To celebrate the 93rd birthday of ORSON WELLES - May 6, 1915 - here are some fond memories from members of the cast and crew of CITIZEN KANE.
I'm sure they all would be wishing Orson a very happy birthday today...
PAUL STEWART - Raymond, the butler
The telephone rang and I heard the unmistakable voice of Orson Welles, speaking from California.
“I want you to come out and do a part for me in my picture,” he said. “Have you got an agent?”
“Yes,” I said. “But what’s the part?”
“Never mind. Just come out.”
Well, when Orson said he had a part for you, you went. So I left New York to play my first role in a picture at $500 a week, three weeks guarantee. I was on CITIZEN KANE 11 weeks. For the first three or four weeks, I didn’t work at all.
Naturally I stood around the set, watching. And I was amazed at the way Orson worked. In those days we had an 8 o’clock call on set – Orson had to report at 5 a.m. when he was wearing the old-man make up.
The first hour on the set, nothing happened. Orson gave Gregg Toland the setup, then everyone became anecdotal. We just sat around telling stories about radio, the theater, etc. After awhile Orson began to rehearse. He had a man who walked through his scenes for him, and we rehearsed with this fellow while Orson directed. Then he stepped in and shot the scene with himself in it. Sometimes we didn’t get a shot until 3 in the afternoon. Of course lighting was very difficult because of the depth of focus. Eastman Kodak had developed its fastest film for Gregg, but it was still not what we have today.
It wasn’t uncommon for Orson to shoot 84, 93, 55 takes of one scene. During the Senate hearing with George Coulouris, Orson did more than a hundred takes. One day he shot a hundred takes and exposed 10,000 feet–without a single print!
I’ll never forget the day Orson shot the burning of the sled. One of the stages at the Selznick studio had been made into the warehouse with a working furnace. The scene had to be just right because the audience had to see the sled go in and the word “Rosebud” consumed in flames.
When the ninth take had been shot, the doors of the stage flew open and in marched the Culver City Fire Department in full fire-fighting regalia. The furnace had grown so hot that the flue had caught fire. Orson was delighted with the commotion.
After the fire had been extinguished, one of the firemen asked me, “What’s going on here?”
“Mr. Welles is making a picture here,” I said.
Orson’s WAR OF THE WORLD'S scare was still a vivid memory, and the fireman nodded and murmured, “It figures.”
My first shot was a close-up in which Orson wanted a special smoke effect from my cigarette. I was rigged with tube that went under my clothes and down my finger to the cigarette, but somehow the contraption wouldn’t exude smoke.
“I want long cigarettes–the Russian kind!” Orson ordered. Everyone waited while the prop man fetched some Russian cigarettes.
Just before the scene, Orson Welles warned me: “Your head is going to fill the screen at the Radio City Music Hall”– at that time CITIZEN KANE was booked for the Music Hall. Then he said in his gruff manner, “Turn ‘em.” But just before I started, he added quietly in his warm voice, “Good luck.”
I blew the first take. It was 30-40 takes before I completed a shot that Orson liked–and I had only one line. That was almost 30 years ago, but even today I have people repeat it to me, including young students. The line was: “Rosebud... I’ll tell you about rosebud...”