US actor and director, whose screen career started with the classic Citizen Kane, an achievement he never repeated.
Born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Welles first became interested in drama with school productions. After attending the Chicago Art Institute he appeared at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, in 1931 and went on to tour in Africa and America. He subsequently founded his own company, Mercury Theatre, producing plays and making Shakespeare recordings for schools. The Mercury Theatre's radio broadcast of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds (1938) caused widespread panic among American listeners, who believed a real Martian invasion was taking place. This episode brought Welles considerable public attention.
Welles produced, directed, wrote, and acted in his first film, the critically acclaimed (but commercially unsuccessful) Citizen Kane (1941), based on the life of William Hearst, the newspaper magnate. The impact of this film was so enormous that Welles had difficulty in living up to it. However, his second film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), was well, if not enthusiastically, received. Notable of the films that followed were Jane Eyre (1943), in which Welles played Rochester, and The Lady from Shanghai (1948), which also featured his second wife, Rita Hayworth (1918–87).
Welles then left Hollywood for a long stay in Europe. In Britain he appeared briefly in Carol Reed's masterpiece The Third Man (1949), as the philosophical racketeer Harry Lime, and on a visit to the USA made Touch of Evil (1958), which won a Brussels World's Fair prize. Other films include Macbeth (1947), Othello (1956), and Chimes at Midnight (1966), for which he drew on Shakespeare's ‘Falstaff’ plays. Lear and Othello were among his stage roles, his London debut being made in the latter in 1951. He was awarded a Special Oscar (1971) and the Life Achievement Award of the American Film Institute (1975).