The preview of the movie occurred a short time after Pearl Harbor. Because of this, most of the audience review cards stated that they didn't want to see a depressing movie, and that it should have more laughs and a happy ending. With Orson Welles out of the country, the production team had to make the cuts and changes without his input.
Orson Welles demanded that the inside of the Ambersons' mansion be built as if it was a real house, with continuous rooms of four walls and ceilings. This enabled his camera to roam around the house freely and shoot from any angle.
The re-cutting of this film caused a deep rift in Orson Welles' friendships with Robert Wise and Joseph Cotten. Cotten later wrote several letters of apology to Welles, and the two later reconciled. Welles and Wise, however, remained on acrimonious terms for some 42 years until Wise was invited to come to the stage by Gilbert Cates when the Directors Guild of America honored Welles with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984. The former rivals ended up shaking hands as the crowd rewarded them with a standing ovation.
Joseph Cotten remembered Anne Baxter from their experience together in the stage version of "The Philadelphia Story." Star Katharine Hepburn was unhappy with the young actress' performance as her younger sister, however, and had her dropped from the production. Cotton thought so highly of her, though, that he recommended that she be borrowed for the part of his daughter in this film.
RKO chopped 50 minutes of the film and added a happy ending while Orson Welles was out of the country. The footage was subsequently destroyed; the only record of the removed scenes is the cutting continuity transcript.
Producer Bryan Foy was one of many who felt that the film was too long. Upon hearing that 40 minutes had to be excised, Foy is alleged to have said: "Just throw all the footage up in the air and grab everything but 40 minutes."
The consensus of opinion according to nearly everyone who saw the original conclusion--which included a tour of the decaying Amberson mansion--was that it was much more powerful than the tacked-on "happy" ending.
Agnes Moorehead's signature scene, in which she bemoaned the turn of the Ambersons fortunes and her inability to provide for George--which secured her an Academy Award nomination--was actually cobbled together from original footage and hastily re shot scenes. The latter had no input from Orson Welles.
In the newspaper reporting the auto accident that injured George Amberson Minafer, the left-hand column is "Stage Views" featuring the picture and byline of "Jed Leland", the theater critic in Citizen Kane (1941), also directed by Orson Welles. Leland was played by Joseph Cotten, who plays Eugene Morgan in this movie.
The scenes with the automobile ride with the snow were filmed in an abandoned icehouse instead of the RKO stage reserved for such shots. However, it took much longer than anticipated because the equipment kept having problems that were brought on by the cold (film jamming because of frozen condensation, lenses fogging up, etc.). Because of this everyone involved, except for Orson Welles, contracted a terrible head cold.
According to Peter Bogdanovich, Orson Welles said many times that this film could've been "much better than Citizen Kane (1941)." Also, while Welles always refused to watch any of his films, he was in a hotel room in the 1970s with many friends and the film was showing on TV, and he was talked into watching the rest of it. It is said that he was teary throughout, and confessed that although the ending didn't work, he still liked the film.
The earliest Morgan automobile shown in the film is actually an 1892 Philion Road Carriage, one of the oldest existing American-built cars and the only one produced. It can still be seen at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, NV.
After a disastrous preview, it was clear to the execs at RKO that the film was too long, too dense and too somber. 'Orson Welles' (qav), however, had decamped to Brazil, where he was in the midst of working on a film called "It's All True" (which was never completed). Welles had been shipped out there under the auspices of Nelson Rockefeller, one of the chief shareholders in RKO, to make a film boosting US-South American wartime relations. With him out of the way, however, the onus of re-cutting and trimming the film fell on editor Robert Wise.
In the absence of Orson Welles, RKO cut 50 minutes from the original film--which was later destroyed--ostensibly to free up vault space at the studio. However, there was also conjecture that this was done to prevent Welles from attempting to make any changes to what was left of his film. The RKO-mandated re-editing had been left in the hands of two men: Robert Wise and studio rep Jack Moss. A phone was put into Moss' office that fed directly to Welles' hotel room in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. According to future director Cy Endfield, who was working with Moss at the time, Moss would simply not answer the phone when it rang, suspecting it was Welles with his latest batch of comments and suggestions for the re-edit, Similarly, when Moss received lengthy telegrams from Welles with more suggestions and thoughts, he would throw them away.
After attending the first preview, RKO president George Schaefer wrote to Welles: "Never in all my experience in the industry have I taken so much punishment or suffered as I did at the Pomona preview".
To persuade RKO head George Schaefer to approve this film as a follow-up to Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles played him the "Mercury Theater of the Air" radio version of "The Magnificent Ambersons". It is claimed that Schaefer fell asleep during it. Nevertheless, he greenlit the film for $1 million, an unheard-of move for a studio whose policy was not to make films that cost more than $750,000.
Although Orson Welles had hoped to work again with the great cinematographer Gregg Toland, with whom he so generously shared a credit card on Citizen Kane (1941), Toland was under contract to Samuel Goldwyn and was not available. Welles, however, insisted that Toland's camera crew work on this film: Bert Shipman operated the camera; the assistant cameraman was Eddie Garvin, the gaffer was Bill J. McClellan and the key grip was Ralph Hoge.
Several cast members in studio records/casting call lists apparently were eliminated during the final editing process. These were (with their character names): Jesse Graves (Servant), Lillian Nicholson (Landlady), Robert Pittard (Charles Johnson) and Sam Rice (Attendee at Funeral). Don Dillaway (Wilbur Minafer) is not mentioned in Welles' oral credits, but he appears in three scenes in the opening minutes of the film: As Isabel and Wilbur emerge from a store, Isabel spurns suitor Eugene's attentions; Wilbur reads aloud a letter complaining about son George's misbehavior as George, Major Amberson, and Isabel listen; and Wilbur has lines in several shots of the ball scene.