Richard Wilson - Orson Welles Papers (1930-2000, bulk 1930-1991 )
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Biography

RICHARD WILSON, 1915-1991

Richard Wilson was a producer, director, writer, actor, and a longtime associate of Orson Welles. As a member of the Mercury Theatre and Mercury Productions, Richard Wilson worked closely with Orson Welles on classic films, including Citizen Kane , The Magnificent Ambersons , The Lady From Shanghai , and Macbeth . Wilson also worked with Welles on stage productions such as Julius Caesar and The Cradle Will Rock and played various roles on many Orson Welles/Mercury Theatre radio broadcasts, including the famous "War of the Worlds" broadcast.

Richard Wilson was born on December 25, 1915 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Not long after, Wilson's family moved to Denver, Colorado where Wilson attended public school. After graduation, Wilson attended the University of Denver but left before graduating to pursue an acting career in New York City. The first radio acting role Richard Wilson landed was a barking sled dog on the popular radio show Renfrew of the Mounted . In 1937, Wilson happened to perform in a radio broadcast with Orson Welles and thereafter they began a long and close working relationship. Richard Wilson joined Orson Welles and John Houseman when they founded the Mercury Theatre in 1937. Wilson collaborated with Welles in radio, working in various capacities on Mercury Summer Theater , Orson Welles Almanac , Campbell Radio Playhouse , and Mercury Theatre on the Air . Wilson also worked on the Mercury's stage productions, including the legendary modern-dress staging of Julius Caesar , as well as The Cradle Will Rock , Heartbreak House , Danton's Death , Five Kings , and Native Son .

When Orson Welles was lured to Hollywood by an RKO contract, which granted Welles an unprecedented amount of artistic freedom, Richard Wilson followed. Wilson served as Welles's executive assistant and as an actor in Citizen Kane . He also was Welles's right-hand man during Journey Into Fear and The Magnificent Ambersons . During Welles's next film project, the never-finished It's All True , Richard Wilson worked in Brazil with his future wife, Elizabeth Anderson.

During World War II, Richard Wilson applied his film experience in the Operations Division of the Presentation Branch of the Office of Strategic Services and as head photographic officer for the Secretariat of the United Nations at its first conference and formation ceremonies in San Francisco in 1945.

After the War, Richard Wilson once again joined Orson Welles and Mercury Productions, and worked as associate producer for The Lady from Shanghai and Macbeth . Wilson also co-produced the Mercury's stage production of Around the World in 80 Days .

In the late 1940's, Orson Welles left America for a series of acting roles in Europe. He also began filming Othello in Spain and Morocco. During this time, Richard Wilson stayed in Hollywood, managing Mercury Productions business and handling Welles's affairs in Los Angeles.

As Orson Welles lingered in Europe and the Mercury Productions business slowed down, Richard Wilson began his solo career. He first became associate producer to Leonard Goldstein. Wilson produced or helped in the production of several westerns and Ma and Pa Kettle movies. In 1955, Richard Wilson launched his own directorial career by writing and directing The Man with the Gun , a Robert Mitchum and Angie Dickinson western. Over the course of the next decade, Wilson would direct several films, including: Big Boodle , starring Errol Flynn; Raw Wind in Eden with Ester Williams; Al Capone with Rod Steiger; Pay or Die with Ernest Borgnine; and Wall of Noise starring Suzanne Pleshette.

In 1965, Richard Wilson joined Paramount and became special executive assistant to Howard W. Koch. In 1968, after working with Koch, Wilson produced and directed the racy hit Three in the Attic . In the 1970s and 1980s, Wilson worked on various film and television projects through his production company, Hermes Productions, and he taught directing at the University of Southern California. During this period, Wilson also wrote and spoke on Orson Welles and the work of the Mercury Theatre and Mercury Productions.

After footage, long-believed to have been destroyed or lost, from the never-completed 1942 project It's All True was found in studio vaults, Richard Wilson began to work on reconstructing a key part of the film according to Orson Welles's vision. Wilson worked from his personal memories of the originally intended direction of It's All True , which he was co-producing with Welles, Mercury papers and research materials Wilson had saved over the years, and documents collected during several research trips. Starting in 1986, versions of this reconstruction and short documentary, titled Four Men on a Raft were shown and praised at film festivals in Venice, Rio de Janeiro, Chicago, London, Telluride (Colorado), and Hawaii.

While in the process of turning this short film into the full-length documentary that would eventually be released in 1993 as It's All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles , Richard Wilson passed away. He died on August 21, 1991 of pancreatic cancer in Santa Monica. His It's All True collaborators (Bill Krohn, Myron Meisel, et. al.) completed the film, which was awarded "Best Documentary" by the International Monitor and Los Angeles Film Critics Association and given a special citation by the National Society of Film Critics.

Richard Wilson was survived by his wife, Elizabeth Anderson Wilson. Born on July 24, 1914, Elizabeth was the daughter of silent film actress Myrtle Owen. Elizabeth Wilson wrote for film and television, and her credits included a Raw Wind in Eden and Invitation to a Gunfighter . In 1951, Elizabeth Wilson testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, admitting to a brief membership in the Communist Party. Elizabeth Wilson died on July 25, 2000. Richard and Elizabeth Wilson had one son, Christopher Wilson, and several grandchildren.

ORSON WELLES, 1915-1985

From American National Biography Online :

"Welles, Orson (6 May 1915-10 Oct. 1985), director and actor, was born George Orson Welles in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the son of Richard Hodgon Welles, an inventor and businessman, and Beatrice Ives, a talented amateur musician. Welles was precocious, his pampered childhood abruptly ending after his mother's death when he was nine. At eleven he was enrolled in the progressive Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois, where he directed and acted in classics by Shakespeare and Shaw. After graduation in 1930, he spent a summer at the Chicago Art Institute.

His father died in late December 1930, and the following August Welles set out for a walking and painting tour of Ireland. Although he lacked professional experience, he talked his way into a position with the Gate Theater in Dublin, where he made his stage debut at the age of sixteen. Welles remained in Dublin until March 1933 when he returned to the United States. Although he received respectable notices abroad, he was at first unable to get theatrical work at home. In September 1933 he was offered a place in Katharine Cornell's touring company, in which Welles made his American professional debut that year in The Barretts of Wimpole Street . He married socialite Virginia Nicholson in 1934 and moved to New York. He divorced Nicholson in 1940; they had one child. In New York, with John Houseman, a young theatrical producer, he formed one of the most important partnerships in the American arts. Houseman was running the Negro section of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Theater Project, for which Welles mounted in 1936 a "voodoo version of Macbeth ," with an all-black cast plus dancers and drummers. The opening night attracted a crowd of thousands outside the Lafayette Theater in Harlem, and the innovative dynamism of the production as well as the publicity surrounding it launched Welles as a major figure in the American theater.

Over the next three years Welles and Houseman produced a remarkable array of theatrical events, including a striking version of Marlowe's Dr. Faustus , a politically styled production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar , and Marc Blitzstein's controversial opera, The Cradle Will Rock . In 1937 Welles and Houseman founded the Mercury Theater, which attracted a talented ensemble of actors, many of whom later followed Welles to Hollywood. In addition to his stage career, Welles appeared regularly on radio, playing the Shadow in a weekly adventure drama. He soon had the Mercury Theater on the air, experimenting with the possibilities of radio drama. His best-known Mercury radio play was an updated version of H. G. Wells's science fiction tale, The War of the Worlds , broadcast on Halloween night. Simulating news coverage of a Martian invasion of the United States, the production created panic along the eastern seaboard. The broadcast received widespread publicity and won Welles a contract with RKO Radio Pictures. In July 1939 he went to Hollywood to begin his career in films, the medium that would largely occupy him for the rest of his life.

Welles's unprecedented contract to direct, star in, write, and edit a motion picture was the envy of the movie industry. After some false starts, he settled on an idea developed with Houseman and veteran scriptwriter Herman Mankiewicz, loosely based on the life of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Citizen Kane , Welles's first feature-length film, so outraged Hearst that he tried to buy the negative and, failing that, banned any mention of the movie in his newspapers. The film, released on 1 May 1941, fared only moderately well at the box office. However, Citizen Kane was directed with such stylistic verve and with such innovative use of cinematography, sound, and music and within such a daring narrative structure that it became one of the most celebrated films ever made.

Welles next directed a costly and ambitious movie based on Booth Tarkington's bestselling novel, The Magnificent Ambersons . Welles had not finished its editing when he went to Brazil to begin shooting a film for the U.S. Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. The project was designed to help strengthen relationships among nations of the Western Hemisphere and to counter Nazi influence in South America. Although he shot miles of film, It's All True was never completed. In Welles's absence, the studio severely edited The Magnificent Ambersons and released it without fanfare during the summer of 1942. Although Welles complained throughout his life about the butchering of the release print, critics have regarded The Magnificent Ambersons as one of his greatest films. Welles's last venture at RKO was the 1943 movie version of Eric Ambler's thriller Journey into Fear , which Welles starred in, cowrote, and without credit did much of the direction. In September 1943 he married Hollywood star Rita Hayworth; they had one child and were divorced in 1947. Although he continued to be heard on radio, Welles spent the remaining war years working for the government in various capacities and writing political journalism, mostly essays and editorials.

During the postwar years Welles assumed a frantic pace: acting on radio and in movies, directing and producing for both stage and screen, and giving speeches, making radio broadcasts, and writing editorials and newspaper columns in support of progressive political causes. In 1946 he completed, as director, costar, and coscenarist, a film melodrama, The Stranger ; staged an innovative version of Cole Porter's musical Around the World in Eighty Days in New York; and began work as director and costar with Hayworth on The Lady from Shanghai , which was released after much studio revision in 1948. In 1947 Welles prepared another stage version of Macbeth for the Utah Centennial Festival in Salt Lake City. Later that year he directed a film version of the play for Republic Pictures in twenty-one days on a small budget to prove that classics could be made cheaply and be accessible to the average moviegoer; it was released in 1948.

At the end of the 1940s Welles moved to Europe, where for years he acted in films. Among the most celebrated of the roles he created was Harry Lime in Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949). Also in 1949 he began work on a film version of Othello , which received widespread critical acclaim from the European press when it was released in 1952. To make this film, Welles established a pattern he would often repeat, using his earnings as an actor to underwrite his work as a director, for increasingly he was forced to rely on his own intermittent financing to produce his films.

By the 1950s Welles was recognized, at least by European critics, as one of America's most important filmmakers. He next directed Mr. Arkadin , a film based on his own script. Released in 1955, the film was not shown in the United States until 1962. In 1955 he married Paola Mori; they had one child. That same year Welles also appeared in a dramatic version of Moby Dick in London, and the next year he played King Lear on the New York stage. At the insistence of Charlton Heston, who was to star in the film, Welles returned to Hollywood to direct the offbeat and suspenseful Touch of Evil (1958), in which he also played the lead. In Europe in 1962 he began filming his version of Franz Kafka's labyrinthine novel The Trial , which was released in 1963.

During the early 1960s Welles initiated work on a long-standing project about Shakespeare's Falstaff, primarily using material from the two Henry IV plays. The majestic but uneven Chimes at Midnight was released in 1966. Another film, The Immortal Story , based on an Isak Dinesen tale, appeared in 1968. Although Welles continued to work on his own films, Don Quixote, The Deep , and The Other Side of the Wind , none was completed, and he spent his later years acting in films and appearing on the celebrity circuit, making television guest appearances and doing voice-overs for commercials. His last released film, F for Fake (1975), about art forgeries, was premiered at film festivals in New York and San Sebastián.

During the final years of his life Welles received increasing recognition for the quality and originality of his film work. In 1970 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him a special Oscar, and he was presented with a Life Achievement Award by the American Film Institute in 1975. He assisted in a number of documentaries about his career, cooperated in the writing of two books about himself, and continued to trade on his magnificent voice by recording readings of literary works. Until the end, his prodigality stayed with him. Just before his death, financing of his film version of King Lear fell through because of its inflated budget and extremely difficult production requirements. Welles died in Hollywood.

Welles's bold experimentation as a director and actor, on the stage, on radio, and in films, established him as one of the great artists of the twentieth century. However, he will probably be best remembered as a filmmaker of international reputation. Citizen Kane appears on virtually every film critic's list of ten best movies and is regarded by many as the singular achievement of one hundred years of American films. The great French critic André Bazin noted that through his distinctive style Welles had achieved a major breakthrough in the evolution of film language."

--Charles L. P. Silet. "Welles, Orson." American National Biography Online http://www.anb.org/articles/18/18-01233.html (February 2000). Access Date: Mon Feb 16 2009