Citizen Kane (1941) Directed and produced by Orson Welles. Written by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Ruth Warrick, Dorothy Comingore.

Citizen Kane may never lose its ranking as the greatest American movie ever made. The stylistic and narrative innovations of a young iconoclast have "become the symbol for every sensitive young man alienated from his environment and dreaming about movies." (James Naremore). "Citizen Kane is like watching a consummate artist grappling for the first time with the intoxication of his found vocation. All his passions, theater, magic, circus, radio, painting, literature suddenly fused into one." (Peter Bogdanovich). But, entangled with this legend is that of a genius defiled by the Hollywood studio system.

Welles cajoled Ireland's Abbey Theater into giving him an audition at the tender age of 15, and his lush voice soon catapulted him into a lucrative radio career in NYC, where he made $1500 a week in a myriad of programs before anyone even knew his name. He put his salary into the Federal Theater Project; FDR told him he was the only person ever to have siphoned money illegally INTO a government program. After his Mercury Theater Company convinced radio listeners that New Jersey was being invaded by Martians, Hollywood threw open the gates.

Welles decided his first film would be a composite portrait of an American tycoon. He always impishly maintained that Kane reflected Robert McCormick's life, not William Randolph Hearst's, but the newspapers, and the collecting mania were Hearst's and "Rosebud" was allegedly a private joke whose use infuriated WR. "The Hearst-Kane parallels in various versions of the script...create a psychological portrait of Hearst, and they send what film historians call a 'contraband message' to audiences, a cinematic diatribe against Hearst's yellow journalism and his embrace of capitalism, isolationism and fascism." (Pizzitola).

Delighted with the resources at his command, Welles called RKO studios, "the biggest electric train set a boy ever had," but he also said, "If they ever let me do a second picture, I'm lucky." He collaborated on the screenplay with Hollywood veteran Herman J. Mankiewicz, and was deeply wounded when, later in life, his authorship in Kane was questioned by John Houseman and Pauline Kael, among others. The Oscar he shared for the script was the only one he ever won, and was, perhaps, given more to the old hand than the young know-it-all.

Photographer Gregg Toland asked to work on Citizen Kane: he wanted to shoot a film with someone who had never directed one. He let Welles think the director set the lighting and was infuriated when Welles was tipped off that Toland had been quietly coming in behind him and fixing things so as many of his radical ideas as possible would work. "That's the only way to learn anything," Toland told him, "from someone who doesn't know anything…There's no mystery to it, you can be a camerman, too. In a couple of days, I can teach you everything that matters." Toland's generous tutoring influenced Welles' entire film career, and the credits of Citizen Kane reflect his gratitude.



Welles is in every respect the creator of Charles Foster Kane, and plays him from youth to old age. He told Bogdanovich in This is Orson Welles, "I was just as heavily made up as a young man as I was as an old man. I read once--Norman Mailer wrote something or other--that when I was young, I was the most beautiful man anybody had ever seen. Yes! Made up for Citizen Kane! And for only 5 days!"


"I found myself alone with him (Hearst) in an elevator in the Fairmont Hotel on the night Kane opened in San Francisco. He and my father had been chums, so I introduced myself and asked him if he'd like to come to the opening of the picture. He didn't answer. As he was getting off at his floor, I said, "Charles Foster Kane would have accepted!"--Orson Welles


Louis Pizzitola's chapter on Citizen Kane in Hearst Over Hollywood: Power, Passion and Propaganda in the Movies has a fresh point of view. Check out the great website at

(Photo from anonymous Movie Star Scrapbook, c. 1941. Caption reads: "Orson Welles' discoveries have a way of going places, and St. Louis Mo.'s Ruth Warrick's no exception. Neighboring Kansas City liked the looks of the 5'6" 120-lb. blue-eyed kid, elected her "Miss Jubilesta" and god-sped her off to N.Y. There she debuted on the City Hall steps with an armful of turkeys for Mayor La Guardia. So nifty a job did she do of this and soap-opry-ing on the radio, it wasn't long before she was exposed to the great Mr. Welles and shot upwards in the world in "Citizen Kane" and currently in United Artists' "The Corsican Brothers." Radio proved her forte romantically, too 'cause it was there she met Eric Rolf, her hubby and papa to 9-month old Karen Elizabeth. She can coax music out of a piano and violin like a one-man band. Reads constantly and has something of a literary bug, harking back to a $5 prize for a "Prevention and Cure of Tuberculosis" thesis in high school. Hates bridge and dieting. And it's no wonder, what with a figger like hers and angel food al la Warrick around the house!")