Orson Welles

Orson Welles

Orson Welles was born in Kenosha, Winconsin, on 6th May, 1915. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and worked briefly as a reporter before travelling to Ireland where he made his acting debut at the Gate Theatre in Dublin.

After touring Spain and Morocco he returned to the United States where he appeared as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, and Marchbanks in Candida. In 1934 Welles directed Macbeth for the Negro People's Theatre, as part of the Federal Theatre Project. He also directed The Cradle Will Rock, a musical about the tyranny of capitalism written by the Marxist composer, Marc Blitzstein.

In 1937 Welles founded the Mercury Theatre where he presented a modern-dress version of Julius Caesar. He also produced the controversial radio version of War of the Worlds. In 1940 Welles moved to Hollywood and made Citizen Kane. Based on the life of the newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, it is considered one of the best movies in the history of the cinema. Hearst attempted to get the movie banned and although he failed to do this he did make it difficult for the film to be exhibited.

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Welles's film about America at the turn of the century, was also well received. This was followed by filmed versions of MacBeth (1948) and Othello (1951).

After the Second World War the House of Un-American Activities Committee began an investigation into the entertainment industry. In its first three years the HUAC managed to get a large number of people blacklisted for their political views.

On 22nd June, 1950, three former FBI agents and a right-wing television producer, Vincent Harnett, published Red Channels, a pamphlet listing the names of 151 writers, directors and performers who they claimed had been members of subversive organizations before the Second World War but had not so far been blacklisted. This included Welles who had been criticised for working with members of the Communist Party such as Marc Blitzstein in the 1930s.

Welles did not direct another film until The Touch of Evil in 1958. This was followed by The Trial (1962), The Immortal Story (1968), Chimes at Midnight (1965) and F for Fake (1973). Orson Welles died on 10th October 1985.