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Archive image of opening night of Orson Welles' Macbeth, New York (1936)
Federal Theatre Project Collection

Orson Welles

Exhibition: Voodoo Macbeth

b. 1915 Wisconsin, d. 1985 Los Angeles

Orson Welles was a film, radio and theatre director, an actor, screenwriter, broadcaster and producer. A child prodigy, he excelled in many forms of entertainment. Welles’ relationship with Shakespeare began in 1936 when the Federal Theater Projects assigned him to create a production of Macbeth. Moving the play from Scotland, Welles staged his Macbeth in Haiti, bringing a Voodoo context to the work. He gained national fame and notoriety for his 1938 broadcast of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. Welles’ directing was so convincing that US citizens famously took to the streets in panic. He is most noted for his 1941 film Citizen Kane, his first feature film directed at the age of 25. A structurally visionary film, Kane is regularly cited as one of the most influential movies in the history of cinema.

Never far away from controversy, Welles output after Kane was fraught with difficulty. Studio disputes often hampered his creative vision and he became as famous for his unfinished projects as for the ones he completed. The latter include the classic movies The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and Touch of Evil (1958), in which he starred. His most widely known screen appearance is in Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949). He died at his home in Hollywood with various projects underway, including a movie of King Lear.

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