Sunday, May 6, 2012

Happy Birthday Orson Welles

"If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story." -Orson Welles

Orson is another one of those from a bygone era who is a heavy influence on just about everyone in some form or another wether they know it or not.  As a person who works in radio Ive always been more fascinated with that side of his story, and I find his cockiness and quick wit fascinating.  he didn't take crap from anyone and everything he did was a labor of love, not for profit. He was just lucky that his passion was bankable.

Born in Wisconsin in 1915, those close to him could tell he was destined for something great from a young age. Well travelled and early introduced to theater, Orson was imitating, singing, dancing, and writing from grade school.  He was writing complete plays and treatments for his favorite Shakespeare works before he was 12.  By 20, he was organizing off-Broadway tours, was the director of the Federal Theater's negro troupe (controversial at the time), had illustrated entire series' of educational books, formed the Mercury Theater, and was already writing scripts.

 In radio from his early 20s thanks to his unique voice, it is said that he worked for various stations around the city, and, unable to make it in NYC traffic by taxi, would call ambulances to rush him between studios, after finding out there was no law against it. At 23 Welles came into Hollywood's view after an unfortunate  broadcast of HG Wells' "War of The Worlds", a now infamous broadcast that terrified half the nation, almost cost him his job, and catapulted him into Hollywood's mainstream.

Link to War of The Worlds broadcast:

The beginning of Citizen Kane is said to mimic his childhood, with his mother dying when he was nine and he being sent to Illinois to live with a family friend and attend the Todd School for Boys. His father died shortly after, when Welles was 15, and with the inheritance Welles left school and went to Europe.  At 16 he walked into a theater in Ireland, made up an elaborate story of how he was a revered Broadway star, landed and audition, and toured the next few years on the stage.

It's said that until later in life Welles never performed without some kind of prosthetic.  usually a nose or hair piece, he felt it helped him to have something between him and the audience.  Not so much shy as self conscious about his appearance, rarely would Welles ever show himself in a straight on camera shot with good lighting - it became a trait of his films to have low camera angles and sweeping crane shots.

After reading a bunch of biographies about him Welles is right up there with Chaplin in my book.  How he would work the system to get his way, took a stand against the cookie cutter format of Hollywood (over half his works were never developed due to butting heads with the moguls and not "following Hollywood's rules" - Welles was a rebel to the establishment, loyal to friends and family, and his wit can have you laughing for hours (watch his turns in Sinatra or Dean Martin's roasts, oh man).  So Happy Birthday Mr. Welles, may you continue to inspire for generations to come!

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