George Orson Welles was born on this day, May 6, 1915. An American actor, director, writer and producer, he worked extensively in theater, radio and film and is best remembered for his innovative work in all three media.
Born in Wenosha, Wisconsin, his father was a affluent inventor, his mother a beautiful concert pianist. Gifted in many arts (magic, piano, painting) as a child, his life was not without hardship. When his mother died (he was seven) he traveled the world with his father. When his father died (he was fifteen) he became the ward of Chicago’s Dr. Maurice Bernstein.
In 1931 after graduating from the Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois, he turned down college offers for a sketching tour of Ireland. He tried unsuccessfully to enter the London and Broadway stages, traveling throughout Morocco and Spain. On recommendations by Thornton Wilder and Alexander Woollcott he entered Katherine Cornell’s road company, with which he made his New York debut as Tybalt in 1934. The same year he married, directed his first short, and appeared on radio for the first time. He began working with John Houseman and formed the Mercury Theatre with him in 1937.
After directing a number of high-profile theatrical productions, including an innovative adaptation of Macbeth and The Cradle Will Rock, Welles found national and international fame as the director and narrator of a 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds.
Performed as a Halloween prank, it was reported to have caused widespread panic when listeners thought that an invasion by extraterrestrial beings was occurring. Mostly false and overstated, these reports earned him a high degree of publicity and rocketed Welles to instant notoriety. He was still in his 20s.
In 1941 movie he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in his first film Citizen Kane, often considered the greatest film ever made. Often thought of as ground breaking, his distinctive directorial style was evident, as were other techniques he would cultivate in later films Featured were layered and nonlinear narrative forms, innovative uses of lighting such as chiaroscuro, unusual camera angles, sound techniques borrowed from radio, deep focus shots, and long takes. He has been praised as a major creative force and as “the ultimate auteur.” Welles followed up Citizen Kane with other critically acclaimed films, including The Magnificent Ambersons in 1942, and Touch of Evil in 1958.
One of only six actors to ever receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his first screen appearance, Orsen Welles shares this distinction with Paul Muni, Lawrence Tibbett, Alan Arkin, James Dean and Montgomery Clift.
In 2002, Welles was voted the greatest film director of all time in two separate British Film Institute polls among directors and critics, and a wide survey of critical consensus, best-of lists, and historical retrospectives calls him the most acclaimed director of all time. Well known for his baritone voice, Welles was also a well regarded actor and was voted number 16 in AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Stars list of the greatest American film actors of all time.
Also a celebrated Shakespearean stage actor and an accomplished magician, he maintained his memberships in the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Society of American Magicians (neither of which are unions, but fraternal organizations), and regularly practiced sleight-of-hand magic in case his career came to an abrupt end, starring in troop variety shows in the war years.
1895 – Rudolph Valentino (Rodolfo Pietro Filiberto Raffaello Guglielmi di Valentina) (actor: The Big Little Person, The Delicious Little Devil, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Blood and Sand, Sheik; died Aug 23, 1926)
1913 – Stewart Granger (actor: Fine Gold, Hell Hunters, The Wild Geese, The Last Safari, The Trygon Factor, Requiem for a Secret Agent, Killer’s Carnival, Flaming Frontier, Rampage at Apache Wells, The Crooked Road, Frontier Hellcat, The Secret Invasion, others)
1920 – Ross Hunter (Martin Fuss) (producer: Son of Ali Baba, Magnificent Obsession, My Man Godfrey, Tammy and the Bachelor, Pillow Talk, Midnight Lace, Flower Drum Song, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Airport; actor: Louisiana Hayride, Sweetheart of Sigma Chi, Reform School Girl; died Mar 10, 1996)
1923 – Elizabeth Sellars (actress: A Voyage Round My Father, The Chalk Garden, Three Cases of Murder, Never Let Go, Desiree)
1947 – Ben Masters (actor: Running Mates, Noble House, All that Jazz, Making Mr. Right, Dream Lover, Mandingo, Heartbeat)
1961 – George (Timothy) Clooney (actor: The Facts of Life, E/R, Return of the Killer Tomatoes!, Roseanne, Sunset Beat, Red Surf, Sisters, Baby Talk, Bodies of Evidence, ER, From Dusk Till Dawn, Batman & Robin, The Peacemaker, The Thin Red Line, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Perfect Storm; son of broadcast journalist Nick Clooney; nephew of singer Rosemary Clooney)
1965 – Leslie Hope (actress: Never Back Down, Dragonfly, The Spreading Ground, Bruiser, Double Frame, The Life Before This, Water Damage, Summer of the Monkeys, Shadow Builder, others)
1983 – Adrianne Palicki (actress: Women in Trouble, Legion, Seven Mummies, Popstar)
1983 – Gabourey Sidibe (actress: Tower Heist, Yelling to the Sky, Precious)