RKO 281

Synopsis: Coming to Hollywood as a celebrated boy genius featuring a spectacular career arc in New York including his radio hoax War of the Worlds, Orson Welles is stymied on the subject for his first film. After a dinner party at Hearst Castle, during which he has a verbal altercation with William Randolph Hearst, Welles decides to do a movie about Hearst. It takes him some time to convince co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz and the studio, but Welles eventually gets the script and the green light, keeping the subject very hush-hush with the press. The movie is about an aging newspaper publisher who controlled his enemies as ruthlessly as he controlled his friends; and whose mistress was destined for fame. When a rough cut is screened, Hearst gets wind of the movie's theme and begins a campaign to see that it is not only never publicly screened, but destroyed.
Genre: Biography, Drama
Director(s): Benjamin Ross
Production: HBO Video
  Won 1 Golden Globe. Another 13 wins & 27 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
86 min

"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


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

dark eyes.

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,

occasionally sardonic.


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

great Houdini.

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.

A rehearsal room interview with John Houseman, who is in his 30's,

thin-lipped and prim:


Orson barreled in and took over. Orson's a real


Images of Welles directing his famous "Fascist JULIUS CAESAR" and

"Voodoo MACBETH" productions: auditions; rehearsals; perfecting a

sword-fight; rejecting classical costume sketches for JULIUS CAESAR;

supervising set construction; performing Brutus in the Albert Speer-

like Nuremberg rally lighting of JULIUS CAESAR. As we hear:


Like Hannibal over the Alps, the Boy Genius invaded

the Great White Way. He stunned the sedate elite of

New York theatre with production after production.

From MACBETH with an entirely colored cast to a

Mussolini-inspired JULIUS CAESAR!

More images of New York, Welles, Houseman and radio: Welles directing a

radio play with sweeping energy; supervising the elaborate sound

effects; editing the script; at odds with Houseman. As we hear:


Though he wowed the critics with his spectaculars

the ticket sales left something to be desired. So,

after founding the Mercury Players with Houseman,

young Mr. Welles quickly set his sights on the

airwaves. He quickly became the sonorous -' voice of

"The Shadow." ''

Newsreel footage of Welles at a standing radio microphone;


Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The

Shadow knows. . .

Welles laughs his sinister Shadow laugh and we go to more images of

radio and the dynamic Welles performing and directing as we hear:


With Lament Cranston in one pocket and his own

radio show. The Mercury Theater of the Air, our Boy

Wonder filled the night with his resounding tones.

And on October 30th of 1938, he became what he felt

destined to be:
a household name.

What started out as a roguish Halloween prank became the most famous

radio show in the history of the galaxy!

Images of the WAR OF THE WORLDS broadcast and panic: listeners huddling

next to their radios; telephone switchboards lighting up; New Jersey

State Motorcycle Troopers zooming down rural roads; cars clogging the

highways. As we hear:


THE WAR OF THE WORLDS sent this nation spinning

into a frenzy. Nine million listeners clasped their

loved ones close and looked to the skies with

horror. Unlucky listeners near the epicenter of the

"invasion" -- rural New Jersey -- ran screaming into

the night, sure a monstrous alien and a fiery death

awaited them around every corner! The mischievous

Boy Wonder had fooled us all!

Newsreel footage of a packed press conference with Welles the day

following the broadcast:



Of course ... of course ... if I had known the

panic the broadcast was causing -- well I would have

stopped! I never meant for any of this to happen and

I feel just horrible!

Quick newsreel clips of Welles leaving the press conference with

Houseman. We see them slip into a taxi. Inside the taxi we can just

glimpse Welles exploding with laughter.


How long, oh how long could it possibly be before

the sunny land of dreams tried to harness the

combustible power of this showman, this impresario,

this best of all possible Boy Wonders?!

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John Logan

John David Logan (born September 24, 1961) is an American playwright, screenwriter, film producer, and television producer. more…

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Submitted by aviv on January 31, 2017

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