"During the shooting of CITIZEN KANE, did you have the sensation of
making such an important film?"
"I never doubted it for a single instant."
Interview with Orson Welles. 1966.
Pleasure is worth what you can afford to pay for it
William Randolph Hearst. 1924
INT. LARGE, DARK ROOM_NIGHT
In the ebony shadows of a large room we can make out corners and edges,
moldings and cornices; the phantoms of decaying Victorian wealth
floating like disembodied ghosts in the darkness.
It is May 6, 1924 The harsh flare of a match being struck
A shadowy male figure lights a series of nine candles on a birthday
cake. Beyond the cake we can see a bed.
On the bed lies a woman in her early forties. She is ashen and sickly.
The shadowy male figure finishes lighting the candles, blows out the
match and disappears as the woman peers into the darkness.
Come into the light.. Come into the light
A nine-year-old boy steps into the light.
She pulls him close and whispers:
Never stand in the shadows --
You are made for the light, Orson Now you must blow
out your candles. But you must always remember, the
cake itself is nothing. The flame, the lights, that
is where your future lies. You must have a dream. A
great dream worthy of you.
The boy immediately spins to the cake and blows out the candles. A
moment of darkness. He turns back to the bed. The woman and the bed are
gone, faded into darkness.
The solemn young lad stares and stares into the darkness
And then, magically, the faint glimmer of twinkling stars fill his huge
NEWSREEL The flickering images of an old newsreel, circa 1940
Under the MGM logo we see the title: BOY WONDER WOWS HOLLYWOOD!
The first image after the title is the imposing figure of ORSON WELLES,
climbing down from an airplane and surveying the world at his feet.
Welles is 24 years old and somewhat handsome. Welles seems rather
uncomfortable in his own body, as if it could not possibly contain his
vast passions and appetites.
Orson Welles is man who tears his way through life with incendiary
energy. He is at once inspiring and ferocious; visionary and coldly
ambitious. He is part artist, part fraud and all showman.
A sonorous voice accompanies the newsreel. The voice is always grand,
He came to the town of magic and dreams a flashing
star blazing through the firmament of illusion. And
he promised to devour the world in a single gulp. He
was 24 years old and his name was George Orson
Welles. Sound the trumpets! Unfurl the banners,
Hollywood! The Boy Wonder has arrived!
Images of Welles as a baby and his early life fill the screen: Welles
in a crib; as a pampered schoolboy; at dance class; drama club; dressed
up for a magic show. As we hear:
He made his debut on the world stage in Kenosha,
Wisconsin, on the 6th of May, 1915. And on the 7th
of May he spoke his first words, and unlike other
children who say commonplace things like "momma" and
"poppa", he proclaimed "I am a genius!"
At three the genius was reciting Shakespeare and at eight he had taken
up cigars and highballs and was learning magic from the knee of the
Images of Welles' early theatrical career: the young man playing
impossibly old parts; vaudeville magic shows; various regional
theaters; endless tawdry rehearsal rooms
Then images of Welles and JOHN HOUSEMAN in New York: the great,
bustling city; Welles at work with John Houseman on a script; Welles
directing a play. As we hear:
So how could the magic of the stage not call to
this adventurous lad? Unstoppable and resolute, the
Boy Wonder journeyed into the world of the legit
theater. After a peripatetic beginning he found
himself at last in New York where he joined forces
with theatrical producer John Houseman under the
august auspices of the WPA Federal Theater.