Orson Welles Essay Research Paper Orson WellesThe

Orson Welles Essay, Research Paper

Orson Welles

The term ‘genius’ was applied to him from the cradle, first by the man

who would vie with Orson’s father to nurture the talent all agreed resided in

the fragile boy.(Leaming, 3)

George Orson Welles was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin on May 6, 1915. He

was the second son of Richard Head Welles, an inventor, and his wife Beatrice

Ives, a concert pianist. His mother was the child of a wealthy family. She had

been brought up to revere artistic achievements, and began playing the piano,

professionally, only after her marriage broke up when Orson was six. A local

doctor, Russian-Jewish orthopedist named Maurice Bernstein, who was a passionate

admirer of Mrs. Welles, on first sight of the infant Orson declared him to be

without a doubt a genius. Bernstein showered Orson with gifts and virtually

took over the direction of his life, to such an extent that Orson called him

‘Dadda’. When Orson was four, his father moved his family to Chicago, possibly

to get away from Bernstein’s attentions. This plan failed when Bernstein almost

immediately followed them. Through Bernstein who was always forcing him to

perform, and through his mother musical talents, the young Orson quickly came

into contact with Chicago’s musical society and walked on in the Chicago Opera’s

production of ‘Samson and Delilah’, then in a more important role of Butterfly’s

love-child Trouble in ‘Madame Butterfly’. He also got a temporary job dressed

up as a rabbit at Marshall Fields.

Shortly after Orson’s sixth birthday his parent’s formally separated,

his father taking off and his mother remaing to pursue her music ambitions in

Chicago. Welles live most of his time with his mother and Dadda Bernstein, but

regularly traveled with his father on holidays.

His health effectively kept him out of school until he was eleven, so he

had acquired a lot of cultural groundings at home with his mother and the doctor.

Fears that he might prove ungovernable like his brother Richard, who had been

expelled from school by the age of ten and subsequently banished from home,

brought him in 1926 to enrollment in the Todd School for Boys at Woodstock,

Illinois, a few months after his mothers death from a liver condition at the age

of forty-three. The school was ideally equipped for the nurturing of a young

wayward genius.(Taylor) It was run by the proprietor, a terror rejoicing in the

name as ‘the King’.

Todd School had something of a tradition in drama, though mainly

lightweight revues, nativity plays and such. In this department Orson soon got

his own way. He was before long adapting, directing and starring in: ‘Doctor

Faustus’, ‘Everyman’, ‘Le Medicin Malgre Lui’, ‘Julius Caesar’ with Orson as

Cassius, ‘Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde’, with Orson as both. He also built and

managed a large puppet theater, writing his own melodramatic scripts and

directing his assistants with the utmost authority.

As he moved into his teens Orson was already well on his way to

becoming a legend. Everybody seemed to be convinced that he was extraordinary,

and quite possibly a genius in the making. But for all his outward reassurance,

the child lived in a constant fear of not living up to his parent’s expectations.

“I always felt I was letting them down. That’s why I worked so hard. That’s

the stuff that turned the motor.”(Leaming, 6) He would do anything for their

approval. He remembers that when he was very young his parents sent him on

errands to the other side of town. Terrified to go off alone, but wanting to

please them, the child repeatedly forced himself to do as they asked without

flinching. ” I was taught to feel secure, it was not in my character.”

It is important in looking at Welles’s arrival in Hollywood and his

extraordinary contract his agent Arnold Weissburger managed to get out of RKO to

be quite clear what the ‘it’ was. What Welles had done was to hit the headlines

with amazing consistency. From the black Macbeth onwards, Welles had shown an

uncanny knack, not only of delivering enough quality to keep the intellectual

audiences returning, but also of doing it in the most public and newsworthy way,

so that he was a name and had achieved a notoriety even with millions who had

never had the chance to sample his work. The talent was worth gambling on, even

in Hollywood.(Taylor, 41)

And that sort of gamble is just what Schaefer and RKO decided to take.

The very nature of Welles’s contract, which tied him to make two films, the

first by 1940, the second by 1941. Getting paid $100,000 for the first, and

$125,000 for the second, plus percentages of the profits after RKO had made back

that initial investment of $500,000 per picture. Orson would produce, write,

direct, and appear in both of these pictures which was news in itself, and

supported his public image of the wonder boy. In early February of 1939 Orson

began to work on the idea which was to become a milestone in motion picture

history, ‘Citizen Kane’. To help him he hired Herman J. Mankiewicz, successful

screenwriter, and more immediately a regular writer for the Welles radio shows

and collaborator on “The Smiler with a Knife” script.

Apart from anything else, there are very clear autobiographical

connotations in Welles’s picture of Charles Foster Kane. The most obvious is

the naming of young Kane’s kindly, protective guardian as Bernstein, like

Welles’s own.

Citizen Kane was them, and is now, essentially a film-makers film. there

was possibly nothing in the film that was absolutely unprecedented.(Taylor,57


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