Orson Welles Takes on William Randolph Hearst

Silver Screenings

Orson Welles as Randolph Hearst – er, Charles Kane. Image: Senses of CinemaOrson Welles as William Randolph Hearst – er, Charles Foster Kane. Image: Senses of Cinema

In 1939, Orson Welles signed a contract to make two films with the Hollywood studio RKO.

This was no standard-issue movie contract. Nay, this contract likely made other filmmakers a bit envious: RKO guaranteed Welles complete control over his projects. This, even though he had never before made a film! And he was only 24 years old!

RKO took a calculated risk. Welles wasn’t an entirely unknown quantity, even though he lacked experience in feature films. The “boy wonder” was something of a cause célèbre in New York. He produced and directed a stage version of Macbeth with an African American cast, as well as a Broadway adaptation of Julius Caesar that was a thinly-veiled jab at 1930s’ fascism.

Of course, he was also the driving force behind Mercury Theatre, the same group that brought us the notorious radio-play adaptation of H.G. Wells’

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