Even though Orson Welles’ career is one of the most consequential and legendary within film history, referring to him as a “director” or even a “filmmaker” only tells part of the story. While Welles’ cinematic output was notoriously cut short in numerous occasions by forces of will outside his own, his career hardly resided exclusively behind the camera. Not only was Welles one of the most famous voices in American radio throughout the 1930s, while he also led some of the most progressive and controversial works on the American stage in New York’s Mercury Theater, he was also a prolific television personality, a consummate actor, a public intellectual, a fierce defender of the arts, and even a bizarro-world variety show host.
Few have mastered and made their name across numerous tiers of 20th century mass media quite like Welles. After all, his first feature film, completed at age 25, was inspired by the life of the most powerful newspaper magnate in the world. “Filmmaker” in the traditional sense is hardly a moniker that encapsulates Welles’ accomplishments from his 1937 production of “Julius Caesar” set in fascist Italy to his 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast to arguably making one of the first “essay films” with his 1972 documentary F for Fake to achieving a kind of ubiquity in 1960s and 1970s television as an endlessly fascinating interview personality whose force of nature in front of television cameras easily eclipsed many other actors and directors.
What We’ve Learned: “Go On Singing”