Name at birth: George Orson WellesOrson Welles's 1941 feature film Citizen Kane is often called the best film ever made in America. It made his reputation as the leading enfant terrible of American cinema, always provocative but rarely a commercial success. Ambitious even as a youngster, Orson Welles started on the stage at a young age, and by his early 20s had joined with John Houseman to form The Mercury Theater, a live theater (and later radio) production group in New York City. On Halloween of 1938, Welles directed a radio version of the H. G. Wells story "The War of The Worlds" that unintentionally fooled many people into thinking Martians had invaded Earth. Welles became nationally famous, and at age 25 was brought to Hollywood by RKO Studios to make movies. His first feature was Citizen Kane, the tale of a tyrannical newspaper tycoon who was widely assumed to be patterned after publisher William Randolph Hearst. The film was hailed for its innovative techniques and extremely stylish visuals, but was not a hit at the box office, with Hearst using his clout to help quash it. The flamboyant and ambitious Welles went on to make other movies, including The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Lady From Shanghai (1948) and Touch of Evil (1958), but he battled with studio executives and became known for having difficulty finishing projects. Orson Welles also acted in dozens of movies, including The Third Man (1949, with Welles as the charming villain Harry Lime) and The Muppet Movie (1979). In his later years he worked mostly in television and as a narrator. Children of the 1970s remember his television ads for Paul Masson wines, in which he uttered the tag line, “Paul Masson will sell no wine… before its time.”
The Mercury Theater’s radio productions were known as the Mercury Theater on the Air… The actors (and sometimes the group itself) were called the Mercury Players… Orson Welles’s 1974 movie F For Fake examined the career of forger Elmyr de Hory… Orson Welles was played by Liev Schreiber in the 1999 film RKO 281, by Christian McKay in the 2008 film Me and Orson Welles, and by Tom Burke in the 2020 film Mank.
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