Orson Welles FBI Files
194 pages of FBI files copied from material held at FBI headquarters in Washington D.C., covering Orson Welles.
Orson Welles was born on May 6, 1915 to a concert pianist mother and a wealthy businessman father. After his mother's death in 1924, he traveled the world with his father, who died in 1928. At the age of 12, Welles found himself rich and parentless. He traveled the world pursuing his interests, including theater. He found success in New York directing plays produced by John Houseman for the Federal Theatre Project. Most notably, his "voodoo" adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, starring an African-American cast. Welles along with John Houseman latter formed the Mercury Theatre. The group is most well known for its 1938 Mercury Theatre on Air, "The War of the Worlds" radio production. Some found the news radio format staging of the H.G. Wells novel's tale of space invaders so realistic, that many went into a state of panic.Welles starred in and directed his first feature film Citizen Kane in 1941. A commercial failure, RKO Pictures lost $150,000 on the movie, which went on to be regarded by many as the greatest film ever made. Welles died of a heart attack in 1985.
The files date from 1941 to 1976 and contain approximately 140 discernable pages.
A 1941 FBI memo states, "This office has never been able to establish that Welles is an actual member of the former Communist Party or the present Communist Political Association, he has consistently followed the Communist Party line and has been active in numerous front organizations." This was the basis for the FBI considering Welles to be a potential threat to the internal security of the United States.
The files details Orson Welles' background and political activity. Mention is made of a campaign against Welles organized by the American Legion. The files show that at least two close associates of Welles were willing to inform on Welles to the FBI. The informants were willing to pass on information concerning Welles' finances, The finances of his wife Rita Hayworth, travels, and extramarital affairs. Files show that Welles was on a list of people considered security risks, who the government might want to take into custody during a national emergency. A memo by a FBI agent recommends that Welles' have his phone tapped while he was in San Francisco promoting the foundation of the United Nations. Files show that agents contacted columnist Hedda Hopper after she wrote that Welles was going to South America on a secret mission for President Roosevelt. Hopper admitted to agents that the source for the story was Welles' wife Rita Hayworth.