Orson Welles: Timeline

boscutti orson welles timeline

1915: Born as George Orson Welles on May 6 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His father, Richard, is an inventor and his mother, Beatrice, a pianist and former suffragette. The family move to Chicago a year later.

1919: His mother and father separate.

1924: Taken to his dying mother’s bedside in May.

1927: His father finally succumbs to alcoholism, orphaning the son with whom he had travelled the world. Welles subsequently claims his father had committed suicide. He is made ward of Dr Maurice Bernstein of Chicago.

1931: Arrives in Galway, where, after hiking through the Irish countryside, he presents himself at Dublin’s Gate theatre as a visiting New York star. He is offered, and accepted, a place in the company. Wrote home to declare that John Barrymore should step back because he, Orson Welles, has arrived. Micheal MacLiammoir, his partner at the Gate, says: “He knew that he was precisely what he himself would have been had God consulted him on the subject of his birth.”

1934: Marries his first wife, Virginia Nicolson. Directs his first film, “Hearts of Age,” aged 19, starring his wife. Makes his New York stage debut as Tybalt in “Romeo and Juliet.”

1936: Meets John Houseman and directs an acclaimed all-black production of Macbeth in Harlem for the Federal Theatre Project. The production, which becomes known as the ‘Voodoo Macbeth’ because of its setting, Haiti, is a huge success.

1937: Directs political opera “The Cradle will Rock” for the Federal Theatre Project. When funding is withdrawn, the production is cancelled but Welles instigates an impromptu performance at another theatre. Welles and Houseman leave the Federal Theatre Project and set up the Mercury Theatre. First production is Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” set in a fascist state.

1938: His second film, “Too Much Johnson,” is to be inserted into a play of the same name but is never shown publicly. The only known print of the film is destroyed in 1970.

1938: Birth of his first child, Christopher, a girl. After four hit plays in six months, Welles makes the cover of Time. Welles shocks America with his adaptation of HG Wells’s “The War of the Worlds” on Halloween night. “I wish I could convey the atmosphere… the background of this… fantastic scene.” These are the first words of a broadcast which terrifies its audience by sounding like a news bulletin, not a play. His contract ensures that CBS, who broadcast it, had to deal with any resultant lawsuits.

1939: Signs a 63-page contract with RKO to act, direct, write and produce two films. He racks up 311,425 air miles fulfilling film and radio commitments on both coasts. He watches John Ford’s “Stagecoach” over and over to initiate himself in the language of film before embarking on his first feature.

1941: “Citizen Kane” is nominated for nine Oscars. It picks up only one, for best screenplay, though fellow nominees, in response to the film’s attack on William Randolph Hearst, boo its category announcements. It goes on to lose RKO $150,000, a record for the period.

1942: “The Magnificent Ambersons” is butchered by the studio after Welles dallies in Rio for a film, “It’s All True,” which entails vast amounts of filming but no end product.

1943: Marries Rita Hayworth after calling off plans to wed Dolores Del Rio. They have a daughter, Rebecca.

1944: Welles makes a powerful Mr. Rochester in “Jane Eyre.” He is paid $100,000, the same sum he received to act, direct, write and star in “Citizen Kane.”

1946: Directs himself in “The Stranger,” with Edward G Robinson and Loretta Young.

1947: Makes “The Lady from Shanghai” with Hayworth. A brief fling with unknown starlet Marilyn Monroe ends with an angry husband (not hers), wrongly convinced that Welles is with his wife, bursting in on Welles and Monroe and thumping the filmmaker in the jaw.

1948: Films “Macbeth” in three weeks, playing the lead. Divorces Hayworth on December 1.

1949: Plays Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s “The Third Man,” whose famous cuckoo clock speech was written by him. The film has been voted the best British film ever. He also plays the Harry Lime character in a radio series, “The Lives of Harry Lime.”

1951: Appears as himself in top TV show “I Love Lucy” in the episode “Lucy Meets Orson Welles.”

1955: First attempt to make a film of “Don Quixote,” which he continues to film periodically for decades afterwards, never completing the project. Directs himself in “Mr Arkadin,” sometimes known as “Confidential Report.” Marries Paola Mori.

1956: Plays Father Mapple in a memorable pulpit scene in John Huston’s “Moby Dick.” He could have made a magnificent Captain Ahab, but his weight is such that the usual joke is: ‘Does he play the whale?’

1958: Directs himself in “Touch of Evil,” which becomes famous for its opening tracking shot and for Welles’ grotesque ruin of a police chief, Hank Quinlan.

1959: Played Captain Hart in a two-hander with Curt Jurgens, “Ferry to Hong Kong.”

1960: Directs Laurence Olivier in Eugène Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros”. Welles says of Olivier: ‘He’s always very sinister and does strange things.’

1962: Directs his own adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.”

1966: Plays Cardinal Wolsey in “A Man For All Seasons,” which won six Oscars. Plays Falstaff in “Chimes at Midnight,” the best of his Shakespeare films.

1967: Among the many low points in Welles’ acting career to fund his own films, he appears in Michael Winner’s “I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname.” He also appears in “Casino Royale,” the worst James Bond film ever made.

1970: Plays General Dreedle in “Catch-22.”

1972: Plays Long John Silver in “Treasure Island.”

1973: Hosts “Orson Welles’ Great Mysteries” for TV. Makes a typically flamboyant documentary about forgery called “F for Fake.”

1975: Receives the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement award. Narrates “Bugs Bunny Superstar.”

1977: Declines the chance to be the voice of Darth Vader in “Star Wars,” a character eventually made famous by James Earl Jones.

1979: Plays Lew Lord in “The Muppet Movie.”

1981: Narrates Mel Brooks’ “History of the World, Part 1.”

1982: Makes a three-part interview special for Arena with Alan Yentob as the interviewer.

1984: Receives the DW Griffith award by the Directors Guild of America.

1985: Makes “Orson Welles’ Magic Show” for TV. Dies on October 10, in Hollywood, of a heart attack, aged 70, after filming an interview on “The Merv Griffin Show.”

About Stefano Boscutti

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