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Orson Welles timeline

Issue No. 2181

Orson Welles broadcasting War of the Worlds

Orson Welles broadcasting War of the Worlds

  • 1915 – Born in Wisconsin, USA
  • 1936 – Establishes his reputation with production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth for the Federal Theatre Project (part of New Deal public works, which put unemployed actors to work). Works with all-black cast in Harlem, with play set in Haiti.
  • 1937 – Works on highly political musical The Cradle Will Rock. Premiere at government funded theatre cancelled. Runs into union opposition. Impromptu performance in nearby theatre huge success.

    Forms his own company, the Mercury Theatre, with actors such as Agnes Moorehead and Joseph Cotten. Puts on severely cut version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, set in fascist country. Cinna the poet is killed not by the mob but by secret police.

  • 1938 – Dramatises HG Wells’s War of the Worlds on radio, and causes panic by presenting alien invasion as news story.
  • 1941 – Directs, co-writes, produces and stars in his first feature film, Citizen Kane. Comes into conflict with publishing magnate William Randolph Heart, on whom Kane is based.
  • 1942 – Second film, The Magnificent Ambersons, an attack on wealth, butchered by studio. Never again would Welles enjoy a free hand in his cinema work, except for those films he financed entirely himself.
  • 1948-1956 – Welles works in Europe, saying he has chosen “freedom”. Most celebrated for playing Harry Lime in British-made thriller, The Third Man (1949).
  • 1956 – Returns to Hollywood. Makes Touch of Evil, about corrupt police and anti-Mexican racism (1958). Parts re-shot by studio, which also re-edits the film. Version closest to Welles’s intention only appears in 1998.
  • 1959-1970 – Returns to Europe. Directs own film adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial (1962) and Chimes at Midnight (1966), which condenses five of Shakespeare's history plays to focus on the story of the knight Falstaff.
  • 1970-1985 – Works on a number of projects but slow decline as illness and alcohol take their toll.
  • 1985 – Dies in Los Angeles

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Article information

Tue 8 Dec 2009, 18:40 GMT
Issue No. 2181
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