To celebrate the 93rd birthday of ORSON WELLES – May 6, 1915 – here are some fond memories from members of the cast and crew of CITIZEN KANE.
I’m sure they all would be wishing Orson a very happy birthday today…
PAUL STEWART – Raymond, the butler
The telephone rang and I heard the unmistakable voice of Orson Welles, speaking from California.
“I want you to come out and do a part for me in my picture,” he said. “Have you got an agent?”
“Yes,” I said. “But what’s the part?”
“Never mind. Just come out.”
Well, when Orson said he had a part for you, you went. So I left New York to play my first role in a picture at $500 a week, three weeks guarantee. I was on CITIZEN KANE 11 weeks. For the first three or four weeks, I didn’t work at all.
Naturally I stood around the set, watching. And I was amazed at the way Orson worked. In those days we had an 8 o’clock call on set – Orson had to report at 5 a.m. when he was wearing the old-man make up.
The first hour on the set, nothing happened. Orson gave Gregg Toland the setup, then everyone became anecdotal. We just sat around telling stories about radio, the theater, etc. After awhile Orson began to rehearse. He had a man who walked through his scenes for him, and we rehearsed with this fellow while Orson directed. Then he stepped in and shot the scene with himself in it. Sometimes we didn’t get a shot until 3 in the afternoon. Of course lighting was very difficult because of the depth of focus. Eastman Kodak had developed its fastest film for Gregg, but it was still not what we have today.
It wasn’t uncommon for Orson to shoot 84, 93, 55 takes of one scene. During the Senate hearing with George Coulouris, Orson did more than a hundred takes. One day he shot a hundred takes and exposed 10,000 feet–without a single print!
I’ll never forget the day Orson shot the burning of the sled. One of the stages at the Selznick studio had been made into the warehouse with a working furnace. The scene had to be just right because the audience had to see the sled go in and the word “Rosebud” consumed in flames.
When the ninth take had been shot, the doors of the stage flew open and in marched the Culver City Fire Department in full fire-fighting regalia. The furnace had grown so hot that the flue had caught fire. Orson was delighted with the commotion.
After the fire had been extinguished, one of the firemen asked me, “What’s going on here?”
“Mr. Welles is making a picture here,” I said.
Orson’s WAR OF THE WORLD’S scare was still a vivid memory, and the fireman nodded and murmured, “It figures.”
My first shot was a close-up in which Orson wanted a special smoke effect from my cigarette. I was rigged with tube that went under my clothes and down my finger to the cigarette, but somehow the contraption wouldn’t exude smoke.
“I want long cigarettes–the Russian kind!” Orson ordered. Everyone waited while the prop man fetched some Russian cigarettes.
Just before the scene, Orson Welles warned me: “Your head is going to fill the screen at the Radio City Music Hall”– at that time CITIZEN KANE was booked for the Music Hall. Then he said in his gruff manner, “Turn ‘em.” But just before I started, he added quietly in his warm voice, “Good luck.”
I blew the first take. It was 30-40 takes before I completed a shot that Orson liked–and I had only one line. That was almost 30 years ago, but even today I have people repeat it to me, including young students. The line was: “Rosebud… I’ll tell you about rosebud…”
AGNES MOOREHEAD - Kane’s Mother
That was a most memorable period for all of us. It was my first motion picture, as it was for Orson and nearly everyone else in the cast. He trained us for films at the same time that he was training himself. All of us were learning.
Orson believed in good acting, and he realized that rehearsals were needed to get the most from his actors. That was something new in Hollywood: nobody seemed interested in bringing in a group to rehearse before scenes were shot. But Orson knew it was necessary, and we rehearsed every sequence before it was shot. Sometimes we did a whole scene on records. No, that wasn’t because we were trained in radio. Many of us had known long experience on the stage. I had done many plays, and Orson himself had appeared on Broadway with Katherine Cornell and had acted with the Abbey Players. Then, of course, the Mercury Theatre had presented some distinguished plays on Broadway, as well as having programs on radio.
It was exciting to work with Orson. There was no one quite like him to create excitement. While we were making CITIZEN KANE, we felt that excitement, though I must admit we didn’t realize the hullabaloo that the picture was going to bring.
WILLIAM ALLAND – Reporter Jerry Thompson; Member Mercury Theatre
I remember sitting in a production meeting with Orson and a few others before the start of CITIZEN KANE. The time had arrived to select a cameraman, and Orson said, “If I could only get Gregg Toland–that’s the man I want.”
Orson had never even met Gregg, but he had admired Gregg’s work [in John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath and The Long Voyage Home]. Someone at the meeting spoke up: “There’s no chance of getting Toland. He’s under contract to Sam Goldwyn.”
“I know that,” said Orson. “But I’d still like to have him photograph the picture.” Just then the telephone rang, and Orson answered. A voice on the other end of the line said: “This is Gregg Toland. I understand that you’re making a picture at RKO. I’d like to work with you on it.”
Thus began one of the most successful artistic relationships I’ve ever seen. Orson and Gregg respected each other, and they got along beautifully. No matter what Orson wanted, Gregg would try to get it for him. Gregg had a tremendous responsibility because Orson was in almost every scene. But Gregg kept an eye on everything.
I played the reporter and the voice of the March of Time, but I also walked through Orson’s scenes for him. I wasn’t the stand-in; there was a stand-in for lighting purposes. When the scene had been lighted and Orson rehearsed his part, I studied his choreography and repeated it as Orson watched from behind the camera.
Then I had the responsibility of watching Orson during the scene and approving or rejecting the take. I didn’t pass artistic judgment; I merely checked to see if Orson was getting what he wanted. After each scene, he would glance at me. If I smiled, the take was okay. If I remained poker-faced, he’d shoot it again.
There was one scene that stands out above all others in my memory; that was the one in which Orson broke up the roomful of furniture in a rage. You must realize that Orson never liked himself as an actor. He had the idea that he should have been feeling more, that he intellectualized too much and never achieved the emotion of losing himself in a part.
When he came to the furniture breaking scene, he set up four cameras, because he obviously couldn’t do the scene many times. He did the scene just twice, and each time he threw himself into the action with a fervor I had never seen in him. It was absolutely electric; you felt as if you were in the presence of a man coming apart.
Orson staggered out of the set with his hands bleeding and his face flushed. He almost swooned, yet he was exultant. “I really felt it,” he exclaimed. “I really felt it.”
Strangely, that scene didn’t have the same power when it appeared on the screen. It might have been how it was cut, or because there hadn’t been close-in shots to depict his rage. The scene in the picture was only a mild reflection of what I had witnessed on that movie stage.
MARK ROBSON -Associate Editor (uncredited)
CITIZEN KANE was a remarkable experience for all of us connected with it, especially for the closeup view it afforded of the peculiar genius that was Orson Welles.
Orson the Magnificent! You could well call him that, because he was a magnificent director–probably the greatest that we have had in the last 30 years. He was avant garde, an innovator, an experimenter; he was theatrical, but in the great sense. He saw the world through cynical, melodramatic eyes. He was also a magnificent failure.
The interesting thing about Orson was that he seemed to run to disaster. His ultimate failure was his success. He never prepared himself for it. He didn’t really want success; he seemed to need failure. I don’t think he ever really understood how good he was. He thought he was a fraud, and it amazed him when other people thought differently.
Many things happened on KANE that seemed to indicate this courting of disaster. He had a huge set of Xanadu built on Stage 9 at RKO and then he didn’t know what to do with it. He feigned sickness and stayed home until he figured out how to use the set. What he finally decided was brilliant. Meanwhile the entire cast and crew remained idle.
Again, in the middle of production he left everyone sitting while he went off on a lecture tour. That seemed typical of his need for failure.
Europeans adore Welles because they think he was rejected by America. Even the young people in this country revere him because they believe he was rejected by the Establishment. I don’t think it was that at all. Orson was typical of those in this country who achieve so much, so fast, so young. By 40, he had disappeared from the American scene. He was a loser–but only because he hadn’t prepared himself to win.
JAMES G. STEWART - Sound Recordist
I was in charge of the dubbing department at RKO when Orson came on the lot to do The Heart of Darkness. His idea was for the camera to portray Joseph Conrad as the storyteller, with himself, Orson, doing the narration. He thought the camera should be hand-held, and he made extensive tests with a shoulder-mounted support–the first I had ever seen.
HEART OF DARKNESS didn’t work out, nor did SMILER WITH A KNIFE. Then came CITIZEN KANE.
Orson’s demands on the picture were almost impossible, but you tried to satisfy him. He was enormously stimulating to work with because he never saw anything in conventional terms. He simply wasn’t interested in conventionality, and yet he wasn’t different just to be different. He wanted to do things in the best, most dramatic way. He tried to draw out of you the best possible work, and he acted more as a critic than a director.
Orson discovered he could rely on me for anything. For instance, the Madison Square Garden scene: that was shot on a bare sound stage with no audience and no sound tricks, except that Orson adapted the manner of speaking in a reverberant room, waiting for the echoes to die.
He gave the track to me and said, “Make it sound like Madison Square Garden.” This was in the days before magnetic recording, and I had to reprint eight or ten dialogue tracks on film to get the right sound. Orson never liked to look at anything until it was completed, so I finished the recording and played it for him.
“You’re a bigger ham than I am,” he commented after hearing it. “Who’s going to look at me with that sound coming at them? It’s great, but give me half as much.” He was right. In my enthusiasm, I had overdone the effect, and I toned it down considerably.
CITIZEN KANE provided many memorable moments. I was there the night the picture was run for Louella Parsons. She walked out before it was over, and her chauffer stayed to the end.
RALPH HOGE -Grip (uncredited)
I worked with Gregg Toland for 20 years, and when he went on CITIZEN KANE, I continued with him as head grip. So I was close to the filming and I recognized the contribution made by Gregg. Orson would rehearse a scene as he would do it for the stage. Then Gregg would explain to him why it could not be done for the screen in the same way. Gregg was careful to take Orson aside and explain these things in private. Orson was easily convinced on matters he was unfamiliar with–but not in public; you couldn’t convince him of anything in front of other people.
Perry Ferguson, the art director, deserved a lot of credit for the success of CITIZEN KANE. It was he who devised important scenes merely by using a hunk of cornice, a fireplace in the background and a foreground chair. By using such props and Gregg’s depth-of-focus lens, Orson could create the illusion of a huge set. Obviously we couldn’t afford to duplicate the grandeur of San Simeon. So it was done by suggestion.
The suggestion was very effective. Some of those who saw that sequence will swear that they remember a side wall. There was none.
The same was true of the opera house scene. It was Gregg’s idea to shoot from backstage, showing the lights in the theater, but not the audience. There are still people who are convinced they saw the audience in the opera house. But they never did.
The shooting of CITIZEN KANE was slow at the start because we had to prove certain new techniques. But then the picture moved along. There was a great feeling about CITIZEN KANE. It was Orson’s first picture, as it was for many of those connected with it, and everyone was eager to succeed. Everyone was trying to make a good picture. But we didn’t realize how good it would be.