The Theatre of Orson Welles

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The Theatre of Orson Welles

"I would have been more successful if I'd left movies immediately, stayed in the theater, gone into politics, written, anything”(Cramer). This quote from Orson Welles during an interview in 1982 produces questions about the career of one of the most celebrated filmmakers of the twentieth century. How could the director of Citizen Kane, the movie cherished as the best movie of last century, wished for his life to be void of the cinema? How could he wish to have continued in theater when most of the critical acclaim he experienced in that medium has been long forgotten? Most people do not even realize that Welles was an acclaimed director of theatre before Citizen Kane because Citizen Kane overshadows all of the rest of this genius’ work. Yet, Orson Welles’ theatre is just as important as his filmmaking because in all that he did, Welles exhibited the same artistic tendencies. His theatre was a unique experience and a creative achievement, but it also inspired his later work in films. The theatre of Orson Welles provides significant insight for an understanding of his films and what went wrong with his career in Hollywood.

Orson Welles was born on May 6, 1915 to Richard and Beatrice Welles. His father was in the lamp trade, but Orson often referred to him as an inventor, needing to romanticize the role of his father. His mother was a beautiful woman who gave music lessons for a living. Welles was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a city settled right next to the great Lake Michigan. Kenosha is an ordinary small Mid-West city, the kind that seems to mock the very idea of aspiration in its occupants. Orson Welles was frightened of being thought of as ordinary and was intensely annoyed with his parents for bringing him into the world in Kenosha, Wisconsin. However, in regards to this idea, Welles states, “I never blamed my folks for Kenosha- Kenosha has always blamed my folks for me”(Callow 3). Whichever way one looks at it, Welles did not belong in Kenosha with his intense opposite qualities to typical Mid-West life. When Welles was four, his parents moved him to Chicago. Chicago, which was still in the Mid-West, was worlds away from his life in Kenosha.
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