Behind the Scenes of Citizen Kane Part 2

About the film Citizen Kane, behind the scenes of Orson Welles's masterpiece about William Randolph Hearst.



The Story behind the Story: Few films have had as great an influence on American cinema, or as stormy a history, as Citizen Kane. Made in 1940 by the then 24-year-old Wunderkind of stage and radio Orson Welles, Kane has since established itself as an international classic. consistently heading the critics' lists of greatest motion pictures of all time. In 1941, though, at the Academy Awards ceremony, as each of Citizen Kane's nine nominations was announced, it was greeted by loud boos from the audience. The film took one award that year, for best original screenplay; it went jointly to Welles and coauthor Herman Mankiewicz.

What happened was simple and unpretty. The brash young Welles had had the audacity to caricature William Randolph Hearst, and the powerful Hearst newspapers were delivering retribution. Dependent on the power of advertising, and fearful that Hearst reporters--led by Louella Parsons--would delve into their personal lives, the citizenry of Hollywood decided to back a noncontroversial winner (How Green Was My Valley). Consequently, it was a foregone conclusion that the 1941 winner would not be Citizen Kane. Even before Welles's film had been released, Hearst's good friend Louis B. Mayer, of the powerful MGM Studios, had tried to buy the negatives and prints so that they could be burned. And in a typical act of chutzpah, Louella Parsons had even telephoned the governor of New York in an attempt to get it banned in that state.

Welles himself, habitually displaying a grandiosity of manner, wasn't very popular in Hollywood even before the brouhaha, and, contrary to popular belief, he knew quite well the size of the bomb he was going to explode. Most of the picture had been filmed in secret, and Mankiewicz, who was responsible for much of the script, had been a longtime acquaintance of Hearst's, often acting as writer-in-residence at San Simeon and entertaining Hearst parties with tales of his barnstorming newspaper days. Quick-witted and sardonic, Mankiewicz had to be kept off the bottle during most of the writing, a task that fell to Welles's Mercury Theater associate John Houseman.

Managing to get the film into general release only after he had threatened to sue his studio, RKO, for his share of the profits, Welles had meanwhile become a Hollywood untouchable, and Kane was a box-office failure. The non-Hearst critics applauded the film's originality and daring, but the Hearst papers refused to carry any mention of it and launched a ban on other RKO products as well.

For all practical purposes, Welles was through in Hollywood. Most of the rest of his prolific career was to be spent in Europe, where he would seldom again achieve the brilliance and mastery he evidenced in Citizen Kane.

It was not until 29 years later, in 1970, with the Hearst power long since faded, that welles was awarded a special Oscar by the Academy "for superlative artistry and versatility in the creation of motion pictures."

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