Orson Welles

Icons of the Century

Welles is probably the greatest victim of abuse of power, Hollywood’s and his own, in American film history.

No one since D.W. Griffith brought more innovation to movies than Welles did in 1941’s “Citizen Kane,” which many critics consider the best film ever made. Welles was 26. But he’d always been a prodigy.

Broadway audiences flocked to see Katharine Cornell in “Romeo and Juliet” in 1935, but shivered at the dark, vindictive, oracular heft of Welles’ Tybalt. He was 17 then, and only 24 when he panicked the nation into thinking Martians had landed in New Jersey with his radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.”

Welles was a 19th-century type, epic, titanic, a force of nature. But movie studios routinely butchered his work, and in time, like Brando, he bloated up trying to answer his unappeasable hungers with food.

There’s more than one form of tragedy, but none worse than genius unfulfilled.

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