Orson Welles: Little Orphan Orson

Orson Welles

Boscutti - Orson Welles - Writer Producer Director Actor Orson Welles portrait

There are a lot of autobiographical elements to “Citizen Kane.” Orson Welles loses his mother when he is nine years old (or seven depending on who he is telling the story to) and his father when he is fifteen.

When Welles is six, his parents divorced and his mother takes him to Chicago, immersing him in the theater and classical music.

In 1924, she contracts hepatitis which seriously damages her liver. She falls into a coma and four days later she dies at a Chicago hospital at the age of forty-two. He tells people she died on his birthday. His father dies alone and in despair from alcohol.

After this, Welles became the ward of family friend Dr. Maurice Bernstein. It’s this doctor who declared Orson a genius at eighteen months. Bernstein is the last name of the only major character in “Citizen Kane” who receives a generally positive portrayal. As Kane’s personal business manager Mr. Bernstein remains a loyal employee and friend to the end.

Everett Sloane who plays Mr. Bernstein is paid $2,400 by RKO for shaving his head. That’s In 1940 dollars. So around $42,000 today.

When writing the script, Herman Mankiewicz incorporates many of Welles’ traits into Kane, such as his volatile temper and hankering for pretty girls.

What other traits can we build in? What other weaknesses? What other failings?

Overdetermined and willfully ambitious? Prideful? Arrogant? Reckless? Possibly insane?

How does he triumphantly capitalizes on his most annoying qualities?

What are his positive qualities? Energy? Vibrancy?

What is his genius?


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