By Jack Wilson
A funny thing happened on the way to Citizen Kane. When Kane dies at the beginning of the movie he says the word “Rosebud” which sets off the reporter telling the story in search of the meaning of that word. Why was it so important to Kane that it would be uttered with his last breath?
The answer is revealed at the end of the movie and I won’t disclose it here in case some of you have not seen the movie yet. Since it is perhaps the greatest movie ever made by an American, I recommend that you see it just because you need to fill in your education. It is also very enjoyable.
But that scene brings up a real issue which did not seem to occur to the writer Joseph Mankiewicz, the director Orson Welles, or the continuity crew. The sad fact is that there was no one in the room when Kane spoke that fateful word, so the reporter could not have known about it.
There are all sorts of innovations in that movie made by a 25 year old director; his first film. You can find that information all over the web and in many books. Meanwhile, that success did not fare well with the studio because it was thought that it depicted the dictatorial newspaperman William Randolph Hearst who was not a bit amused and pitted all his might against Welles, effectively preventing him from having the brilliant career he deserved. The Magnificent Andersons, Welles’ second film was taken away from him and edited by the studio. Whenever Welles sought backing and studio support for a new endeavor, he was thwarted.
Welles managed to make several very interesting movies after that and had something of a career narrating and acting, but his greatness was essentially truncated by the Hearst boycott.
In his later life, Welles became physically huge. He joked that his doctor told him that if he was going to participate in a dinner for four, that three other people had to be there too. He debased himself appearing on talk shows doing foolish magic tricks and jabbering about nothing.
Even with all his subsequent troubles Welles left a legacy of one of the greatest movies of all time and several small masterpieces. All this started with his Mercury Theater radio group which upended the world unintentionally by broadcasting H. G. Welles’ War of the Worlds as if it were really taking place, scaring the wits out of America.