: Two in Citizen Kane--the long shot into Susan's nightclub and the tracking shot up the ladder as Susan is singing--a four minute take in The Stranger that starts on a dirt road and follows Kindler and Meineke into the woods, and most famously the opening shot of Touch of Evil, a three minute, thirty second continuous take.
- One-Scene Wonder: His performance as Cardinal Wolsey in A Man for All Seasons used to be the Trope Namer, and any number of his character roles could fall into this trope.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: His first name is "George". According to him, even he didn't know this until he was in elementary school.
- Phony Newscast: The first half of the War of the Worlds radio dramatization involved one of these.
- Platonic Life Partners: With Marlene Dietrich
- Posthumous Collaboration: Welles performed magic on stage with David Copperfield over a decade after his death. see for yourself
- Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Interesting aversion; his production of Macbeth, set in a Hatian court invoking Voodoo and with an all-black cast, put him on the map as a theatrical prodigy.
- Reality Subtext: Welles knew Anthony Perkins was gay, and made The Trial a Coming Out Story adaptation.
- Re Cut: A "director's cut" of Touch of Evil based on a contemporary Welles memo of how he wanted the film to be is now available on video.
- Similarly, there are at least five cuts of Mr. Arkadin floating around out there, three of which are included in the Criterion DVD release.
- Sherlock Scan: Being a trained magician, he was very good at this.
- Star Trek the Motion Picture: Narrated the original trailers for the film.
- Funny Aneurysm Moment: Welles apparently had much trouble calling it "A Robert Wise Film", as Wise had been the one in charge of butchering The Magnificent Ambersons and Welles had never forgiven him for it.
- Those Wacky Nazis: The Stranger, in which actor/director Welles plays a Nazi war criminal hiding out in America under a fake identity.
- Troubled Production: Most of the films he made, or unsuccessfully tried to make, in his later career.
- Video Credits: Citizen Kane and The Magnficent Ambersons.
- Wag the Director: Even when doing paycheck work, Welles still insisted on rewriting his dialogue, and in a few cases, directing his own scenes. This generally resulted in him being the most memorable thing in the movie.
- What Could Have Been: Was considered for the voice of Darth Vader, passed over because his voice was "too recognizable" in favour of James Earl Jones.
- Was also considered for the part of Hugo Drax in Moonraker.
- Pitched an adaptation of Heart of Darkness as his film-directing debut before settling on Citizen Kane, but RKO got nervous about the budget.
- There was a hoax a few years back where somebody claimed they'd found footage of a Batman movie directed by and starring Welles in the 1940's; youtube has the full preview, cunningly edited together from other films and serials with a full ensemble cast of contemporary celebrities.
- In addition he left many film projects incomplete at the time of his death, including a film adaptation of Don Quixote and a film starring his friend and fellow director Peter Bogdanovich
- William Shakespeare: Made his name in the 1930s with memorable stage adaptations of Julius Caesar and Macbeth. After going into Hollywood he made similarly well-regarded films of Othello and Macbeth as well as Chimes at Midnight, a reworking of the Henry IV plays.
"Don't you think you really want to say "July" over the snow? Isn't that the fun of it?"
- In that short span of time, he blasted the movie. "I play a big toy who beats up all the little toys"