Critics and film-lovers the world over are united in believing that Citizen Kane is one of the finest movies ever made. Fewer people, however, are aware of the equally dramatic story of how the film was made and released. Citizen Kane is about the personal tragedy of a man who has everything and the story of Orson Welles bears a remarkable resemblance to it.
When Welles arrived in Hollywood at the end of the 1930s, the film industry was already suspicious about the twenty-something prodigy who had made a name for himself with his Mercury Theatre group. Dubbed “Little Orson Annie” by his jealous peers, Welles’ movie career began in inauspicious circumstances. Three scripts — an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, The Smiler with the Knife and Mexican Melodrama — all failed to make it into production and his first screen credit, for RKO, was for narrating The Swiss Family Robinson.
Then, in 1940, Welles and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz began work on a script called American. They began shooting on July 22 of the same year after paring it down from its original 268 pages (enough for a four-and-a-half hour picture). The movie was shot amid great secrecy and Welles’ contract with RKO gave him total artistic control over the film, which was realeased as Citizen Kane.
Rumours inevitably emerged about the subject of Welles’ debut feature and poisonous newspaper columnist Louella Parsons visited the set in August 1940 to investigate the whisper that it was about her boss, William Randolph Hearst (the Murdoch of his day). Explaining the film’s story, Welles told her, “When a man dies, there is a great difference of opinion about his character. I have everyone voice his side, and no two descriptions are alike.”
Parsons went away and wrote a favourable story, although the article was the genesis of another Citizen Kane battle. Co-writer Mankiewicz was peeved that Welles had claimed that he himself was the writer of the film and saw it as unnecessary ‘credit-grabbing’. This question over the authorship of Kane would rage for decades, with American critic Pauline Kael presenting the case for Mankiewicz’s influential involvement in the early 70s.
The Giants lock horns and the Fight goes public
Production finished on October 23 and in December Welles watched the final cut alone in a Los Angeles cinema, later claiming that this was the only time he ever saw Citizen Kane. With the film due to open on February 19, 1941, the first press show took place on January 3, and then the fun started.
On January 7 a magazine, Friday, ran an article comparing Citizen Kane with William Randolph Hearst’s life and a quote, allegedly from Welles, saying, “Wait until that woman [Louella Parsons] finds out that the picture’s about her boss.” She found out two days later, attending a screening with two lawyers. She left before the end, promising “the most beautiful lawsuit” if the film was released.
Although any legal action was unlikely to succeed, the Hearst papers wasted no time in running a series of smear stories about Orson Welles, RKO and studio head George Shaefer. Hearst organised lavish parties and excluded RKO employees and RKO reciprocated by hosting even more lavish affairs and banning Hearst’s journalists.
“William Randolph Hearst is conducting a series of brutal attacks on me in his newspapers,” Welles wrote at the time. “It seems he doesn’t like my picture Citizen Kane. I understand he hasn’t seen it. I am sure he hasn’t. If he had, I think he would agree with me that those who have advised him that ‘Kane’ is Hearst have done us both an injustice.”
George Shaefer had to face up to pressure from more than just Hearst. A group of movie moguls, led by Louis B Mayer, offered him $842,000 to destroy the Citizen Kane negative because they feared Hearst would take his revenge against the entire film industry. Thankfully, Shaefer stood by his 25-year-old director and the film finally opened on May 1 to a collection of unprecedented rave reviews.
Although it was named film of the year by the New York Film Critics, Citizen Kane was shunned at the Academy Awards (winning only for best screenplay) and was finally withdrawn a year after its release with estimated losses of $150,000. Welles’ status as the ‘boy wonder’ was lost, and insiders joked that he’d signed up for two more pictures at RKO: one not to be released in 1942 and another not to be shown in 1943. Only time would enable Welles to have the last laugh.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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