< Return to Adherents.com's Guide to Movies
< Return to Religion of the 25 Most Influential Film Directors
< Return to Religion of the AFI's Top 50 Screen Legends
The Religious Affiliation of
influential director and actor
From: Frank Brady, Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles, Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, NY (1989), page 576:
In April , this was followed by an especially candid interview with Orson by Merv Griffin during which Griffin asked Orson about his religious beliefs. "I try to be a Christian," Orson answered. He went on: "I don't pray really, because I don't want to bore God."
For three years as a boy, Orson Wells attended Todd School, an English-style boarding school in Woodstock, Illinois. From: David Thomson, Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, NY (1996), page 30:
By the age of fourteen he was six feet and about 180 pounds... He was handsome, a little sinister and so devilishly grown-up that fourteen seemed out of the question. When Todd boys went to church in Woodstock, Orson's eyes ranged the congregation for conquests. There were girls in the town who blushed under his gaze, and he said that he had "affairs."
Orson Welles famously said (The Columbia World of Quotations, 1996. Attribution: Interview in Hollywood Voices, ed. Andrews Sarris, 1971; URL: http://www.bartleby.com/66/35/63635.html):
The ideal American type is perfectly expressed by the Protestant, individualist, anti-conformist, and this is the type that is in the process of disappearing. In reality there are few left.
As an adult, Orson claimed that his paternal grandmother, Mary Head Welles, had put a curse on the marriage of his parents. The ballroom on the top floor of the house she owned in Kenosha, Wisconsin, had been converted into a miniature golf course... and later into a sort of darkened haunt where she practiced witchcraft.
Brady, page 7:
Orson recalled sneaking up to the huge room and seeing dead birds strewn across the floor and a pentagrammed alter deeply stained with blood, where she apparently performed her sorcery. "A dwarfish, obse, and evil-smelling woman," as he remembered her.
Reading and writing were passions of Welles from an early age. He has described himself as being marinated in poetry before he reached the age of seven. His first book was only the beginning of his library, for which he collected more Shakespeare, books on theater and cinema, philosophical works, and Greek drama. He asked his father to buy him a typewriter, and on it he typed short stories, plays, lectures, and drama theses. At eight he wrote a paper on "The Universal History of Drama." By ten he had written a critique of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra.
Brady, page 12:
Drama, of course, was Orson's primary interest at Todd [School], and he was on stage almost immediately after he entered the school. At Halloween he gave a magic exhibition that firmly established him as an entertainer. At Christmas he played Mary, Mother of God, in a nativity play, then Christ in The Servant in the House and Judas Iscariot in Dust of the Road.
Brady, page 14:
His [Orson's] father died... in Chicago during the Christmas holidays of 1930... Orson claimed that his grandmother Mary performed Satanic rites at the funeral of her son.
Thomson, page 49:
 In the fall, Welles and Virginia [Nicholson, his girlfriend] went to see her parents, who were not happy about their daughter marrying this explosive young man. But they gave their consent, and the marriage took place. They were living together in New York, and there was some gossip at the hotel, so on November 14... they got married. Orson would say later that neither of them took it very seriously. A little later in the year there was a formal marriage for the family in West Orange, New Jersey.
Thomson, page 260:
"Race Hate Must Be Outlawed" was a July 1944 Welles article for Free World. It is a stirring, nearly Lincolnesque speech... it is rich and sonorous in a foreboding sense of human nature. There is not a glimmer of cunning humor or fustian common sense. It is a lecture, addressed to the masses...:
Thomson, page 264:
Race hate isn't human nature; race hate is the abandonment of human nature. But this is true: we hate whom we hurt and we mistrust whom we betray. There are minority problems simply because minority races are often wronged. Race hate, distilled from the suspicions of ignorance, takes its welcome from the impotent and the Godless, comforting those with hellish parodies of what they've lost...
The Almanac radio show that began in 1944 for CBS was essentially live, intended as comedic [and hosted by Orson Welles]. It had guest stars--Lucille Ball, Charles Laughton, George Jessel all appeared--it had comedy skits, and there was even what the ad agency behind the show called "the serious spot." At such moments, Welles might read from the Bible, do a scene from Shakespeare or recite poetry from John Donne. Welles was always tugging the show in that inspirational direction.
After the success of his 1941 film Citizen Kane, Welles announced that his next film would be about the of Jesus Christ, and that he would play the lead role. He never made this film. [Source: "The Battle Over Citizen Kane" documentary, 1996, written and produced by Thomas Lennon, Richard Ben Cramer and Michael Epstein.]
Welles was one of the writers of the 1966 John Huston film The Bible. [Source: IMDb]
Said: "I have a great love and respect for religion, great love and respect for atheism. What I hate is agnosticism, people who do not choose." [Source: http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Academy/7955/orsonwds.html]
From: Americana Audio [http://secure.bluemarble.net/%7Elodeston/cgi/ltmcat.cgi?sku=AMER001]:
Orson Welles narrates the story of Jesus' life, adapted from Biblical text and beautifully performed by an international cast of actors from the Actor's Workshop in Lisbon, Portugal. European composers worked together with both the Radio Orchestra of Rome and the National Symphony Orchestra of Spain to score and perform the stunning compositions that highlight this unforgettable work, produced in the 1950s and now rediscovered and resurrected by Americana Publishing.
Brady, pages 82-83:
1935, and Orson Welles was now twenty years old. The old Lafayette Theater in Harlem was leased... Welles called Houseman on the telephone and announced that Virginia [Welles' wife] had had an inspiration: they would do Macbeth as their first production. However, instead of the traditional Scottish setting, the action would take place in Haiti... Haitian culture had been enjoying a vogue in America ever since the U.S. Marines had left the island the year before, and Voodoo Fire in Haiti, a somewhat romanticized view of the island by Richard A. Loederer had been a bestseller in the previous months of 1935. These factors might have been the spark that ignited Virginia's bright idea. Whatever the genesis of the new approach to the theme, however, the sustained tragic tension of Macbeth, combined with an approach that would illuminate the best lines and scenes in Shakespeare while simultaneously making a statement by and for the black community, had tremendous appeal to Welles... Macbeth in the essence of its drama is no more inherently Scottish than The Merchant of Venice is Venetian. The African nature gods worshiped by voodoo [Vodoun] would make a close parallel to some of the ghostly themes found in Macbeth...
Thomson, page 11:
Welles visualized this Macbeth with vodoo priestesses as the witches and scenes that would capture the frenzy and magic of the occult, combining the rhythms of beating drums, blood, and mayhem, and expressionistic combination of the shadows and violence and chantings of Haiti, Scotland, and Manhattan all rolled into one... Welles wanted the play to combine its most tragic elements with the exotic mysticism of the jungle. He hoped that the voodoo chants, dramatic lighting, strong winds, and lightning and thunder would transform Macbeth into a Shakespearean spectacle that would evoke both fear and awe in the hearts of the audience...
Because of the strict Federal Theatre Project regulations about hiring, anyone who was even remotely qualified to walk onto a stage could be employed. According to Houseman, the company consisted of "an amazing mishmash of amateurs and professionals, church members and radicals, sophisticated and wild ones, adherents of Father Divine and bushmen from Darkest Africa."
[Many more details about this stage production, which was a key turning point in Welles' career, and helped launch him into even greater success and celebrity at an early age.]
[Orson Welles] had a voice of magnificent appropriation, the deep, smooth, cultured sound of... a barbarian masquerading as the world's most knowing insider... yet once people had seen him they saw the Mongol, the Tartar, the Genius Khan, and shivered. Oh, yes, he was always scary.
Thomson, page 284:
In that remarkable picture Heavenly Creatures (1944 [directed by Peter Jackson]), the two teenage girls in New Zealand in the 1950s [one of whom was Juliet Hulme, years before she joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became a celebrated mystery novelist] dream passionately over the lustrous stills of movie stars. But those witches in the making somehow know that Welles is "the most hideous," and his glossy is floated away across a dark pond.
Feldman persuaded Yates to do a Macbeth for $700,000, with $100,000 of that as Welles's fee. But in advanace of the shooting, Welles would mount Macbeth onstage, using the process to rehearse the actors. thus, in May 1947, Macbeth ran for four days at the University Theater in Salt Lake City (as part of the Utah Centennial Festival [marking 100 year since the date that Brigham Young, leading the Latter-day Saint pioneers, first entered the Salt Lake Valley]) before filming began in Hollywood on June 23 on a twenty-three-day schedule.
Brady, pages 406-408:
Welles had made arrangements that would permit the play [Macbeth] to be produced as the third offering of the Utah Centennial Festival in Salt Lake City in May 1947. It was now early April, and he had already cut some corners; the Utah officials had agreed to pay for the play's costumes and props and would allow Welles to use them for the film, too... The festival officials suggested to Welles that he do a production of King Lear, but he thought it better to start with--because of his experience with it--Macbeth as his first Shakespearean film.
Brady, page 585:
...In an unusual trans-media adaptation, Orson took one of his Macbeth promptbook editions, transposed it into a screenplay, and then adapted the screenplay to a stage version for the Utah festival... Welles then went ahead with the Salt Lake City phase of the plan, taking an early-morning Western Airlines fight from Hollywood with the nine members of his cast, and arriving in Salt Lake on Wednesday, May 21. They began work immediately, and by afternoon Welles had checked out the Kingsbury Hall theater on the University of Utah campus. Director C. Lowell Lees, flattered with the casting of two of his children in minor roles, provided Welles with some amateurs for talking parts and about fifty extras. Orson charmed everyone when he reminisced about Salt Lake City in the days when he had appeared there with the Katharine Cornell troupe.
Welles and company were a hit. Salt Lakers were especially dazzled to get a look at former child star Roddy McDowall, as Malcolm, now a not-so-childish nineteen. McDowall also did a good public relations job, even writing a column for Salt Lake's Deseret News...
One important aspect of Welles's interpretation of Macbeth received no mention at all: he had decided to have the cast avoid the conventional, hybrid accent usually employed by modern-day Shakespearean actors, and had them adopt instead a Scottish burr. This was a radical departure, but it seemed to be acceptable to the Utah audience. Interestingly enough, some characteristics of the Scots accent are not too far from Shakespeare's Elizabethan pronounciation, but it is far from the manner in which actors, both American and British, are coached. [The book contains many more details about Welles' Utah production of Macbeth.]
A newspaper account at the end of June  stated that Orson [Welles] had decided to film King Lear in Utah and that it would "stand people on their ear in much the same way that Citizen Kane did." Welles might have planned to take the film away from the French at that time, but nothing came of it.
Brady, page 428:
Princes of Foxes received somewhat better than mediocre reviews. Orson's acting, as the villainous Borgia, was given a nod of approval by most critics, but thefilm itself, despite its swashbuckling spectacle and pictorial excellence, was regarded as slow-paced and seeming ot lack nay kind of narrative flair. Variety deemed that Orson "tastefully etched his finest screen portrait to date." Even old enemy Louella Parsons broke down and gave him a left-handed compliment: "Although Orson Welles is never my favorite actor, I must admit he doesn't overact too much as Borgia. This is the awesome Orson at his best." And Heda Hopper quoted Henry King as saying he believed Orson would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor... Orson wasn't nominated. Dean Jagger [who later was a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] won it that year for his performance in Twelve O'Clock High. Princes of Foxes did receive one nomination, however, for Leon Shamroy's black-and-white cinematography.
Brady, page 584:
In early 1985, Orson then narratd a film called Almonds and Raisins. It was a documentary about the history of the Yiddish cinema that flourished during the Depression, and it gave millions of Jews the opportunity of reliving and understanding their immigrant experience in their own language. Most of the footage came from the archives of Brandeis University's National Center for Jewish Film.
Orson loved working with director Russ Kavel and especially enjoyed learning about an area of cinema that he knew little about, one filled with music, humor, folklore, and tears. (For example, he noted with pleasure that in a Yiddish remake of The Jazz Singer, when the cantor's son returns from a triumphant singing tour--as in the original--in this version he maries the shtetl girl [i.e., a girl from a small Jewish community] who lives next door.)
Webpage created 27 May 2005. Last modified 6 December 2005.
We are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. to: email@example.com.