Orson Welles

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George Orson Welles (May 6, 1915 – October 10, 1985) was an American actor, director, writer and producer who worked in theater, radio and film. He is best remembered for his innovative work in all three media: in theatre, most notably Caesar (1937), a groundbreaking Broadway adaptation of Julius Caesar; in radio, the 1938 broadcast "The War of the Worlds", one of the most famous in the history of radio; and in film, Citizen Kane (1941), consistently ranked as one of the all-time greatest films.

See also: Category:Orson Welles films, The War of the Worlds (radio drama)‎


  • This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character, to assure you that The War of the Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be; The Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying "Boo!" Starting now, we couldn't soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night, so we did the next best thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears and utterly destroyed the CBS. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn't mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. So goodbye everybody, and remember please for the next day or so the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian, it's Halloween.
  • Take myself as a good-will ambassador. I'm great — I'm taking myself as a character — for the intellectuals and the man on the street. I'm great where Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. leaves off. I'm not so good with high society, in either North or South America, because I'm highly unconventional. Perhaps I bewilder people by being at once the esthete, the intellectual and the vulgarian.
    • Quoted by Chan Norris, "Orson Welles on Latin America". PM (September 13, 1942), p. 17.
  • I have only one real enemy in my life that I know about, and that is John Houseman. Everything begins and ends with that hostility behind the mandarin benevolence.
    • Quoted by Richard Meryman in Mank: The Wit, World, and Life of Herman Mankiewicz. New York: Morrow, 1978, p. 255.
  • If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.
    • From the published screenplay for "The Big Brass Ring" (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Santa Teresa Press, 1987)
  • In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed - they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love and five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock!
    • Lines attributed to Welles as the character Harry Lime in the film The Third Man (1949).
  • A story doesn't have to appeal to the heart; it can also appeal to the spine. Sometimes you want your heart to be warmed, and sometimes you want your spine to tingle.
    • Introduction to the September 2, 1942 Suspense broadcast of Lucille Fletcher's radio play "The Hitch-Hiker".
  • He [Welles] was an onlooker at the clumsy, poignant suicide of "The Man on the Ledge," which took place in New York in 1938, when a boy perched for fourteen hours on a window-sill of the Gotham Hotel before plunging into the street. "I stood in the crowd outside for a long time," Welles says pensively, "and wanted to make a film of it all. But they tell me that in the Hollywood version of the film they gave the boy a reason for what he did. That's crazy. It's the crowd that needs explaining."
    • Kenneth Tynan, "Orson Welles," from Persona Grata (1953); later printed in Profiles (1990) [[[Special:BookSources/0-06-096557-6|ISBN 0-06-096557-6]]], page 66.
  • A long-playing full shot is what always separates the men from the boys. Anybody can make movies with a pair of scissors and a two-inch lens.
  • I have always been more interested in experiment, than in accomplishment.
  • I don't take art as seriously as politics.
  • I suppose you are a fool to do it [express a political view as an artist], but if you happen to be more interested in the political question, than the size of your audience, then it doesn't matter.
  • I don't regard my career as something so precious that it comes before my convictions.
    • in an interview with Bernie Braden in Paris (1960), viewable here.
  • The ideal American type is perfectly expressed by the Protestant, individualist, anti-conformist, and this is the type that is in the process of disappearing. In reality there are few left.
    • Quoted in an interview from Hollywood Voices, ed. Andrew Sarris (1971).
  • I try to be a Christian...I don't pray really, because I don't want to bore God.
    • Quoted in interview by Merv Griffin, from Frank Brady, Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles, Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, NY (1989), page 576.
  • An audience is not so much a complement to an actor's ego, as a challenge to his capacities.
    • Welles, speaking in an episode of Orson Welles Sketch-book
  • Even if I’d stayed [in the US to finish The Magnificent Ambersons I would’ve had to make compromises on the editing, but these would’ve been mine and not the fruit of confused and often semi-hysterical committees. If I had been there myself I would have found my own solutions and saved the pictures in a form which would have carried the stamp of my own effort.
  • I think I made essentially a mistake in staying in movies but it’s a mistake I can’t regret because it’s like saying I shouldn't have stayed married to that woman but I did because I love her. I would have been more successful if I hadn't been married to her, you know. I would have been more successful if I'd left movies immediately, stayed in the theatre, gone into politics, written, anything. I've wasted a greater part of my life looking for money and trying to get along, trying to make my work from this terribly expensive paintbox which is a movie. And I've spent too much energy on things that have nothing to do with making a movie. It's about two percent movie-making and ninety-eight percent hustling. It's no way to spend a life.
    • Interview with Leslie Megahey for The Orson Welles Story (1982); transcribed in Mark Estrin's Orson Welles: Interviews. Jackson. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2002, page 209.
  • Hollywood is Hollywood. There’s nothing you can say about it that isn’t true, good or bad. And if you get into it, you have no right to be bitter — you’re the one who sat down, and joined the game.
    • Quoted in The Orson Welles Story.
  • The people who’ve done well within the [Hollywood] system are the people whose instincts, whose desires [are in natural alignement with those of the producers] — who want to make the kind of movies that producers want to produce. People who don’t succeed — people who’ve had long, bad times; like [Jean] Renoir, for example, who I think was the best director, ever — are the people who didn’t want to make the kind of pictures that producers want to make. Producers didn’t want to make a Renoir picture, even if it was a success.
    • Quoted in The Orson Welles Story.
  • One should make movies innocently — the way Adam and Eve named the animals, their first day in the garden. ... Learn from your own interior vision of things, as if there had never been a D.W. Griffith, or a Eisenstein, or a [John] Ford, or a [Jean] Renoir, or anybody.
    • Quoted in The Orson Welles Story.
  • As for my style, for my vision of the cinema, editing is not simply one aspect; it's the aspect.
    • Mitry, Jean; King, Christopher. The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema (1999). Indiana University Press. [[[Special:BookSources/0-253-21377-0|ISBN 0-253-21377-0]]], p. 176.
  • Thank you, Donald, for that well-meant but rather pedestrian introduction. Regarding yourself, I quote from the third part of Shakespeare's Henry VI, Act Two, Scene One. Richard speaks, "Were thy heart as hard as steel/ As thou hast shown it flinty by thy deeds/ I come to pierce it, or to give thee mine." To translate into your own idiom, Donald; you're a yo-yo. Now I direct my remarks to Dean Martin, who is being honored here tonight...for reasons that completely elude me. No, I'm not being fair to Dean because - this is true - in his way Dean, and I know him very well, has the soul of a poet. I'm told that in his most famous song Dean authored a lyric which is so romantic, so touching that it will be enjoyed by generations of lovers until the end of time. Let's share it together. [Opens a songsheet for Dean's "That's Amore" and reads in a monotone] "When the moon hits your eye/ Like a big pizza-pie/ That's amore" Now, that's what I call 'touching', Dean. It has all the romanticism of a Ty-D-Bol commercial. "When the world seems to shine/ Like you've had too much wine/ That's amore" What a profound thought. It could be inscribed forever on a cocktail napkin. Hey, there's more. "Tippy-tippy-tay/ Like a gay tarantella" Like a gay tarantella? Apparently, Dean has a 'side Dean' we know nothing about. "When the stars make you drool/ Just like a pasta fazool .... Scuzza me, but you see/ Back in old Napoli/ That's amore" No, Dean; that's infermo, Italian for "sickened". Now, lyrics like that - lyrics like that ought to be issued with a warning: a song like that is hazardous to your health. Ladies and gentlemen...[motions to Dean] you are looking at the end result!
    • Speech given at a Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. Viewable here.
  • My father once told me that the art of receiving a compliment is, of all things, the sign of a civilized man. He died soon afterwards, leaving my education in this important matter sadly incomplete; I'm only glad that, on this, the occasion of the rarest compliment he ever could have dreamed of, that he isn't here to see his son so publicly at a loss. In receiving a compliment, or in trying to, the words are all worn out by now. They're polluted by ham and corn. And, when you try to scratch around for some new ones, it's just an exercise in empty cleverness. What I feel this evening, is not very clever. it's the very opposite of emptiness. The corny old phrase is the only one I know to say it: my heart is full; with a full heart, with all of it, I thank you. This is Samuel Johnson, on the subject of what he calls contrarieties: "there are goods, so opposed that we cannot seize both, and, in trying, fail to seize either. Flatter not yourself, he says, with contrarieties. Of the blessings set before you, make your choice. No man can, at the same time, fill his cup from the source, and from the mouth of the nile." For this business of contrarieties has to do with us. With you, who are paying me this compliment, and for me, who has strayed so far from this hometown of ours. Not that I am alone in this, or unique, I am never that; but there are a few of us left in this conglomerated world of us who still trudge stubbornly along this lonely rocky road; and this is in fact our contrariety. We don't move nearly as fast as our cousins on the freeway; we don't even get as much accomplished just as the family sized farm can't possibly raise as many crops or get as much profit as the agricultural factory of today. What we do come up with has no special right to call itself better it's just.. different. No if there's any excuse for us it all, it's that we're simply following the old American tradition of the maverick, and we are a vanishing breed. This honor I can only accept in the name of all the mavericks. And also, as a tribute to the generosity of all the rest of you; to the givers, to the ones with fixed addresses. A maverick may go his own way but he doesn't think that it's the only way, or ever claim that it's the best one, except maybe for himself. And don't imagine that this raggle-taggle gypsy-o is claiming to be free. It's just that some of the necessities to which I am a slave are different from yours. As a director, for instance, I pay myself out of my acting jobs. I use my own work to subsidize my work (in other words I'm crazy). But not crazy enough to pretend to be free. But it's a fact that many of the films you've seen tonight could never have been made otherwise. Or, if otherwise, well, they might have been better, but certainly they wouldn't have been mine. The truth is I don't believe that this great evening would ever have brightened my life if it wasn't for this: my own, particular, contrariety. Let us raise our cups, then, standing as some of us do on opposite ends of the river, to what really matters to us all: to our crazy, beloved profession, to the movies — to good movies, to every possible kind.
    • Speech given upon his acceptance of the AFI Lifetime Achievement award. Viewable [[1]]
  • I'm not a walking extra in a Chekhov play; I'm no Slavic gloom or Irish gloom. I mark only the happy hours, like the sundial, because otherwise I would have gone nuts. To quote from my script for The Dreamers, never expect justice in the world. That is not part of God's plan. Everybody thinks that if they don't get it, they're some kind of odd man out. And it's not true. Nobody gets justice — people get good luck or bad luck.
    • Quoted by Barbara Leaming, "Orson Welles: The Unfulfilled Promise". The New York Times (July 14, 1985).

The Findus Foods "Frozen Peas" Session Out-Takes[edit]

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  • That doesn't make any sense. Sorry. There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with "in" and emphasize it. Get me a jury and show me how you can say "In July" and I'll go down on you. That's just idiotic, if you'll forgive me for saying so. It's just stupid... "In July"; I'd love to know how you emphasize "In" in "In July". Impossible! Meaningless!
  • You don't know what I'm up against. Because it's full of, of, of things that are only correct because they're grammatical, but they're tough on the ear, you see. This is a very wearying one. It's unpleasant to read. Unrewarding. "Because Findus freeze the cod at sea, and then add a crumb-crisp" Ooh, "crumb-crisp coating." Ahh, that's tough, "crumb-crisp coating." I think, no, because of the way it's written, you need to break it up, because it's not, it's not as conversationally written.
  • "We know a little place in the American Far West, where Charlie Briggs chops up the finest prairie-fed beef and tastes..." (pauses, and continues with a note of disgust in his voice) This is a lot of shit, you know that! You want one more? One more on the beef?
  • But you can't emphasize "beef", that's like his wanting me to emphasize "in" before "July"! Come on, fellows, you're losing your heads! I wouldn't direct any living actor like this in Shakespeare! The way you do this, it's impossible!
  • The right reading for this is the one I'm giving.
  • I spend... twenty times more for you people than any other commercial I've ever made. You are such pests! Now what is it you want? In your... depths of your ignorance, what is it you want? Whatever it is you want, I can't deliver, 'cause I just don't see it.
  • It isn't worth it. No money is worth this... [walks out].

Disputed quotes[edit]

Quotes about Welles[edit]

  • Orson Welles? What are they?
    • John Barrymore, when asked by a radio interviewer what he thought of his old friend (about one week prior to portraying Cassius to Welles' Brutus in a scene from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, performed live on Rudy Vallée's radio program); as quoted in "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood: Orson in Wonderland," Los Angeles Times (December 14, 1940)
  • Orson Welles is a giant with the face of a child, a tree filled with birds and shadows, a dog who has broken loose and gone to sleep in the flower bed. An active loafer, a wise madman, a solitary surrounded by humanity, a student who sleeps during the lesson. A strategy: pretending to be drunk to be simply left alone. Seemingly better than anyone else, he can use a nonchalant attitude of real strength, apparently drifting but guided by a half-opened eye. This attitude of an abandoned hulk, and that of a sleepy bear, protects him from the cold fever of the motion picture world. An attitude which made him move on, made him leave Hollywood, and carried him to other lands and other horizons.
  • Orson Welles is a poet
    through his violence
    and through his grace.
    Never does he tumble
    from the tightrope
    on which he crosses cities
    and their dramas.
    His handshake is as firm as he is
    and I think of it each time my work
    obliges me to leap over an obstacle.
  • "He came into bloom too early." "He never could top it." Top what?! His first production on the stage in New York was a black Macbeth in Harlem that set the early evening traffic of Manhattan moving one way — north — for as long as the Federal Theatre Project chose to run the play. He topped this with probably the most stylish French farce ever seen west of the Champs Élysées, and the topping for this was a production of Dr. Faustus that led to the opening of his own theatre, the Mercury, with a production of Julius Caesar so vigorous, so contemporary that it set Broadway on its ear. But luckily, only one ear, for with the other it was listening and running scared with the rest of the country while O. Welles, in a Madison Avenue radio studio, was reading his adaptation of H. G. Wells's account of the Martian invasion of Earth.
  • Orson Welles hails a cab like God and tips like a Jesuit.
    • Jackie Gleason, attributed by him to an unnamed cab driver; as quoted in "And Away He Goes... On a Concorde SST" by Tom Shales, in The Washington Post (May 28, 1976).
  • So one night we're in the Stork Club and Welles is asking me to recite things from Shakespeare. You know, he asks for a speech and I give it to him. But he tried to trip me up.I said, "Wait a minute, pal, that isn't Shakespeare, that's Aeschylus," and then I recited the lines. He turns to me and says, "You're the Great One."
  • Orson revealed his surprising capacity for collaboration. For all the mass of his own ego, he was able to apprehend other people’s weakness and strength and to make creative use of them: he had a shrewd instinctive sense of when to bully or charm, when to be kind or savage…’
  • Those of us who were close to Orson had long been aware of the obsessive part his father used to play in his life. Much of what he had accomplished so precociously had been done out of a furious need to prove himself in the eys of a man who was no longer there to see it. Now that success had come, in quantities and of a kind that his father had never dreamed of, this conflict, far from being assuaged, seemed to grow more intense and consuming.
  • I never would have amounted to anything in the theatre if it hadn't been for Orson Welles. The way I looked at acting, it was interesting and it was certainly better than going hungry. But I didn't have a serious approach to it until … I bumped into Orson Welles. He was putting on a Federal Theatre production of Macbeth with Negro players and, somehow, I won the part of Banquo. He rehearsed us for six solid months, but when the play finally went on before an audience, it was right — and it was a wonderful sensation, knowing it was right. Suddenly, the theatre became important to me. I had a respect for it, for what it could say. I had the ambition — I caught it from Orson Welles — to work like mad and be a convincing actor. Later, when Native Son came up, he was the stage director. He was the one who gave me the part, and the one who rehearsed me in it for five weeks. If I'm an actor today, it's because of what he did for me, and I'd sort of like people to know it.
  • Orson Welles was far on the way to a theater that would relish poetry and give it the excitement and physical life it is ready to give. His Caesar and Faustus were landmarks of a generation. We need to go on from this lost theater; it remembered many things while it was doing many things.

Disputed quotes[edit]

  • There, but for the grace of God, goes God.
    • This is often attributed Herman J. Mankiewicz, who is supposed to have said it of Welles while he was directing Citizen Kane, but it has also been reported as a remark Winston Churchill made regarding Stafford Cripps, and in either case, this is ultimately a play on the English proverb "There, but for the grace of God, go I" which originates in a remark by John Bradford: "There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford."


  1. Higham, Charles (1985). Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. p. 216. ISBN 0-312-31280-6. 

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