Orson Welles

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Orson Welles (6 May 191510 October 1985), writer, actor and film director

See also pages for Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil


  • This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character, to assure you that The War of the Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be; The Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying "Boo!". Starting now, we couldn't soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night, so we did the best next thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears and utterly destroyed the CBS. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn't mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. So goodbye everybody, and remember please for the next day or so the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian, it's Halloween.
    • The on-air apology he gave at the end of his infamous War of the Worlds broadcast, live CBS Radio Network broadcast (30 October 1938)
  • In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed - they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love and five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock!
  • He [Welles] was an onlooker at the clumsy, poignant suicide of "The Man on the Ledge," which took place in New York in 1938, when a boy perched for fourteen hours on a window-sill of the Gotham Hotel before plunging into the street. "I stood in the crowd outside for a long time," Welles says pensively, "and wanted to make a film of it all. But they tell me that in the Hollywood version of the film they gave the boy a reason for what he did. That's crazy. It's the crowd that needs explaining."
  • A long-playing full shot is what always separates the men from the boys. Anybody can make movies with a pair of scissors and a two-inch lens.
  • 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.
    • Quoted in an interview from Hollywood Voices, ed. Andrew Sarris (1971)
  • I try to be a Christian...I don't pray really, because I don't want to bore God.
    • Quoted in interview by Merv Griffin, from Frank Brady, Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles, Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, NY (1989), page 576.
  • Even if I’d stayed [in the US to finish ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’] I would’ve had to make compromises on the editing, but these would’ve been mine and not the fruit of confused and often semi-hysterical committees. If I had been there myself I would have found my own solutions and saved the pictures in a form which would have carried the stamp of my own effort.
  • Hollywood is Hollywood. There’s nothing you can say about it that isn’t true, good or bad. And if you get into it, you have no right to be bitter — you’re the one who sat down, and joined the game.
    • Quoted in The Orson Welles Story
  • The people who’ve done well within the [Hollywood] system are the people whose instincts, whose desires [are in natural alignement with those of the producers] — who want to make the kind of movies that producers want to produce. People who don’t succeed — people who’ve had long, bad times; like [Jean] Renoir, for example, who I think was the best director, ever — are the people who didn’t want to make the kind of pictures that producers want to make. Producers didn’t want to make a Renoir picture, even if it was a success.
    • Quoted in The Orson Welles Story
  • It's about two percent movie-making and ninety-eight percent hustling. It's no way to spend a life.
  • I think I made, essentially, a mistake, staying in movies. But it’s a mistake I can’t regret, because it’s like saying, ‘I shouldn’t have stayed married to that woman, but I did because I love her. I would’ve been more successful if I hadn’t been married to her…’ You know?
    • Quoted in Taschen Movie Icons: Orson Welles
  • One should make movies innocently — the way Adam and Eve named the animals, their first day in the garden…Learn from your own interior vision of things, as if there had never been a D.W.Griffith, or a [Sergei] Eisenstein, or a [John] Ford, or a [Jean] Renoir, or anybody.
    • Quoted in The Orson Welles Story

The Findus Foods "Frozen Peas" Session Out-Takes

  • That doesn't make any sense. Sorry. There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with "in" and emphasize it. Get me a jury and show me how you can say "In July" and I'll go down on you. That's just idiotic, if you'll forgive me by saying so. That's just stupid... "In July"; I'd love to know how you emphasize "In" in "In July". Impossible! Meaningless!
  • You don't know what I'm up against. Because it's full of, of, of things that are only correct because they're grammatical, but they're tough on the ear, you see. This is a very wearying one. It's unpleasant to read. Unrewarding. "Because Findus freeze the cod at sea, and then add a crumb-crisp" Ooh, "crumb-crisp coating." Ahh, that's tough, "crumb-crisp coating." I think, no, because of the way it's written, you need to break it up, because it's not, it's not as conversationally written.
  • "We know a little place in the American Far West, where Charlie Briggs chops up the finest prairie-fed beef and tastes..." (pauses, and continues with a note of disgust in his voice) This is a lot of shit, you know that! You want one more? One more on the beef?
  • But you can't emphasize "beef", that's like his wanting me to emphasize "in" before "July"! Come on, fellows, you're losing your heads! I wouldn't direct any living actor like this in Shakespeare! The way you do this, it's impossible!
  • The right reading for this is the one I'm giving.
  • I spend... twenty times more for you people than any other commercial I've ever made. You are such pests! Now what is it you want? In your... depths of your ignorance, what is it you want? Whatever it is you want, I can't deliver, 'cause I just don't see it.
  • It isn't worth it. No money is worth this... [walks out]


  • Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.
  • Every actor in his heart believes everything bad that's printed about him.
  • Gluttony is not a secret vice.
  • I hate television. I hate it as much as I hate peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts.
  • I passionately hate the idea of being with it, I think an artist has always to be out of step with his time.
  • Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.
  • My doctor has advised me to give up those intimate little dinners for four. Unless there are three people eating with me.
  • Now we sit through Shakespeare in order to recognize the quotations.
  • The trouble with a movie is that it's old before it's released. It's no accident that it comes in a can.
  • If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.
  • She's the most exciting woman in the world!
    • When he was asked about working with Eartha Kitt.
  • Living in the lap of luxury isn't bad, except you never know when luxury is going to stand up.
  • Everybody denies that I am genius - but nobody ever called me one.


  • Orson Welles est une manière de géant au regard enfantin, un abre bourré d’oiseaux et d’ombre, un chien qui a cassé sa chaîne et se couche dans les plates-bandes, un paresseux actif, un fou sage, une solitude entourée de monde, un étudiant qui dort en classe, un stratège qui fait semblant d’être ivre quand il veut qu’on luit foute la paix.
    • Orson Welles is a kind of giant with the look of a child, a tree filled with birds and shadow, a dog that has broken its chain and lies down in the flower beds, an active idler, a wise madman, an island surrounded by people, a pupil asleep in class, a strategist who pretends to be drunk when he wants to be left in peace.**
  • Orson revealed his surprising capacity for collaboration. For all the mass of his own ego, he was able to apprehend other people’s weakness and strength and to make creative use of them: he had a shrewn instinctive sense of when to bully or charm, when to be kind or savage…’
    • John Houseman in Run-Through
  • Those of us who were close to Orson had long been aware of the obsessive part his father used to play in his life. Much of what he had accomplished so precociously had been done out of a furious need to prove himself in the eys of a man who was no longer there to see it. Now that success had come, in quantities and of a kind that his father had never dreamed of, this conflict, far from being assuaged, seemed to grow more intense and consuming.
    • John Houseman in Run-Through
  • To me, Orson is so much like a destitute king. A ‘destitute’ king, not because he was thrown away from the kingdom, but [because] on this earth, the way the world is, there is no kingdom good enough for Orson Welles.
  • Orson’s lifelong attraction to the art that has as its very essence the blurring of the line between reality and illusion was another piece of this same puzzle: Nothing gave him as much consistent pleasure as teasing audiences, and himself, with the many masks of magic.
    • Henry Jaglom
  • [T]he man I got to know so well in no way resembled the mythical mask-wearer that everyone else saw and believed him to be. I discovered an incredibly open, deeply warm, and profoundly human friend, one who was generous to an unbelievable fault, was caring and concerned, and was vulnerable to the point of such fragility that he could be wounded terribly by the unaware, casual, critical statement of almost any outsider. I was always astounded by the way in which so many who did not know him viewed him as an arrogant, terrifying, egocentric ogre. They approached him with so much diffidence and fear as to set him up in such a way that his only possible response would be to satisfy their expectations. The Mask would win again.
    • Henry Jaglom

See also

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