‘Citizen Kane’: The Astonishing Debut of Hollywood’s Greatest Wunderkind

Orson Welles (seated by the giant megaphone) directs a scene from 1941′s ‘Citizen Kane’ while laid up with a broken ankle he suffered during the shoot. The visor-adorned gentleman next to the camera is cinematographer Gregg Toland. Production still photographer: Alexander Kahle © Warner Brothers
Orson Welles (seated by the giant megaphone) directs a scene from 1941′s ‘Citizen Kane’ while laid up with a broken ankle he suffered during the shoot. The visor-adorned gentleman next to the camera is cinematographer Gregg Toland. Production still photographer: Alexander Kahle © Warner Brothers

It took a long time for Hollywood to convince Orson Welles to come to the dark side. Welles was in love with theater, and as he stated himself, he embraced the world of movies only upon stepping onto the set for the very first time. However, it took months of negotiating with RKO Pictures studio head George J. Schaefer, as well as several poorly received plays that brought him financial troubles, for Welles to finally agree to come to California. The contract that Schaefer offered him was unprecedented: Welles could choose whatever story he wanted, he had the final cut, he could even pick actors and actresses independently and RKO was supposed to stay off his set entirely. The boy genius was granted an opportunity only a few have ever been blessed to experience, but soon even the RKO employees started to speculate as to whether his contract with RKO would expire before Welles even made a single movie. After toying with several concepts and giving up on filming Heart of Darkness due to budgetary limitations, Welles started developing the idea which would blossom into Citizen Kane. The work on the script was launched immediately: since Welles admired Herman J. Mankiewicz, a well-known writer and script doctor but also a notorious drinker and gambler, they committed to the idea of writing a picture together. After seven complete revisions, the screenplay was ready, and the effort would later be rewarded with the only Academy Award Citizen Kane received. However, the dispute over the authorship of the script remained a point of both the public and the industry’s interest for decades later. The legend has it that Welles tried to deny Mankiewicz his screenwriting credit, only to be forced to concede by the Screen Writers Guild, from whom Mankiewicz sought help in fear of losing the acknowledgement he felt he deserved. Others cite Welles as confessing Mankiewicz’s contribution was enormous. Film critic Pauline Kael wrote a whole essay on the subject, clearly stating the troublesome writer was the unsung hero of Citizen Kane, only to be rebuffed by Peter Bogdanovich, who defended Welles and argued the filmmaker was equally responsible for the magnificent screenplay. Whatever the truth may be, the facts are rather simple: the script abounds in well-developed characters, it is set apart by a stunning narrative structure and genius dialogue.

Just as he acknowledged his co-writer’s contribution to making the picture, Welles also went to great lengths to give credit to his cinematographer, the legendary Gregg Toland. The cinematographer who worked with John Ford, William Wyler, Howard Hawks and Erich von Stroheim is the one without whom the technical perfection of Citizen Kane wouldn’t be attainable. One of the main reasons the film was hailed as a pioneering, revolutionary project unlike anything the American cinema produced up to that time was the technical mastery of its execution. Probably the most prominent characteristic of Toland’s work on Citizen Kane was his frequent use of deep focus, as well as skilful chiaro-scuro play with lights and shadows, or the low angle shots that revealed the ceilings to the audience, a device completely uncharacteristic for Hollywood pictures of the time. Welles considered Toland to be the greatest cinematographer Hollywood had ever seen. Toland’s immense contribution was what lent Citizen Kane the visual identity associated with German Expressionism, and many scholars attribute the visual grandeur of Kane to Toland’s instead of Welles’ virtuosity. Combine this with Welles’ indisputable directing skills and the fresh idea of developing a story by using multiple, often unreliable perspectives, and the result is truly a film like no other. Bernard Herrmann’s score, which established the composer as an important new figure in Hollywood, ignored the standard practice of scoring the film with non-stop music, rather employing what is called “radio scoring,” utilizing musical sequences with the goal of bridging the action and hinting at the emotional states of the characters. The film was edited by the great Robert Wise, who would go on to have a splendid filmmaking career, and it introduced actor Joseph Cotten to the general public.

Despite glowing reviews and enthusiastic reception, Citizen Kane did not achieve box office glory. Enraged by the story of an aging media tycoon in which he recognized himself, the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst dedicated himself to putting a halt on the film’s promotion and distribution, causing Citizen Kane to consequently come short in the financial aspect. Banned from many theaters in the big cities, but too sophisticated and complex to be fully appreciated in smaller towns, the film soon vanished from theaters, only to be reanimated when sold to television. But Hearst’s impulsive reaction only helped the film gain the reputation and mythic stature it still enjoys today. Box office failure or not, Citizen Kane remains one of the most impressive, technically advanced, pioneering filmmaking works of art that is still used as a measure for quality for all movies aiming at greatness.

A monumentally important screenplay. Dear every screenwriter/filmmaker, read Herman J. Mankiewicz & Orson Welles’ screenplay for Citizen Kane [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). RKO awarded Mankiewicz secondary credit, though Welles opted for the official credit to read “Screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles.” The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

On December 11, 2007, Sotheby’s New York offered Orson Welles’ personal working copy of the script for the famed film, Citizen Kane. The 156-page script, the last revised draft before the final shooting script, contains numerous annotations, revisions, and deletions, as well as the addition of a few new scenes. Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz, the creative minds behind the acclaimed screenplay, produced seven total scripts for Citizen Kane, each with critical modifications that culminated with the Oscar-winning script. The Citizen Kane script is the most important screenplay of all time, said Leila Dunbar, director of Sotheby’s Collectibles Department. It was a collaboration where Herman Mankiewicz set the foundation and Orson Welles added the emotion, depth and power, raising the text to a much higher level. Mankiewicz gave the story life but Welles made it immortal. —Orson Welles’ personal working copy of the script

In 1941, Robert Wise had recently graduated from an apprentice editorship to a full-time editor, having cut Dorothy Arzner’s Dance, Girl, Dance and William Dieterle’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame before he interviewed for the job on Citizen Kane. The film’s studio, RKO, had already assigned an older editor to the picture, but Welles fired him and hired Wise, who was just 6 months older than the 25 year-old director. Here’s the original editor’s copy of Citizen Kane.

I worked with him like I did with any director in those days. When he shot all the angles in a sequence, I would put it in a cut and then I would show it to him and he would say, ‘don’t use that close up,’ or ‘why didn’t you use those over-the-shoulders I shot?’” —Robert Wise

International Photographer magazine from January 1941, with cover photo and an extensive article devoted to the 1941 film. Three pages of behind the scenes photos by Alexander Kahle, still photographer for the film, are featured in the article entitled, ‘Welles and the Cameraman’ [PDF].


Maurice Seiderman’s wide-ranging work included such later Welles films as The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil, the Val Lewton horror films at RKO, and even the infamous 1955 Bela Lugosi/Ed Wood collaboration Bride of the Monster, as well as work for the Broadway stage. Yet Citizen Kane is Maurice Seiderman’s true legacy. William Forsche had to dig deep in the basement archives to find this rare interview. 3 minutes into this video we hear from Citizen Kane make-up artist Maurice Seiderman, one of the most brilliantly creative in Hollywood history. We also see Orson Welles full head life cast which is currently housed at the Museum of the Moving Image.

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Vintage print of storyboard art used in the production of Citizen Kane, courtesy of Nate D. Sanders. A single frame of the celebrated film is drawn in detail and titled: “EXT. Camp in Everglades.” This is the famous scene in which Charles Foster Kane throws an elaborate ‘picnic’ in the Everglades for his second wife Susan Alexander. It ends in a heated argument between the couple that ultimately leads to Susan walking out on her husband. A schematic diagram for the scene’s set design is included.

This graphic contains a surprising amount of direction in the nine frames which illustrate the “Roof Of Hospital” scene in which Thompson, the reporter, interviews Jedediah Leland, Kane’s former best friend. A schematic diagram for the scene’s set design is included. Some of the captions read, “Opening on a piece of architectural sculpturing Dolly to Right/Disclosing back of Thompson’s head and Leland reclining/in deck chair as we travel as far as/mesh wire will permit—Cut to…” and “… as we go back to him for/second part change angle to include Thompson and for/third part choose still different angle…”

The five frames illustrate the progression of the “Roof of Hospital” scene in which Thompson, the reporter, interviews the geriatric Jedediah Leland, Kane’s former best friend. A blueprint for the scene’s set design is included. A handwritten caption runs beneath the illustrations and reads: “Bewildering shot of Thompson and camera/travels around reveals Leland as an old man on a roof of hospital in/Arizona—During dialogue activity on roof of nurses caring for other patients/at conclusion of sequence starts down stair/saying goodbye to Thompson.”


William Alland (Thompson, the reporter) on Gregg Toland: “I remember sitting in a production meeting with Orson and a few others before the start of Citizen Kane. The time had arrived to select a cameraman, and Orson said, ‘If I could only get Gregg Toland—that’s the man I want.’ Orson had never even met Gregg, but he had admired Gregg’s work in John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath and The Long Voyage Home. Someone at the meeting spoke up: ‘There’s no chance of getting Toland. He’s under contract to Sam Goldwyn.’ ‘I know that,’ said Orson. ‘But I’d still like to have him photograph the picture.’ Just then the telephone rang, and Orson answered. A voice on the other end of the line said: ‘This is Gregg Toland. I understand that you’re making a picture at RKO. I’d like to work with you on it.’ Thus began one of the most successful artistic relationships I’ve ever seen. Orson and Gregg respected each other, and they got along beautifully. No matter what Orson wanted, Gregg would try to get it for him. Gregg had a tremendous responsibility because Orson was in almost every scene. But Gregg kept an eye on everything.”

Given the fact that Citizen Kane has long been considered the greatest film ever made, here is a wonderful piece about the cinematography for Kane, written only a few months after it premiered by Gregg Toland, for the September, 1941 issue of Theater Arts magazine. Courtesy of Wellesnet.

“I enjoy being a motion picture cameraman. Of all the people who make up a movie production unit, the cameraman is the only one who can call himself a free soul. He is certainly the least inhibited. The producer, director, film editor, the players, all act as checks upon the creative impulses of one another. But the cameraman may do exactly what he wants to do, for the simple reason that while the work of the others is visually obvious at the time it is being performed, the work of the cameraman is not revealed until twenty-four hours later when the film which has passed through his camera is flashed upon the screen in a projection room. While he is actually making a scene, no one can rightfully say, ‘I don’t like the way you are doing that; suppose we try it this way.’No, the cameraman is perfectly at liberty to carry out his own ideas, even to introduce an occasional revolutionary departure—within the bounds of reason, of course. This freedom of idea expression is to any human being a precious privilege. A cameraman’s function is basic. He is fundamental in the scheme of things. Of all the personnel in the complex production system, he is the one and the only one who actually “makes pictures.” Inside the highly sensitive mechanism under his control a miracle occurs. Then out of it emerge small strips of celluloid upon which visual realities have been transmuted into the imagery of the storyteller.Regarded from this viewpoint, his responsibility is considerable, for these strips of celluloid comprise the sole asset of the producer, represent a huge outlay of money, time and the talents of authors, scenarists, producers, players and artisans. Exposed film is the only tangible thing the industry has to show for its investment.

Of equal importance is the cameraman’s responsibility to the vast multitudes of people who attend the movies. A simple definition of a motion picture cameraman should necessarily be preceded by a definition of his camera, for that is his medium. The camera, when you get right down to cases, is the eyes of the audience. Thus the cameraman is the censor (I dislike the word but it is applicable here) over the most important of the five physical senses of millions of entertainment seekers. Great is his crime, artistically speaking, if he violates this trust by failing to present in the most telling manner the dramatic content of the plot. The cameraman’s further responsibilities are both artistic and economic, inasmuch as he is a factor in an art-industry. From the art side of the picture, there are three things he must know:

1. The mechanics of the camera.

2. Where to place the camera.

3. How to light the scene to be photographed.

The first is purely routine. The second and third functions involve the creative ingredient. The placement of the camera determines the angle from which the action is to be viewed by audiences. The importance of this angle to dramatic effect cannot be overemphasized. The lighting of the scene is an equally potent factor in the determination of dramatic effect, in addition to its basic function—visibility. To the eye of an expert cameraman, the manner in which a set is lighted is an infallible key to the mood to be established. He can step onto a lighted set which he has never seen before and predict with astonishing accuracy what kind of scene is about to be photographed.

On the industrial side, it is within his power to save or waste a lot of money. A fine cameraman begins his work long before the actual start of his photographic duties. In the case of The Little Foxes, for Samuel Goldwyn, my work began six weeks before we shot the first scene. There were long conferences with the producer, with William Wyler, the director, with the architect who designed the sets, with the property man and other artisans. Discussions with the director involved a complete breakdown of the script, scene by scene, with an eye to the photographic approach, considering the various dramatic effects desired. While this advance discussion pertained to the art ingredient, it was also of economic benefit because it meant the saving of much time and money once actual photography began.

We built knock-down miniature models of the most important sets and juggled the walls about for the purpose of fixing upon the best angles, the best places to set up the camera. We took into consideration color values, types of wallpaper or background finishes, the color and styles of costumes to be worn by the principals, the furnishings and investiture. We set the photographic key for various sequences—the light or gay ones, dramatically speaking, in a high key of light, the more somber or moody scenes in a low and more ‘contrasty’ key.

We determined that Bette Davis, the star, should wear a pure white make-up. This is revolutionary, but it is a potent device in suggesting the kind of character she portrays in the story—a woman waging the eternal conflict with age, trying to cling to her fading beauty. But because of the contrast between her make-up and that of the other principals, we had to discover exactly the balance of light which would illuminate both to advantage. Ascertaining this light balance required extensive make-up tests.

Other conferences had to do purely with the economic phase. It was discovered that certain sets could be entirely eliminated because their importance to the dramatic whole did not justify their cost. Time being the costliest item in movie making, a cameraman must consider it his duty to save all the time he can. If he can set up in fifteen minutes instead of a half hour, so much the better.

It is obvious that the relationship of the cameraman to his director must be one of complete coordination. The director will have his own ideas about camera angles, but in the final analysis it is the cameraman who must determine whether those ideas are workable and what the results will be. It has been my pleasure to be associated with some of the foremost directors in the industry—Leo McCarey, Mervyn LeRoy, King Vidor, Rouben Mamoulian, Richard Boleslawsky, Sidney Franklin, Howard Hawks, William Wyler, John Ford and Orson Welles.

Directors such as these are a cameraman’s delight. They are open to suggestions which take the camera off the beaten track of photographic conservatism.

In the production of Citizen Kane, Orson Welles functioned in a fourfold capacity—as producer, writer, director and star. His authority to make decisions was virtually unlimited. To cap it all he proved one of the most cooperative artists with whom it has been my privilege to work. He let down all bars on originality of photographic effects and angles and I believe the results have fully justified that policy. Photographing Citizen Kane was indeed the most exciting professional adventure of my career.

Welles is unique in his zeal to get exactly what he wants. We spent four days perfecting one very difficult shot. It was a complex mixture of art and mechanics. A table and chairs on rollers were to behave with clock-like precision as a three-ton camera boom moved over them. In proper timing lay the difficulty. When the props behaved on schedule, a child actor would blow up his line. When those two items coordinated, the operation of the camera crane by nine men would be slightly out of synchronization. To bring all this action, dialogue and mechanics into perfect time was the problem. But it was eventually solved. Sidelight: every setting in Citizen Kane was provided with a complete ceiling, an unheard-of procedure in set construction but one which opened up entirely new possibilities in camera angles.

The cameraman’s responsibility does not end with the recording of the final scene of the picture. Personally, I have conformed to the policy of following through until the picture is ready for release. In addition to dissolves and other added camera work, there is the duty of inspecting all laboratory work, checking the first and succeeding answer prints, recommending changes to the laboratory for general improvement in quality, then double-checking on the changes after they have been made. I saw Citizen Kane a total of twenty-seven times in the projection room. But at the end of that twenty-seventh look I was satisfied that the laboratory work was as nearly perfect as possible. I considered it a good investment of time to protect the quality of the work I had put into the photography.

There are many interesting expedients which a cameraman may employ to good advantage in the saving of time. In Citizen Kane we made fifteen takes of a particular scene without obtaining one that was completely perfect. When the dialogue was right, the mechanics were off. Or it was the other way around. I suggested that we try to match the perfect sound track of one take with the flawless photographic mechanics of another. Orson Welles agreed. The experiment was a success.

Such miracles of matching are not unusual. Even the film can be stretched, in a manner of speaking. Frequently we have been able to re-pace the words of a speech on sound track by adding or cutting out tiny segments of blank film between those words.

Among the qualifications of a good cameraman, I think serious application is of first importance. A cameraman is the hardest worker in a picture set-up. The actors have days off; the director can relax while each scene is being lighted. But the cameraman lines up each and every shot, shoots it when ready, follows through the laboratory processes. He is among the first to arrive on the set every morning, the last to leave the studio at night. Watch him at work and you will find him the one person who is never idle. Others can be seen sitting around at times but never the cameraman. Throughout all preparation for a scene, the entire stage staff is at his disposal. It is not unusual for him to have a crew of forty to fifty various technicians.

Here are other qualifications. Not only should he know all about the science and mechanics of photography but he should be a student of drama. I found it to my advantage to take a course in playwriting. Also a course in hairdressing and another in screen make-up. I continually observe and study new styles in women’s clothes, from the viewpoint of their values in enhancing certain dramatic moods.


The cameraman should possess an aptitude for things mechanical, plus a sensitivity to the artistic. Although I was schooled to be an electrical engineer, I knew the moment I had my first look at a movie camera that I’d found my chosen profession. I was just fifteen at the time, had landed a job as an office boy at the old Fox studio to fill in my summer vacation. Soon I managed to get a job packing a camera. After five years I joined the Samuel Goldwyn organization as an assistant cameraman and seven years later was given my first assignment as a full-fledged cameraman—Eddie Cantor’s Palmy Days. I’d had to wait and work twelve years before achieving my goal. But it was well worth it. Although I have been loaned out to many other companies, the Goldwyn lot is still my professional home. I have been there seventeen years.

Of the thirty-eight pictures I have photographed since Palmy Days, I believe Citizen Kane is the best example of camera possibilities in securing dramatic effect. Several others, however, particularly The Long Voyage Home, The Grapes of Wrath, Intermezzo, Wuthering Heights, Dead End, Dark Angel and These Three, proved sources of infinite satisfaction in that regard.

There is one controversy which will always rage in Hollywood. It concerns the star system. As a cameraman, I have been unable to sidestep that issue. The question has too often been asked, point-blank: What do you think of the star system?

This is my answer. Although it is of undeniable economic importance and practically speaking, a virtual necessity, I cannot help but regard it as a dramatic deterrent. Such a system is doomed always to be in conflict with the ideal of perfect realistic effect. The star system predisposes to the theory that the star is the thing, in opposition to the truth that the play’s the thing. It often becomes necessary to please the star, to the detriment of the general effect. This is understandable, from the cameraman’s viewpoint, when you consider the importance of lighting and angles in securing that effect. The best angle, the most appropriate lighting for the scene, may have to be discarded in favor of the particular angle or light value most flattering to a star or principal. Such photo-flattery often means the subjugation of realism to personality.

The perfect vehicle, to the cameraman’s way of thinking, is the picture in which story and dramatic values are uppermost and the players are regarded in their true category, i.e., as characters in the play rather than motion picture personalities. It was this theory, so astutely adhered to in some of the continental importations such as Pepe le Moko, The Baker’s Wife and others of that ilk, which made those pictures classic examples of the potentialities of camera effectiveness.

New developments in the science of motion picture photography are not abundant at this advanced stage of the game but periodically one is perfected to make this a greater art. Of these I am in an excellent position to discuss what is termed “Pan-focus,” as I have been active for two years in its development and used it for the first time in Citizen Kane. Through its use, it is possible to photograph action from a range of eighteen inches from the camera lens to over two hundred feet away, with extreme foreground and background figures and action both recorded in sharp relief. Hitherto, the camera had to be focused either for a close or a distant shot, all efforts to encompass both at the same time resulting in one or the other being out of focus. This handicap necessitated the breaking up of a scene into long and short angles, with much consequent loss of realism. With pan-focus, the camera, like the human eye, sees an entire panorama at once, with everything clear and lifelike.

Pan-focus was only possible after the development of speedy new film, enabling the cameraman to stop down his lens to the small aperture required for sharp focus. With the slow sensitivity characteristic of the film of a few years ago, this would have been impossible as not enough light could have gotten through such a small aperture to expose the film properly. Today, we get as much value out of fifty candlepower light as we once would have obtained from two hundred candlepower, so sensitive is the modern speed film.

Any list of the most important photographic developments since the beginning of the industry should include the following items:

1. High speed film.

2. More efficient lighting units made possible by the more sensitive film, which requires less light.

3. The light meter, an amazingly efficient little instrument which, held to the light, indicates by gauge the exact amount of light on a set. The use of this meter eliminates all guesswork, enabling the cameraman to set his basic light key and maintain that key throughout a sequence, thus doing away with light jumps in the assembled picture.

4. Mechanization of equipment. The perfection of booms, dollies and other devices which allow perfect flexibility of movement to the camera. These contrivances, so delicately balanced they can be moved with the pressure of a finger, are marvels of efficiency and virtually give wings to the previously earthbound camera.

And what of the future?

I freely predict some form of third dimension photography within five years. A number of systems are now in experimental stages.

Television is arriving but I believe it will not come into general use for some time. When it does, it will not prove a menace to the motion picture industry for the simple reason that motion picture film is the best medium for televising.

Color will continue to be improved but will never be a hundred per cent successful. Nor will it ever entirely replace black and white film because of the inflexibility of light in color photography and the consequent sacrifice of dramatic contrasts. Anything done in the gay, high-key light which color photography necessitates for its existence (such as musical comedies) will continue to be suitable as a subject for color film. But the low-key, more dramatic use of light seems to me automatically to rule color out in pictures of another type.

Paradoxically enough, realism suffers in the color medium. The sky, as reproduced, is many shades deeper than its natural blue. The faces of the characters are usually a straw shade. Three prime colors are now utilized but not enough shades are possible with those three. More basic colors would involve too complex a problem to be economically practicable. In the black and white picture, color is automatically supplied by the imagination of the spectator and the imagination is infallible, always supplying exactly the right shade. That is something physical science will continue to find tough competition.

One thing more—the camera itself. Its value, fully equipped, is about $15,000. It has seven lenses of varying focal lengths. In its operation, I use an average of a million feet of film a year. And with sixteen pictures to each foot—that’s a lot of pictures!” —Gregg Toland on working with Orson Welles shooting Citizen Kane

For further reading: Orson Welles and Gregg Toland: Their Collaboration on Citizen Kane by Robert L. Carringer, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Summer, 1982), pp. 651-674.


The most detailed answer given by Orson Welles was contained in a press statement released by RKO Radio Pictures prior the film’s release in May 1941. Courtesy of Wellesnet.

“I wished to make a motion picture which was not a narrative of action so much as an examination of character. For this, I desired a man of many sides and many aspects. It was my idea to show that six or more people could have as many widely divergent opinions concerning the nature of a single personality. Clearly such a notion could not be worked out if it would apply to an ordinary American citizen. I immediately decided that my character (Charles Foster Kane) should be a public man—an extremely public man—an extremely important one…

There have been many motion pictures and novels rigorously obeying the formula of the ‘success story,’ I wished to do something quite different. I wished to make a picture which might be called a ‘failure story.’ I did not wish to portray a ruthless and gifted industrialist working his way up from a simple lumberman or streetcar conductor to a position of wealth and prominence. The interpretations of such a character by his intimates were too obvious for my purpose; I therefore invested my character with sixty million dollars at the age of eight so that there was no considerable or important gain in point of wealth possible from a dramatic point of view. My story was not, therefore, about how a man gets money, but what he does with his money—not when he gets old—but throughout his entire career. A man, who has money and doesn’t have to concern himself with making more, naturally wishes to use it for the exercise of power…

The most basic of all ideas was that of a search for the true significance of the man’s apparently meaningless dying words. Kane was raised without a family. He was snatched from his mother’s arms in early childhood. His parents were a bank. From the point of view of the psychologist, my character had never made what is known as ‘transference’ from his mother. Hence his failure with his wives. In making this clear during the course of the picture, it was my attempt to lead the thoughts of my audience closer and closer to the solution of the enigma of his dying words. These were ‘Rosebud.’ The device of the picture calls for a newspaperman (who didn’t know Kane) to interview people who knew him very well. None had ever heard of ‘Rosebud.’ Actually, as it turns out, ‘Rosebud’ is the trade name of a cheap little sled on which Kane was playing on the day he was taken away from his home and his mother. In his subconscious it represented the simplicity, the comfort, above all the lack of responsibility in his home, and also it stood for his mother’s love which Kane never lost.

Orson Welles arriving for the New York premiere of Citizen Kane on May 1, 1941.

Orson Welles arriving for the New York premiere of Citizen Kane on May 1, 1941.

In his waking hours, Kane had certainly forgotten the sled and the name which was painted on it. Casebooks of psychiatrists are full of these stories. It was important for me in the picture to tell the audience as effectively as possible what this really meant. Clearly it would be undramatic and disappointing if an arbitrary character in the story popped up with the information. The best solution was the sled itself. Now, how could this sled still exist since it was built in 1880?

It was necessary that my character be a collector the kind of man who never throws anything away. I wished to use as a symbol—at the conclusion of the picture—a great expanse of objects—thousands and thousands of things—one of which is ‘Rosebud.’ This field of inanimate theatrical properties I wished to represent the very dust heap of a man’s life. I wished the camera to show beautiful things, ugly things and useless things, too—indeed everything, which could stand for a public career and a private life. I wished objects of art, objects of sentiment, and just plain objects. There was no way for me to do this except to make my character, as I have said, a collector, and to give him a great house in which to keep his collections. The house itself occurred to me as a literal translation in terms of drama of the expression ‘ivory tower.’ The protagonist of my ‘failure story’ must retreat from a democracy which his money fails to buy and his power fails to control.

There are two retreats possible: death and the womb. The house was the womb. Here too was all the grandeur, all the despotism, which my man had found lacking in the outside world. Such was his estate—such was the obvious repository for a collection large enough to include, without straining the credulity of the audience—a little toy from the dead past of a great man.” —Orson Welles: The meaning of Rosebud in Citizen Kane


Here are some excerpts of a lecture and Q & A session with Bernard Herrmann from his appearance at The George Eastman House Museum, in Rochester, New York in October of 1973. One very interesting point that Herrmann makes here, is that Citizen Kane originally opened without any titles or studio logos. Since this has now become so commonplace, it’s yet another inovation where Welles was many years ahead of his time. —Bernard Herrmann on working with Orson Welles and Citizen Kane


Another comprehensive account of the making of Citizen Kane, still considered the greatest American movie ever made. It compares the larger than life personalities of the young maverick auteur Orson Welles and ruthless press magnate William Randolph Hearst who attempted to destroy the film before its release due to the startling similarities between himself and the central figure of Charles Foster Kane.

The FBI opened a file on Orson Welles in April 1941, shortly before Citizen Kane’s release, and kept it active until 1956, when the filmmaker was safely semi-exiled in Europe. Joseph McBride, author of ‘What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?,’ cites an FBI report’s conclusion about Welles’s extraordinary first film: “The evidence before us leads inevitably to the conclusion that the film Citizen Kane is nothing more than an extension of the Communist Party’s campaign to smear one of its most effective and consistent opponents in the United States [i.e., Hearst].”


A vintage interview captures the artist reflecting on Citizen Kane and expounding on directing, acting and writing and his desire to bestow a valuable legacy upon his profession. The scene is a hotel room in Paris. The year 1960. The star, Orson Welles. This is a pearl of cinematic memorabilia. In the first of a two-part interview, Welles discusses creativity, politics, the press and art criticism. He also ponders the idea of “home” and comments on the impact of Citizen Kane, a film he made when he was only in his mid-20s.

American actors aren’t good at period pieces. Television is a second-rate medium. Friendship is more important than art. These are just a few of the assertions made by Orson Welles this 1960 episode of Close-Up, the second of a two-part interview with the renowned filmmaker and actor. While chatting with CBC’s Bernard Braden, Welles also discusses what he thinks was his best acting role ever (Harry Lime in the film The Third Man), and sings the praises of his cameraman on Citizen Kane.

Orson Welles talks to Huw Wheldon on the BBC show Monitor (1960) about his work as actor, director and filmmaker, with clips from his films, Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons.

One of the first filmmakers to embrace the possibilities of the movie trailer was one of cinema’s great innovators—Orson Welles. The trailer for Citizen Kane, which you can see below, has no actual footage from the movie—something of a rarity. Instead, the trailer serves as a curious four-minute long documentary featuring behind-the-scenes footage and short vignettes of characters reacting to the movie’s mysterious central character. —Orson Welles’ Trailer for Citizen Kane: As Innovative as the Film Itself

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich had conducted extensive interviews with Welles, but a number of circumstances—including the director’s decision to compose an autobiography that he never got around to writing—kept the interviews out of the public eye. Finally edited and annotated by Jonathan Rosenbaum, these conversations give wonderful insights into Welles’s craft and personality. He discusses his forays into acting, producing, and writing as well as directing, his confidences and insecurities, and his plans for film projects that were either never made or only partially completed. He also offers insights into the triumph of Citizen Kane and later masterpieces like The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, Othello, and Chimes at Midnight. His defense of his controversial adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial is so fascinating that listeners might want to rush out and rent the film. —Interviews with Orson Welles

Orson Welles talks to Huw Wheldon about his work as actor, director and filmmaker, with clips from his films, Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons.

First transmitted in 1955. Writer, film and theatre director, Orson Welles takes the hot seat in this in-depth and revealing interview. Newspaper writers John Beavan, Elizabeth Frank, Rene McColl and William Hardcastle press Orson Welles on a number of issues as they attempt to delve into his life, passions and the secrets behind his career. Welles is questioned about his views on television, his reasons for staging Macbeth with an all-black cast, and his political ambitions.

A treasure trove called CineFiles contains scanned images of reviews, press kits, festival and showcase program notes, newspaper articles, interviews, and other documents from the PFA Library’s extensive collection.

Here’s another fascinating compilation of photographs taken behind-the-scenes during production of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Production still photographers: Alexander Kahle, Ernest Bachrach, and Phil Stern © Warner Brothers.

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