Despite all the publicity, the film was a box-office flop and was quickly consigned to the RKO vaults. At 1941's Academy Awards the film was booed every time one of its nine nominations was announced. It was only re-released to the public in the mid-'50s.
On the night the movie opened in San Francisco, Orson Welles found himself alone with William Randolph Hearst in an elevator at the city's Fairmont Hotel. Aware that his father and Hearst were friends, Welles extended an invitation to the magnate to attend the film's premiere. Hearst turned down the offer and, as he was about to exit the elevator at his floor, Welles remarked, "Charles Foster Kane would have accepted."
To keep studio execs off his back, Orson Welles claimed the cast and crew were "in rehearsal" during the first few days of shooting, when in fact they were actually shooting the film. It took a number of days before the studio caught on.
William Randolph Hearst was infuriated by this movie, obviously based on his life. According to an essay written for the "New York Review of Books" by Gore Vidal "Rosebud" was Hearst's name for long-time mistress Marion Davies' clitoris. Some other reports claim screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz took the name from a bicycle he owned as a child. Either way, the discussions of "Rosebud's" origin are difficult to date any earlier than the 1970s, as feared retribution by Hearst and, following his death, many of his devotees made the subject taboo.
One subplot discarded from the final film concerned Susan Alexander Kane having an affair that Kane discovers, said to be based on Marion Davies' rumored affair with Charles Chaplin. There were scenes written and storyboards designed for this sequence, though as rumors of Hearst's ire grew, Orson Welles ordered the sequence deleted from the script. He refused to discuss the real reasons for its removal in any public forum throughout his life, even long after Hearst's death, as he claimed elements of the subplot were so scandalous they could cost him his life. Privately, however, he did discuss the subject with his close friend Peter Bogdanovich. According to Bogdanovich, the danger of the subplot stemmed not from the affair, but of its result: Welles claimed that Davis did in fact have an affair with Chaplin, and Hearst learned of it while on a trip on Hearst's yacht with Davies, Chaplin and a number of other celebrity guests. Welles asserted that Hearst walked into a room and saw Davies and Chaplin having sex. He pulled a gun, and Chaplin ran out of the room onto the deck. Hearst fired at Chapln, but accidentally shot pioneering producer/director Thomas H. Ince, who shortly afterward died from the wound. An elaborate cover-up followed (supposedly, columnist Louella Parsons was on board and witnessed the killing, and Hearst promised her a job with him for life if she kept her mouth shut. She did.).The legend became the basis for Bogdanovich's own film The Cat's Meow (2001).
During the scenes where Kane first buys his newspaper and delivers the line about going bankrupt in 60 years, Orson Welles appears to be dressed as himself at his actual age. Welles has indicated in interviews that he was even more made up playing a young man than he was playing Kane as an old one; "temporary" facelifts and hair styling as well as camera tricks make him look much more beautiful than he actually was. Welles said that he spent years living down how far he'd come down from his "youthful looks," when in fact he never really looked that good.
During filming Orson Welles received a warning that William Randolph Hearst had arranged for a naked woman to jump into his arms when he entered his hotel room, and there was also a photographer in the room to take a picture that would be used to discredit him. Welles spent the night elsewhere, and it is unknown if the warning was true.
For this movie Orson Welles, along with cinematographer Gregg Toland, pioneered "deep focus", a technique that keeps every object in the foreground, center and background in simultaneous focus. This brought a sense of depth to the two-dimensional world of movies.
The scene outside Ma Kane's boarding house reportedly drove Orson Welles crazy. The director always resented that, although it was set in a snowy field, the breath of the actors was not visible because the scene was actually filmed on a sound stage.
The lengthy scene where the older Jedediah Leland is interviewed at the old folks' home was Joseph Cotten's very first scene in front of a Hollywood camera. Orson Welles' broken ankle had forced the rescheduling of this scene, which originally was supposed to be shot towards the end of the film, so Cotten hadn't gotten around to learning his lines yet. Consequently he was supposed to do the scene from cue cards but because his old-age make-up included contact lenses dipped in milk and a wig that wouldn't stay on (hence the sun visor) Cotten took a couple of hours out to learn the lines properly.
Orson Welles chipped his anklebone halfway through production and had to direct for 2 weeks from a wheelchair. When he was called upon to stand up onscreen, he wore metal braces. The injury occurred in the scene where Kane chases Gettys down the stairs and Welles tripped.
The camera looks up at Charles Foster Kane and his best friend Jedediah Leland and down at weaker characters like Susan Alexander Kane. This was a technique that Orson Welles borrowed from John Ford who had used it two years previously on Stagecoach (1939). Welles privately watched Stagecoach (1939) about 40 times while making this film.
In the scene where Jedediah confronts Kane, Joseph Cotten had stayed awake for 24 hours before the shoot so as to finish in order to start a play in New York. He makes an error and says "dramatic crimiticism," a flub that Cotten inadvertently made in rehearsals that Welles decided to use.
Orson Welles thought it an advantage that Dorothy Comingore (Susan) was pregnant when shooting began. It would reassure the studio brass that he intended to finish on schedule. Welles hid her advancing condition by shooting her behind tables or by obscuring her body in flowing dressing gowns.
In 1971, shortly after Pauline Kael's infamous "Raising Kane" essay first appeared in "The New Yorker" magazine, "Esquire" printed the "Kane Mutiny", an essay apparently by Peter Bogdanovich that disputed most of Kael's claims. However, the essay was actually written by Orson Welles.
When Kane's mother, father and Thatcher walk from the living room into the kitchen, they sit down at a table. For a second, you can see Thatcher's hat jiggle a few inches and then be still again. This is mainly because the camera had to move through the table to do the shot. When the camera went into the kitchen, the table split in two, and then reassembled itself just in time for Agnes Moorehead to sit down in the chair.
For the opening shot of the "El Rancho" sequence where the camera appears to move through a gap in the neon sign, a collapsible sign had to be built that could be split in two to allow the camera to pass through.
After production wrapped, William Randolph Hearst forbade any advertisement of the film in any of his newspapers--or indeed any other RKO movies--and offered to buy the negative from studio head George Schaefer with a view to destroying it. Fortunately Orson Welles had already previewed the film to influential industry figures to rave reviews, so it was granted a limited theatrical release. Critics from non-Hearst newspapers fell over themselves praising the film. The film itself was not reviewed in any Hearst newspaper until the mid-1970s, when the film critic for Hearst's "Los Angeles Herald-Examiner", Ray Loynd, finally reviewed it.
When asked by friends how Kane's last words would be known when he died alone, Orson Welles reportedly stared for a long time before saying, "Don't you ever tell anyone of this." See also the Goofs entry.
The scene with Charles Bennett and the "chorus girls" was supposed to have taken place in a brothel, but the Hays Office would not allow it. That didn't bother Orson Welles too much, as he knew the brothel setting would draw their attention away from other elements of the script he knew they would object to, which was why he had introduced it in the first place.
Writer Herman J. Mankiewicz was contractually bound not to drink during the film's pre-production. Mankiewicz was a known alcoholic at the time. To help him, Orson Welles dispatched him out of Hollywood to the desert town of Victorville where drinking establishments were in shorter supply. Welles also sent producer John Houseman to mind Mankiewicz.
Orson Welles always claimed that this picture was not the biography of one specific individual, but a composite of characters from that era in America. Though universally recognized as based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, there were also elements in the story that applied to the life of Chicago utilities magnate Samuel Insull (1859-1938).
The credited cast was entirely from the Mercury Theatre troupe, which Orson Welles founded when he was 21 years old. The Mercury Theatre did radio dramatizations of such works as "Les Miserables", "A Tale of Two Cities", "Treasure Island", "The 39 Steps", "Abraham Lincoln", "The Count of Monte Cristo' and, most famously, "The War of the Worlds".
It is widely believed that Ted Turner had plans to colorize the film, but that wide public outcry led to his decision not to. The rumor came from a tongue-in-cheek comment from Turner that he would colorize the film in order to bait critics of the process. In actuality, Orson Welles had the rights to the film, and Turner couldn't have colorized the film even if he had wanted to. Nonetheless, the controversy over the potential alteration of this film was one of the catalysts that eventually led to the film industry requirement that all future video and TV releases of films that have been altered in any way - including the standard conversion from widescreen to "pan and scan" - must carry a disclaimer indicating the film has been "modified from its original version." It is also widely believed that when he heard about it, Welles supposedly roared, "Tell Ted Turner to keep his crayons away from my movie!" However, being that he owned the rights to the film, it is highly unlikely that he ever made any such statement.
In the 1970s, film critic Pauline Kael wrote an essay called "Raising Kane". In it, she credited co-screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz for writing the entire script for this film, while alleging that Orson Welles "didn't write one line of the shooting script." However, this conclusion has very little factual basis, and was largely based on hearsay. Kael, for her part, tried to distance herself for the controversy later in life, insisting that the whole issue had been blown out of proportion, and that her essay, written as an introduction to a published copy of the "Kane" screenplay, was taken out of context. Subsequent writers examined internal studio memos, telegrams and drafts enough to conclude that both Welles and Mankewitcz had contributed significantly to the final script, though Welles had, at one point tried to bribe Mankewitcz into ceding his credit to Welles. Frank Mankiewicz, son of Herman J. Mankiewicz maintained that Welles' effort resulted more from anxiety than greed: as his contract stipulated that he would direct, produce, act in and write the film, Welles feared RKO would refuse to pay him in full. The final consensus among critics holds that the shooting script was actually based on an idea conjured by the two men, and that an initial draft by Mankiewicz was heavily altered by Welles. Both men continued to contribute to the script throughout shooting combining their work into the final version. Nevertheless, the controversy continues to the present day.
The piece of music that Susan is repeatedly shown singing is "Una voce poco fa" from "Il barbiere di Siviglia" by Gioachino Rossini. The character in the opera who sings it, Rosina, sings in this piece about the voice of an admirer she has just heard and how she plans to escape with him from her jealous and overbearing guardian.
Orson Welles' deal with RKO gave him unprecedented freedom for a first-time director. He was to write, produce, direct and act in two pictures for the company, with complete autonomy in the hiring of actors, technicians and final cut. Studio boss George Schaefer had to greenlight the project and could veto any request for extra finance over the modest $500,000 budget (which eventually would be exceeded by $200,000), but no one other than Welles was allowed to view the rushes.
Dispute still rages over ownership of the original idea for the script, with many claiming that it was the brainchild of co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz. In his school days, Orson Welles wrote a play titled "Marching Song." Though never produced, it was the exploration of a public figure through the testimonies of the people in his life. Mankiewicz certainly wrote the first draft of the screenplay, which took him about six weeks, though the draft only ran about a hundred pages and had only the broadest strokes for what would become the final script.
For the new footage in the opening newsreel to look suitably grainy, editor Robert Wise came up with the idea of physically dragging the footage across a stone floor and running across a cheesecloth filled with sand. These efforts went unappreciated in some quarters: one cinema distributor contacted RKO to complain about the film stock being of inferior quality and demanded a replacement print.
The film showcased a technique called "universal focus." To get the image of Kane and the poster picture during the speech sequence, short lenses were used. At the same time, the key light (the main lights) were gradually increased to get both images sharp and clear.
During the opening shots of Xanadu, the single light coming from the window of Kane's mansion stays in basically the same position of the frame even though the angles of the house change every few seconds.
Principal photography which began in late June 1940, finished just a few days over schedule on October 23. The movie was ready for release in February 1941. The controversy surrounding the film delayed its opening until 1 May 1941.
Orson Welles tried to buy out the screen credit of co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz. Welles actually paid him several thousand dollars. However, the Writers Guild got wind of this and said that was not permitted. When Welles tried to get his money back, Mankiewicz had already spent it.
Susan's singing voice was provided by a professional opera singer who, under Orson Welles' direction, sang outside of her vocal range. She agreed to having her voice used this way on the condition that her identity never be revealed, fearing it would harm her career. She was Jean Forward of the San Francisco Opera.
George Coulouris, who played Kane's legal guardian, posed for two hours for a papier-maché statue of himself. He later petitioned the Screen Actors' Guild for payment for those two hours and won his case.
The character Jedediah Leland is based on celebrated newspaper columnist Ashton Stevens, drama critic for the San Francisco Examiner and later of the Chicago Herald-American, noted interviewer to the stars and man-about-town. His brother, actor Landers Stevens, appears uncredited in the film as an investigator. Ashton was the uncle of director George Stevens, Landers' son.
The character of Bernstein was named after Orson Welles' guardian Dr. Maurice Bernstein, a Kenosha (WI) surgeon who became close to the Welles family after having treated Orson Welles' grandmother in her final illness.
At the beginning of "News on the March" the several shots of buildings with Spanish architecture were filmed at San Diego's Balboa Park. The statues "El Cid" and "Youthful Diana" were also located in Balboa Park. Both statues are by Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973). "El Cid" is still standing. "Youthful Diana" is not currently visible but is owned by the San Diego Museum of Art. The large birdcage in the newsreel is one of two located at the San Diego Zoo.
Although Marion Davies is frequently held up as the model for Susan Alexander Kane, the character was more likely to have been influenced by opera-singer-turned-film-actress Hope Hampton and opera-singer-turned-botanical-garden-founder Madama Ganna Walska.
Apparently, holding less of a grudge than anyone might think, William Randolph Hearst's son said in 1985 that he had enjoyed the film and that Orson Welles could visit his father's San Simeon (CA) estate anytime he pleased--"on my tab", a noble offer as Welles died that year.
Alan Ladd makes an uncredited appearance as one of the reporters at the end of the film (the one "with the pipe," as indicated in the credits list), discussing Kane and "Rosebud" just before the furnace finale.
The ice sculptures at the Inquirer party behind Mr. Bernstein are caricatures of Bernstein and Leland. The placards under them read ["Broadway Jed" Leland] and ["Mr. (Big Business) Bernstein"]. The "Broadway Jed" is due to Leland being the newspaper's drama critic, and "Mr. Big Business" is likely due to Bernstein being something of a manager.
Throughout production Orson Welles had problems with various film executives not respecting his contract's stipulation of non-interference and several spies arrived on set to report what they saw to the executives. When the executives would sometimes arrive on set unannounced the entire cast and crew would suddenly start playing softball until they left.
Both Orson Welles' and Herman J. Mankiewicz's Oscar statuettes were auctioned by Nate D. Sanders Memorabilia. Welles' statuette sold for $861,542 on December 20, 2011. Mankiewicz's statuette sold for $588,455 on February 28, 2012.
In the scene where Bernstein enters the Inquirer amidst a pile of boxes and luggage, some of the boxes are labeled "891" and "LOT 891." Unit 891 was the WPA theater company Orson Welles directed for (and starred with) before shooting this picture.
The "newsreel" that opens the film is a perfect skewering of Henry Luce's 'Time Magazine' style of prose as used in 1940. 'Time' obituaries often began, "Death, as it must to all men, came last week to . . ." 'The New Yorker' published a parody in 1936, before "Kane": "Certainly to be taken with seriousness is Luce at thirty-eight, his fellowman already informed up to his ears, the shadow of his enterprises long across the land, his future plans impossible to imagine, staggering to contemplate. Where it will all end, knows God!"
"The Inquirer"'s bad review of Susan Alexander's opera debut (bylined "Jed Leland" but, in the film, largely written by Kane himself) reads: "Miss Susan Alexander, a pretty but hopelessly incompetent amateur, last night opened the new Chicago Opera House in a performance of 'Salammbo'. Her singing, happily, is no concern of this department. Of her acting, it is absolutely impossible to say anything except that it represents, in the opinion of this reviewer, a new low. The performance, as a whole, was weak and incomprehensible . . . While it is true that a wealth of training has been expended on the voice of Miss Alexander, the result has been pathetic [sic] in the extreme, inasmuch as she lacks tonal purity, volume and the nuances of enunciation so important for the grand opera diva. "LACKS STAGE PRESENCE "Another grave fault in her performance was lack of stage pres- ... " (The rest of the column cannot be seen.)
Many years later, Orson Welles was dining with some fans. One of them addressed a plot hole in the film - the fact that the film is about a man's last word, but nobody actually actually hears him say it. After a silence, Welles said, "You can never tell anyone this".
Carole Lombard was offered the lead role in a proposed melodrama, "Smiler with a Knife," to be directed by a newcomer at RKO named Orson Welles. She turned it down, opting to return to screwball comedy in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941). Welles refused to make "Smiler" without her. After briefly considering Lucille Ball for the lead role, he began work on Citizen Kane (1941).
The opera in which Susan Alexander Kane stars was, originally, to have been based upon, and titled, "Thaïs", after the novel by Anatole France--a choice that would have been highly significant: the novel is the bitingly satirical story of a beautiful (and successful) Alexandrian courtesan who is converted to holiness and sainthood by a fanatical monk (who eventually dies without having achieved the salvation he had sought for himself by having denied himself sensual love). For unspecified reasons, the opera was changed to be based on the novel "Salammbô" (by Gustave Flaubert), which is a much more straightforward sword-and-sandals story of a princess, barbarians and that sort of thing. Ultimately, though, all verbal references to the opera by title were deleted in the completed film, and the name "Salammbo" appears only within texts on various editions of the Inquirer. However, it seems likely that, during some stages of filming, references to a "Thaïs" title were still expected to appear during certain scenes, as Bernstein's line that he "still can't pronounce [the opera's] name" seem more likely to refer to such a word as that than to 'Salammbo'.
Joseph Cotten shot the interview scene in one day, but had to return a few days later to re-shoot the scene, due to an unconvincing wig. While the makeup artists were making a new wig for the scene, Cotten went to Tex's Tennis Shop and bought a tennis sun visor that his character eventually wore throughout the scene.
Gregg Toland used faster film and much more powerful lighting that made it possible to get deep focus shots. Toland also used a self-blimped (self-muffling) camera, which meant that Orson Welles had the freedom of greater camera movement.
Susan Alexander Kane's disastrous debut in the opera world is accompanied by a libretto written not by the film's composer, Bernard Herrmann, but by producer John Houseman. According to Houseman, Herrmann had decided not to use a scene from a standard opera but to create one on his own. He decided that it should be a French opera and asked Houseman to write it. Houseman hurriedly assembled a mixed bag from Racine's "Athalie", "Ph¿e," and others. It did not make any sense. As lip-synched by Dorothy Comingore, the opera is barely intelligible, but Orson Welles built one of the film's most visually striking sequences.
Originally, the movie was going to be based on the life of Howard Hughes with Joseph Cotten in the lead. Eventually, Orson Welles realized nobody would believe most of the stuff Hughes had done, so he decided to make Kane a media baron instead.
Orson Welles brought New York actress Ruth Warrick out to Hollywood to test for the part of Emily Norton Kane. He tempted her by telling her that he was looking for a real lady, a woman of charm and good upbringing, to play the part. He was not looking for someone who could act like a lady, but an actual lady. After several tests of Hollywood actresses, Welles came to the conclusion that "there are no ladies in Hollywood." Warrick flew out for a screen test and was awarded the part.
According to Ruth Warrick, Orson Welles was not in good shape at the beginning of production. When principal photography began, Welles was suffering from the effects of caffeine poisoning as the result of consuming thirty to forty cups of coffee a day. Welles then switched to tea, figuring that the hassle of having to brew the beverage would naturally limit his intake. But Welles had someone on call to brew the tea for him, and within two weeks, Welles was the colour of tannic acid. It was also reported that he would go for long periods without eating, then put away two or three large steaks with side items at one sitting.
During the violent rampage through Susan Alexander's bedroom, Orson Welles badly gashed his left hand. Luckily, the camera did not capture his injury or else expensive retakes would have been in order.
Many scenes were shot during arduous, all night shoots. Many times after pulling a difficult all-nighter, Orson Welles and the rest of the cast and crew would sit on the curb at RKO and drink cocktails at 6:30 a.m., instead of 6:30 p.m. when every other "normal" Hollywood actor or crew member would break for refreshment.
In the scene where Kane and his entourage set off for the beach from Xanadu, large birds are seen flying across the background. In fact, the background was lifted from a science fiction film to reduce costs, and the birds are, in fact, pterodactyls. The prehistoric beasties were probably lifted from either King Kong (1933) or The Son of Kong (1933).
Despite the enormous controversy surrounding the film, it actually passed the review of the Hays Office, the self-regulatory censorship office that set production codes in Hollywood. It's actually surprising that the film passed without incident, given the power that someone like William Randolph Hearst could have brought to bear on such an organization.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The favorite film of "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. He incorporated many references to it in his strips over the years. In 1974 Schultz ruined the movie for anyone who hadn't seen it yet. In a Sunday Comics edition of Peanuts, Linus is watching TV and Lucy asks what he's watching. Linus says "Citizen Kane" and Lucy replies "Rosebud was his sled."