Orson Welles

Unidentified Artistc. 1938

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

For actor-director Orson Welles, the impulse to innovate was second nature. By 1937, his unconventional stagings of such works as Shakespeare's Julius Caesar had established him as live theater's boy wonder. When he turned to radio directing, Welles proved no less inventive, and in the late 1930s he raised radio drama to new levels of sophistication. The most celebrated testament to Welles's genius, however, was Citizen Kane, a movie that he starred in, co-authored, and directed. Based on the life of news mogul William Randolph Hearst, Kane ranks today among the finest films ever made.

Welles is pictured here in a radio studio about the time he produced "The War of the Worlds" for Mercury Theatre on the Air. He made that drama about aliens invading Earth so convincing that it sent many of his listeners into a panic.

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