Orson Welles - Early Life

Early Life

Welles was born May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, son of Richard Hodgdon Head Welles (1873, Missouri – December 28, 1930, Chicago, Illinois) and Beatrice (née Ives; 1882 or 1883, Springfield, Illinois – May 10, 1924, Chicago, Illinois). He was raised Roman Catholic. Despite his parents' affluence, Welles encountered many hardships in childhood. In 1919, his parents separated and moved to Chicago. His father, who had made a fortune as the inventor of a popular bicycle lamp, became an alcoholic and stopped working. Welles's mother, a concert pianist, played during lectures by Dudley Crafts Watson at the Chicago Art Institute to support her son and herself (the oldest Welles boy, "Dickie", had been institutionalized at an early age because he had learning difficulties). Beatrice died of jaundice in 1924 in a Chicago hospital a few days after Welles's ninth birthday. After his mother's death, Welles ceased pursuing his interest in music. He was taken in by Dudley Crafts Watson and lived with the family at Watson's family home, "Trillium Dell", on Marshman Avenue in Highland Park, Illinois. At the age of ten, Orson with Watson's third daughter, Marjorie (of the same age), ran away from home. They were found a week later, singing and dancing for money on a street corner in Milwaukee. His father died when Orson was 15 during the summer after Orson's graduation from Todd School for Boys, an independent school in Woodstock, Illinois. Maurice Bernstein, a physician from Chicago, became his guardian.

At Todd School, Welles came under the influence of Roger Hill, a teacher who later became Todd's headmaster. Hill provided Welles with an ad hoc educational environment that proved invaluable to his creative experience, allowing Welles to concentrate on subjects that interested him. Welles performed and staged his first theatrical experiments and productions there. Following graduation from Todd, Welles was awarded a scholarship to Harvard University. Rather than enrolling, he chose to travel. Later, he briefly studied for a time at the Art Institute of Chicago. He returned a number of times to Woodstock to direct his alma mater's student productions.

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