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Citizen Kane
Poster showing two women in the bottom left of the picture looking up towards a man in a white suit in the top right of the picture. "Everybody's talking about it. It's terrific!" appears in the top right of the picture. "Orson Welles" appears in block letters between the women and the man in the white suit. "Citizen Kane" appears in red and yellow block letters tipped 60° to the right. The remaining credits are listed in fine print in the bottom right.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Orson Welles
Produced by Orson Welles
Written by
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Gregg Toland
Edited by Robert Wise
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • May 1, 1941 (1941-05-01) (New York City)
  • September 5, 1941 (1941-09-05) (United States)
Running time 119 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $839,727

Citizen Kane is a 1941 American drama film produced by, co-written by, directed by and starring Orson Welles. The picture was Welles's first feature film. The film was nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories; it won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles. Considered by many critics, filmmakers, and fans to be the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane was voted the greatest film of all time in five consecutive Sight & Sound '​s polls of critics, until it was displaced by Vertigo in the 2012 poll. It topped the American Film Institute's 100 Years ... 100 Movies list in 1998, as well as AFI's 2007 update. Citizen Kane is particularly praised for its cinematography, music, and narrative structure, which were innovative for its time.

The story is a film à clef that examines the life and legacy of Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles, a character based in part upon the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, Chicago tycoons Samuel Insull and Harold McCormick, and aspects of Welles's own life. Upon its release, Hearst prohibited mention of the film in any of his newspapers. Kane's career in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power. Narrated principally through flashbacks, the story is told through the research of a newsreel reporter seeking to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate's dying word: "Rosebud".

After the Broadway successes of Welles's Mercury Theatre and the controversial 1938 radio broadcast "The War of the Worlds" on The Mercury Theatre on the Air, Welles was courted by Hollywood. He signed a contract with RKO Pictures in 1939. Unusual for an untried director, he was given the freedom to develop his own story, to use his own cast and crew, and to have final cut privilege. Following two abortive attempts to get a project off the ground, he wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane, collaborating on the effort with Herman Mankiewicz. Principal photography took place in 1940 and the film received its American release in 1941.

While a critical success, Citizen Kane failed to recoup its costs at the box office. The film faded from view after its release but was subsequently returned to the public's attention when it was praised by such French critics as André Bazin and given an American revival in 1956.

The film was released on Blu-ray Disc on September 13, 2011, for a special 70th anniversary edition.


A mustachioed man in a suit leans on a lectern and points to his right. Behind him to the left is a large picture of himself wearing a hat.
Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane

The film opens with shots of Xanadu, a vast palatial estate in Florida with a "No Trespassing" sign on the gate. Inside the estate's mansion an elderly man on his deathbed holds a snow globe and utters the single word, "Rosebud", before dying; the globe slips from his hand and smashes on the floor.

A newsreel obituary tells the life story of Charles Foster Kane, an enormously wealthy newspaper publisher. The newsreel recounts Kane's entire life, including his mysterious last words. Kane's death becomes sensational news around the world. The newsreel's producer tasks reporter Jerry Thompson with discovering the meaning of "Rosebud".

Thompson sets out to interviews Kane's friends and associates. Thompson approaches Kane's second wife, Susan Alexander Kane, now an alcoholic who runs her own nightclub, but she refuses to talk to him.

Thompson then goes to the private archive of the late banker Walter Parks Thatcher. Through Thatcher's written memoirs, Thompson learns that Kane's childhood began in poverty in Colorado. After "the world's third largest gold mine" was discovered on property his mother had acquired, Mary Kane sends him away to live with Thatcher so that he may be properly educated. The young Kane is seen happily playing with a sled in the snow at his parents boarding-house and protests being sent to live with Thatcher. After gaining full control over his trust fund (the sixth largest fortune in the world) at the age of 25, Kane enters the newspaper business and embarks on a career of yellow journalism. He takes control of the newspaper, the New York Inquirer and begins publishing scandalous articles that attack Thatcher's business interests. After the stock market crash in 1929 Kane is forced to sell controlling interest of his newspaper empire to Thatcher.

Thompson then interviews Kane's personal business manager, Mr. Bernstein. Berstein recalls how Kane hired the best journalists available to build The Inquirer's circulation. Kane then rises to power by successfully manipulating public opinion regarding the Spanish American War and marrying Emily Norton, the niece of a President of the United States.

Thompson then interviews Kane's estranged best friend, Jedediah Leland. Leland recalls Kane's marriage to Emily disintegrates over the years, and he begins an affair with amateur singer Susan Alexander while he is running for Governor of New York. Both his wife and his political opponent discover the affair and the public scandal ends his political career. Kane marries Susan and forces her into a humiliating operatic career for which she has neither the talent nor the ambition.

Thompson then returns to successfully interview Susan. Susan recalls her failed opera career. Kane finally allows her to abandon her singing career after she attempts suicide. After years spent dominated by Kane and living in isolation at Xanadu, Susan leaves Kane.

Finally Thompson interviews Kane's butler Raymond. Raymond recounts that after Susan left him Kane began violently destroying the contents of her bedroom. He suddenly calms down when he sees a snow globe and says "Rosebud".

Back at Xanadu, Kane's belongings are being cataloged or discarded. Thompson concludes that he is unable to solve the mystery and that the meaning of "Rosebud" will forever remain an enigma. As the film ends, the camera reveals that Rosebud was the name of the sled from Kane's childhood in Colorado. Thought to be junk by Xanadu's staff, the sled is burned in a furnace.




Welles's radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" in 1938 caught the attention of RKO studio head George J. Schaefer.

Hollywood had shown interest in Welles as early as 1936.[3]:40 He turned down three scripts sent to him by Warner Bros.; in 1937, he declined offers from David O. Selznick, who asked him to head his film company's story department, and William Wyler, who wanted him to test for a supporting role in Wuthering Heights. "Although the possibility of making huge amounts of money in Hollywood greatly attracted him," wrote biographer Frank Brady, "he was still totally, hopelessly, insanely in love with the theater, and it is there that he had every intention of remaining to make his mark."[4]:118–119, 130

But following "The War of the Worlds" broadcast of his CBS radio series The Mercury Theatre on the Air, Welles was lured to Hollywood with a remarkable contract.[5]:1–2, 153 RKO Pictures studio head George J. Schaefer wanted to work with Welles after the notorious broadcast, believing that Welles had a gift for attracting mass attention.[6]:170 RKO was also uncharacteristically profitable and was entering into a series of independent production contracts that would add more artistically prestigious films to its roster.[5]:1–2, 153 Throughout the spring and early summer of 1939 Schaffer constantly tried to lure the reluctant Welles to Hollywood.[6]:170 Welles was in financial trouble after failure of his plays Five Kings and The Green Goddess. At first he simply wanted to spend three months in Hollywood and earn enough money to pay his debts and fund his next theatrical season.[6]:170 Welles first arrived in Hollywood on July 20, 1939.[6]:168 He famously called RKO "the greatest train set a boy ever had."[7]:1172

Welles signed his contract with RKO on August 21. This legendary contract stipulated that Welles would act in, direct, produce and write two films. Mercury would get $100,000 for first film by January 1, 1940, plus 20% of profits after RKO recouped $500,000, and $125,000 for second film by January 1, 1941, plus 20% of profits after RKO recouped $500,000. The most controversial aspect of the contract was granting Welles complete artistic control of the two films so long as RKO approved both project's stories[6]:169 and so long so the budget didn't exceed $500,000.[5]:1–2, 153 RKO executives would not be allowed to see any footage until Welles chose to show it to them, and no cuts could be made to either film without Welles’s approval.[6]:169 Welles was allowed to develop the story without interference, select his own cast and crew, and have the right of final cut. Granting final cut privilege was unprecedented for a studio since it placed artistic considerations over financial investment. The contract was deeply resented in the film industry, and the Hollywood press took every opportunity to mock RKO and Welles. Schaefer remained a great supporter[5]:1–2, 153 and saw the unprecedented contract as good publicity.[6]:170 Film scholar Robert L. Carringer wrote: "The simple fact seems to be that Schaefer believed Welles was going to pull off something really big almost as much as Welles did himself."[5]:1–2, 153

Welles spent the first five months of his RKO contract trying to get several projects going with no success. "They are laying bets over on the RKO lot that the Orson Welles deal will end up without Orson ever doing a picture there," wrote The Hollywood Reporter.[5]:15 Welles initially planned to film Heart of Darkness, previously adapted for The Mercury Theatre on the Air, which was to be presented entirely through the viewpoint of the central character.[a] After elaborate pre-production and a day of test shooting, the project never reached production because Welles was unable to trim $50,000 from its budget.[8]:30–31

He then started work on the idea that became Citizen Kane. Knowing the script would take time to prepare, Welles suggested to RKO that while that was being done — "so the year wouldn't be lost" — he make a humorous political thriller. Welles proposed The Smiler with a Knife, from a novel by Cecil Day-Lewis.[8]:33–34 When that project stalled in December 1939, Welles began brainstorming other story ideas with screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who had been writing Mercury radio scripts. "Arguing, inventing, discarding, these two powerful, headstrong, dazzlingly articulate personalities thrashed toward Kane", wrote biographer Richard Meryman.[9]:245–246


Mankiewicz as co-writer[edit]

Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz co-wrote the script in early 1940. They separately re-wrote and revised each other's work until Welles was satisfied with the finished product.

Herman J. Mankiewicz was a notorious personality in Hollywood.[10]:12 "His behavior, public and private, was a scandal," wrote John Houseman. "A neurotic drinker and a compulsive gambler, he was also one of the most intelligent, informed, witty, humane and charming men I have ever known."[11]:447 Welles told Peter Bogdanovich that "Nobody was more miserable, more bitter, and funnier than Mank ... a perfect monument of self-destruction. But, you know, when the bitterness wasn't focused straight at you, he was the best company in the world."[8]:52–53

Welles admired Mankiewicz, and had met him in New York in 1938[4]:234 at the time of the Mercury Theatre's Broadway successes. In September 1939[9]:244 Welles visited Mankiewicz while he was hospitalized in Los Angeles after a car accident, and offered him a job writing scripts for the Mercury Theatre's show on CBS radio, The Campbell Playhouse. "I felt it would be useless," Welles said later, "because of Mank's general uselessness many times in the studios. But I thought, 'We'll see what he comes up with.'" Mankiewicz proved to be useful, particularly working with Houseman as editor,[9]:240–242 and wrote five scripts for Campbell Playhouse shows broadcast between November 12, 1939, and March 17, 1940.[b][12]:98

Houseman and Welles were partners in the Mercury Theatre,[8]:55 but when the Mercury moved to California the partnership ended and Houseman became an employee, working primarily as supervising editor on the radio shows.[13]:88 In December 1939, after a violent quarrel with Welles over finances, Houseman resigned and returned to New York.[8]:356 But in late February 1940,[11]:444, 448 Welles arranged a lunch at New York's 21 Club and proposed that Houseman come back to California and work with Mankiewicz on a new project[6]:185 — "… little more than a notion, but an exciting one …," Houseman wrote:

Mankiewicz was notoriously unreliable: I asked Orson why he didn't take over the idea and write it himself. He said he didn't want to do that. Besides, Mank had asked for me to work with him. In the name of our former association Orson urged me to fly out, talk to Mankiewicz and, if I shared his enthusiasm, stay and work with him as his collaborator and editor till the script was done. It was an absurd venture, and that night Orson and I flew back to California together.[11]:444, 448

Mankiewicz was put on the Mercury payroll February 19, 1940, to work on a script with Houseman, a screenplay initially called Orson Welles #1, then American, and finally, Citizen Kane. Writing took place from late February or March through early May 1940.[8]:359

According to his contract with Mercury Productions, Mankiewicz was to receive no credit for his work as he was hired as a script doctor; a similar clause was present in the writers' contracts for The Campbell Playhouse.[14]:487 Mankiewicz was advised by his agents, Columbia Management of California, and before he signed the contract it was again made clear that all credit for his work belonged to Welles and the Mercury Theatre, the "author and creator".[4]:236–237

Mankiewicz was paid $22,833 for his work. Welles hesitated to officially agree to give Mankiewicz credit; his contract with RKO stipulated that Welles alone would write both film projects and Welles worried that crediting Mankiewicz would give the RKO board of directors an excuse to break the contract. However, Welles's correspondence with his lawyer Arnold Weissberger indicated that he wanted to give Mankiewicz onscreen credit.[6]:202

Before Mankiewicz started work Welles gave him the rough script he had written, consisting of 300 pages of dialogue with occasional stage directions under the title of John Citizen, USA — the project's working title at RKO for a time.[14]:487 Film historian Clinton Heylin wrote that Mankiewicz "… probably believed that Welles had little experience as an original scriptwriter ... [and] may even have felt that John Citizen, USA, Welles's working title, was a project he could make his own."[15]:43

Mankiewicz, Welles and Houseman rented the historic Verde ranch on the Mojave River in Victorville, a secluded location in the desert, and began working on the script.[10]:32[16]:221 Hearst still had the power to retaliate within Hollywood, so Welles wanted Mankiewicz to work on the script outside of town. Houseman was to provide assistance and make sure that Mankiewicz stayed focused[5]:17 and sober. Welles said that he tasked Mankiewicz with writing the first draft based on his own initial concept of the film.[6]:185

Ideas and collaboration[edit]

For some time, Mankiewicz had wanted to write a screenplay about a public figure – perhaps a gangster – whose story would be told by the people that knew him.[14]:484 In the mid-1930s Mankiewicz had written the first act of an unproduced play about John Dillinger, titled The Tree Will Grow.[12]:132

"It was something [Mankiewicz] had been thinking about for years," Houseman wrote, “the idea of telling a man’s private life (preferably one that suggested a recognizable American figure), immediately following his death, through the intimate and often incompatible testimony of those who had known him at different times and in different circumstances.”[11]:448–449

Welles himself had worked with the concept. As a teenager in 1932 he wrote a play about the life of abolitionist John Brown called Marching Song. Like that of Citizen Kane, the play’s plot is structured around a journalist attempting to understand Brown by interviewing people who knew him and have different perspectives on him. The plot device of the unseen journalist Thompson in Citizen Kane is also reminiscent of the unseen Marlow in Welles's proposed film Heart of Darkness, in which the narrator's point of view is that of the audience.[6]:55, 184–185 Welles said:

I'd been nursing an old notion – the idea of telling the same thing several times – and showing exactly the same thing from wholly different points of view. Basically, the idea Rashomon used later on. Mank liked it, so we started searching for the man it was going to be about. Some big American figure – couldn’t be a politician, because you’d have to pinpoint him. Howard Hughes was the first idea. But we got pretty quickly to the press lords.[8]:53

"Orson was from Chicago," said the Mercury Theatre's Richard Wilson, "and I believe he was as much influenced by Samuel Insull and Colonel Robert McCormick as he was by the figure of Hearst."[17]:6 Roger Hill, head of the Todd Seminary for Boys and Welles's mentor and lifelong friend, wrote that Welles once told him about a project he was considering: "He had outlined to me, years earlier, a plan for a stage play based on the life an American tycoon who would be a composite of Insull, McCormick and Hearst."[18]:111 Hill said that even as a boy Welles was interested in the lives of the controversial tycoons: "He sensed, even then, the theatrical impact that could be gained in assaulting, and possibly toppling, giants," wrote Brady.[4]:230

Welles and Mankiewicz soon settled on the idea of using newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst as their central character.[14]:484

Welles did not know Hearst, but he knew much about him through critic Ashton Stevens.[8]:44 He also said that his father and Hearst knew each other.[4]:230[8]:66 When Welles arrived in Hollywood in 1939 everyone was talking about Aldous Huxley's new book, After Many a Summer Dies a Swan, a novel that dealt with the film colony and seemed to be a portrait of Hearst. Welles was invited to celebrate Huxley's birthday at a party where the consensus was that the book could never be made into a film due to Hearst's influence.[4]:218–219 How much Huxley's book influenced Welles's choice of subject is unknown; Brady wrote that "a more personal coincidence, however, might have helped fuel the idea." Welles's first wife Virginia moved to Los Angeles shortly after their divorce,[4]:231–232[19] and on May 18, 1940, she married screenwriter Charles Lederer, the nephew of Hearst's mistress Marion Davies.[6]:204–205[20][c]

Mankiewicz met Hearst through his friendship with Lederer.[9]:212–213 Pauline Kael wrote that "Mankiewicz found himself on story-swapping terms with the power behind it all, Hearst himself ... through his friendship with Charles Lederer." Mankiewicz eventually saw Hearst as "... a finagling, calculating, Machiavellian figure," noted Kael, "and he and Lederer often wrote and had printed parodies of Hearst newspapers ..."[21] Mankiewicz had been a frequent guest at Hearst's parties until he was barred due to his alcoholism. The writer resented this and became obsessed with Hearst and Davies.[14]:484

John Houseman helped Mankiewicz write drafts of the script and later went so far as to say that Welles "never wrote a word".[6]:204

Mankiewicz wrote drafts of the script with Houseman’s assistance and sent them to Welles in Hollywood. Welles then re-wrote and revised Mankiewicz’s drafts and sent them back to Victorville. The two collaborated back and forth on drafts of the script until Welles was satisfied and ready to begin production.[6]:185 Dated April 16, 1940, and titled American, Mankiewicz's first draft was over 250 pages.[22]:82[23] Dated July 16, 1940, the final shooting script was only 156 pages.[22]:82, 114

Welles called Mankiewicz's contribution to the script "enormous".[8]:52–53 He summarized the screenwriting process: "The initial ideas for this film and its basic structure were the result of direct collaboration between us; after this we separated and there were two screenplays: one written by Mr. Mankiewicz, in Victorville, and the other, in Beverly Hills, by myself. … The final version of the screenplay … was drawn from both sources."[8]:500[24]

In 1969, when he was interviewed for the official magazine of the Directors Guild of America, Houseman offered an assessment of the scripting of Citizen Kane that matched that of Welles: "He [Welles] added a great deal of material himself, and later he and Herman had a dreadful row over the screen credit. As far as I could judge, the co-billing was correct. The Citizen Kane script was the product of both of them."[17]:6

But at the same time, Houseman was stirring controversy, lunching with film critic Kael and giving Mankiewicz total credit for the creation of the script for Citizen Kane.[10]:32[12]:471[25] Houseman would openly say that Mankiewicz deserved sole credit for writing the film for many years[26] — right up until his death — without explaining the contradictions present even in his own personal papers.[6]:204[8]:499–500


One of the long standing debates of Citizen Kane has been the proper accreditation of the authorship of the screenplay, which the credits attribute to both Mankiewicz and Welles. Mankiewicz's biographer Richard Meryman notes that the dispute had various causes, including the way the film was promoted. When RKO released the film in theaters, the souvenir program included a double-page spread depicting Welles as "the four-most personality of motion pictures … author, producer, director, star."[9]:270[27] Mankiewicz wrote his father, "I'm particularly furious at the incredibly insolent description of how Orson wrote his masterpiece. The fact is that there isn't one single line in the picture that wasn't in writing – writing from and by me – before ever a camera turned."[9]:270 Mankiewicz was enraged when an August 1940 column by Louella Parsons quoted Welles as saying, " … and so I wrote Citizen Kane."[6]:201[14]:517

Mankiewicz had seen rushes of the film shortly before this and said he was unhappy with the footage. However, Mankiewicz's assessment of the footage was full of contradictions. He told Welles that there were "not enough standard movie conventions being observed" and that he didn’t like the theatricality and lack of close-ups in the film. But Mankiewicz also called the footage “magnificent” and said he like it "from an ascetical point of view." He also said that he thought the audience would not understand the film.[6]:204

Mankiewicz began threatening Welles in order to get credit for the film. This included threatening to post full-page ads in trade papers and getting his friend Ben Hecht to write an exposé about their collaboration in the Saturday Evening Post. Mankiewicz also threatened to go to the Screen Writers Guild and claim full credit for writing the entire script by himself. Welles biographer Barbara Leaming believes that Mankiewicz reacted this way out of fear of getting no credit at all.[6]:204 In January 1941 Mankiewicz decided to formally complain to the Screen Writers Guild. He dropped the complaint by late January when he reached an official agreement with Welles and RKO to be credited as co-writer.[6]:201

In 1949 Welles was sued for plagiarism by Hearst biographer Ferdinand Lundberg, who claimed that the film was based on his book Imperial Hearst. The case was dismissed due to a hung jury.[2]:30

"Raising Kane"[edit]
Film critic Pauline Kael's 1971 articles created a controversy by claiming Mankiewicz deserved full credit for writing the screenplay.

Questions over the authorship of the Citizen Kane screenplay were revived in 1971 by The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael,[8]:494 whose controversial 50,000-word essay "Raising Kane" was printed in two installments, and subsequently as a long introduction to the shooting script in The Citizen Kane Book.[28] Kael argued that Mankiewicz was the true author of the screenplay and therefore responsible for much of what made the film great, and that Welles had actively tried to deprive him of credit.[8]:494 Her primary source was Houseman, and she did not interview Welles.[6]:203–204[12]:394, 495–500

According to Kael, Mankiewicz's secretary Rita Alexander stated that she personally typed the entire screenplay from Mankiewicz's dictation and later revisions. Alexander claimed that Welles "came to dinner once or twice ... [and] she didn't meet him until after Mankiewicz had finished dictating the long first draft."[28]:38 However, Welles's secretary Kathryn Trosper typed up Welles's suggestions and corrections, which were incorporated into the final script; Kael did not interview Trosper before producing her article.[29]

Nevertheless, Kael maintained that Mankiewicz went to the Screen Writers Guild and declared that he was the original author. According to Kael, Mankiewicz brought evidence to the Guild and "Welles was forced to split the credit and take second place in the listing."[28]:38 Lederer, a source for Kael's article, insisted that the credit never came to the Writers Guild for arbitration.[d][8]:499

Kael reported that before the film was finished, without Welles's knowledge, Mankiewicz gave the script to Lederer. "In some crazily naive way, Mankiewicz seems to have imagined that Lederer would be pleased by how good it was. But Lederer, apparently, was deeply upset and took the script to his aunt and Hearst. It went from them to Hearst's lawyers … It was probably as a result of Mankiewicz's idiotic indiscretion that the various forces were set in motion that resulted in the cancellation of the premiere at the Radio City Music Hall [and] the commercial failure of Citizen Kane.[28]:45

Lederer disputed her conclusion[e] and said that Kael never bothered to check with him about the facts. He said he did not give Davies the script Mankiewicz loaned him: "I gave it back to him. He asked me if I thought Marion would be offended and I said I didn't think so."[8]:557

Composer Bernard Herrmann disparaged Kael's assertions about the music in Citizen Kane. She wrote that the production could not afford the fee to perform the opera called for in the script, Jules Massenet's Thaïs — a work written for Sibyl Sanderson, one of Hearst's mistresses.[31]:79 "But Miss Kael never wrote or approached me to ask about the music," Herrmann said. "We could easily have afforded the fee. The point is that its lovely little strings would not have served the emotional purpose of the film." Herrmann said he disagreed with Kael's entire premise: "She tries to pretend that Welles is nothing and that a mediocre writer by the name of Mankiewicz was a hidden Voltaire. I'm not saying that Mankiewicz made no contribution … but he could not have created Citizen Kane."[32]

Kael wrote that the idea to use Hearst as the basis for Charles Foster Kane was Mankiewicz's idea, a claim supported by Houseman.[5]:17 Kael reported that a former babysitter for the Mankiewicz family said she had typed, while Mankiewicz dictated, portions of a screenplay that involved Hearst, organized in flashbacks; this was in 1925.[28]:35 Welles claimed it was his idea, which was supported by associate producer Richard Baer in sworn testimony taken at the time Citizen Kane was released.[5]:17[f]

Kael also related a damaging anecdote from Nunnally Johnson, who said that during the filming of Citizen Kane Mankiewicz told him that Welles offered him, through a third party, a $10,000 bribe to relinquish screen credit. Mankiewicz, ever in need of money, was tempted by the offer. Mankiewicz reportedly said that Ben Hecht advised him to take the money and double-cross Welles. "I like to believe he did," Johnson replied when Kael asked if he believed the story. Kael left it at that: "It's not unlikely", she wrote.[28]:49–50 The unresearched rumor became part of the record.[8]:497[33]:91–92

Welles's attorney and friend Arnold Weissberger advised him not to file suit for libel. Proving malice would be difficult; Welles was a public figure, and Kael's ideas were theories and matters of opinion. A complicating factor was that Welles was receiving a portion of the royalties of The Citizen Kane Book, which contained the script as well as Kael's essay. "As it turned out, much to his sorrow, the book sold extremely well and has been reprinted many times", wrote Brady.[4]:554

The mainstream press accepted Kael's flamboyant but unsubstantiated essay — an extension of her dispute with Andrew Sarris and the auteur theory — based on her credibility as one of the country's top film critics.[34]:206–207 New York Times reviewer Mordecai Richler praised Kael for "cutting Orson Welles down to size, denying his needlessly grandiose claim to having been solely responsible for everything that went into Kane, including the script and photography."[35]

"Raising Kane" angered many critics, most notably Bogdanovich, a close friend of Welles who rebutted Kael's claims in "The Kane Mutiny", an October 1972 article for Esquire.[g][h][36] Other rebuttals included articles by Sarris,[37] Joseph McBride[38] and Jonathan Rosenbaum,[39] interviews with George Coulouris and Herrmann that appeared in Sight & Sound,[40] a definitive study of the scripts by Carringer[22] and remarks in Welles biographies by Barbara Leaming[6]:203–204 and Frank Brady.[4]:553–554 Rosenbaum also reviewed the controversy in his editor's notes to This is Orson Welles (1992).[8]:494–501 Film historian Richard B. Jewell concluded that Welles deserves credit as the film's co-writer and that Kael's arguments are "one-sided and unsupported by the facts."[41]:164

"Orson was vigorously defended," wrote biographer Barton Whaley, "but in less prominently placed articles; so, again, the damage was immense and permanent."[12]:394

"'The Kane Mutiny' … did surprisingly little damage to Pauline's reputation", wrote Kael biographer Brian Kellow. "It did, however, represent a serious breakdown of The New Yorker's fact-checking process."[42]:166

Decades after the controversy over the essay, Woody Allen told Bogdanovich that he had been with Kael immediately after she finished reading "The Kane Mutiny" in Esquire. Kael was shocked at the case made against her and asked Allen, "How am I going to answer this?"[42]:166–167

"She never responded," Bogdanovich wrote. He noted that Kael had included "Raising Kane" in a recent collection of her essays[43] — "untouched, as though these other people's testimony didn't count or exist, as though Welles's feelings or reputation didn't matter."[30]:xxvi–xxvii

"The Scripts of Citizen Kane"[edit]

An essential article on the subject of authorship is Carringer's "The Scripts of Citizen Kane", first published in 1978.[44]:247[22] Rosenbaum observed that Carringer included only some of its facts in his subsequent book, The Making of Citizen Kane, and that the earlier essay is "the definitive and conclusive word on the issue of the script's authorship".[44]:18

Carringer likewise rebutted Kael's conclusions and refers to early script drafts with Welles's incorporated handwritten contributions, and mentions the issues raised by Kael rested on the evidence of an early draft which was mostly written by Mankiewicz. However Carringer points out that subsequent drafts clarified Welles's contribution to the script:

Fortunately enough evidence to settle the matter has survived. A virtually complete set of script records for Citizen Kane has been preserved in the archives of RKO General Pictures in Hollywood, and these provide almost a day-to-day record of the history of the scripting ... The full evidence reveals that Welles's contribution to the Citizen Kane script was not only substantial but definitive.[22]:80

Carringer notes that Mankiewicz' principal contribution was on the first two drafts of the screenplay, which he characterizes as being more like "rough gatherings" than actual drafts. The early drafts established "... the plot logic and laid down the overall story contours, established the main characters, and provided numerous scenes and lines that would eventually appear in one form or another in the film."[22]:115 However he also noted that Kane in the early draft remained a caricature of Hearst rather than the fully developed character of the final film. The main quality missing in the early drafts but present in the final film is "... the stylistic wit and fluidity that is the most engaging trait of the film itself."[22]:116

Carringer cites that Mankiewicz's main contribution was providing Welles with "… what any good first writer ought to be able to provide in such a case: a solid, durable story structure on which to build."[22]:117 Carringer considered that at least three scenes were solely Welles's work. After weighing both sides of the argument, he concluded, "We will probably never know for sure, but in any case Welles had at last found a subject with the right combination of monumentality, timeliness, and audacity."[5]:11, 149 Author Harlan Lebo agrees: "The years have fogged the precise origins of the original idea for Citizen Kane. … However, of far greater relevance is reaffirming the importance of the efforts that both men contributed to the creation of Hollywood's greatest motion picture."[10]:13, 32


Charles Foster Kane[edit]

Main article: Charles Foster Kane

Welles never confirmed a principal source for the character of Charles Foster Kane. Houseman wrote that Kane is a synthesis of different personalities, with Hearst's life used as the main source along with "added incidents and details invented or derived from other sources."[11]:444 Houseman adds that they "grafted anecdotes from other giants of journalism, including Pulitzer, Northcliffe and Mank's first boss, Herbert Bayard Swope."[11]:444

Welles said, "Mr. Hearst was quite a bit like Kane, although Kane isn't really founded on Hearst in particular, many people sat for it so to speak".[45]:78 He specifically acknowledged that aspects of Kane were drawn from the lives of two business tycoons familiar from his youth in Chicago — Samuel Insull and Harold Fowler McCormick.[i][8]:49

William Randolph Hearst[edit]

Although various sources were used as a model for Kane, William Randolph Hearst was the primary inspiration.

William Randolph Hearst was born rich. He was the pampered son of an adoring mother. That is the decisive fact about him. Charles Foster Kane was born poor and was raised by a bank.

Orson Welles[46]

The film is commonly regarded as a fictionalized, unrelentingly hostile parody of William Randolph Hearst, in spite of Welles's statement that "Citizen Kane is the story of a wholly fictitious character."[28]:42 Film historian Don Kilbourne has pointed out that much of the film's story is derived from aspects of Hearst's life that had already been published and that "some of Kane's speeches are almost verbatim copies of Hearst's. When Welles denied that the film was about the still-influential publisher, he did not convince many people."[16]:222 One of the most famous incidents from Hearst's life used in the film occurred in 1898 when artist and Hearst illustrator Frederic Remington was sent to Havana after the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor. After telegraphing that he was leaving because there was no story, Hearst replied back “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” Hearst’s papers were a leading cause of swaying public opinion in favor of the Spanish American War.[47]:47

Hearst biographer David Nasaw described Kane as "a cartoon-like caricature of a man who is hollowed out on the inside, forlorn, defeated, solitary because he cannot command the total obedience, loyalty, devotion, and love of those around him. Hearst, to the contrary, never regarded himself as a failure, never recognized defeat, never stopped loving Marion [Davies] or his wife. He did not, at the end of his life, run away from the world to entomb himself in a vast, gloomy art-choked hermitage."[48]:574

Arguing for the release of Citizen Kane before the RKO board, Welles pointed out the irony that it was Hearst himself who had brought so much attention to the film being about him, and that Hearst columnist Parsons was doing the most to publicize Kane's identification with Hearst. Public denials aside, Welles held the view that Hearst was a public figure and that the facts of a public figure's life were available for writers to reshape and restructure into works of fiction. Welles's legal advisor, Arnold Weissberger, put the issue in the form of a rhetorical question: "Will a man be allowed in effect to copyright the story of his life?"[6]:210–211

Welles said that he had excised one scene from Mankiewicz's first draft that had certainly been based on Hearst. "In the original script we had a scene based on a notorious thing Hearst had done, which I still cannot repeat for publication. And I cut it out because I thought it hurt the film and wasn't in keeping with Kane's character. If I'd kept it in, I would have had no trouble with Hearst. He wouldn't have dared admit it was him.[8]:85

Kael wrote that a vestige of this abandoned subplot survives in a remark made by Susan Alexander Kane to the reporter interviewing her: "Look, if you're smart, you'll get in touch with Raymond. He's the butler. You'll learn a lot from him. He knows where all the bodies are buried." Kael observed, "It's an odd, cryptic speech. In the first draft, Raymond literally knew where the bodies were buried: Mankiewicz had dished up a nasty version of the scandal sometimes referred to as the Strange Death of Thomas Ince."[28] Referring to the suspicious 1924 death of the American film mogul after being a guest on Hearst's yacht, and noting that Kael's principal source was Houseman, Rosenbaum wrote that "it seems safe to conclude, even without her prodding, that some version of the story must have cropped up in Mankiewicz's first draft of the script, which Welles subsequently edited and added to."[49]

One particular aspect of the character, Kane's profligate collecting of possessions, was directly taken from Hearst. "And it's very curious – a man who spends his entire life paying cash for objects he never looked at," Welles said. "He just acquired things, most of which were never opened, remained in boxes. It's really a quite accurate picture of Hearst to that extent."[8]:50 But Welles himself insisted that there were marked differences between his fictional creation and Hearst.[8]:49 Xanadu was modeled after Hearst’s large mansion Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, which also had a private zoo and a large collection of art.[47]:47

Samuel Insull[edit]

Chicago utilities magnate Samuel Insull built a fortune and lost it, and built the Chicago Opera House.

Welles gave Maurice Seiderman a photograph of Chicago industrialist Samuel Insull, with mustache, to use as a model for the makeup design of the old Charles Foster Kane.[50]:42, 46

A protégé of Thomas Edison, Insull was a man of humble origins who became the most powerful figure in the utilities field.[51] He was married to a Broadway ingenue nearly 20 years his junior, spent a fortune trying to re-launch her career, and built the Chicago Civic Opera House.[52]

In 1925, after a 26-year absence, Gladys Wallis Insull returned to the stage in a charity revival of The School for Scandal that ran two weeks in Chicago.[53] When the performance was repeated on Broadway in October 1925, Herman Mankiewicz — then the third-string theater critic for The New York Times — was assigned to review the production. In an incident that became infamous, Mankiewicz returned to the press room drunk and wrote only the first sentence of a negative review before passing out on his typewriter. Mankiewicz resurrected the experience in writing the screenplay for Citizen Kane, incorporating it into the narrative of Jedediah Leland.[j][9]:77–78

In 1926 Insull took a six-year lease on Chicago's Studebaker Theatre and financed a repertory company in which his wife starred. Gladys Insull's nerves broke when her company failed to find success, and the lease expired at the same time Insull's $4 billion financial empire collapsed in the Depression.[54][55] Insull died in July 1938,[56] bankrupt and disgraced.[57][58]

Insull’s life was also well known to Welles. Insull’s publicity director John Clayton was a friend of Roger Hill.[6]:211

Harold McCormick[edit]

Like Kane, Harold McCormick was divorced by his aristocratic first wife, Edith Rockefeller, and lavishly promoted the opera career of his only modestly talented second wife, Ganna Walska.[8]:497 In 1920 McCormick arranged for her to play the lead in a production of Zaza at the Chicago Opera. She fled the country after her Italian vocal instructor told her that she was unprepared to perform the night before the sold-out premiere.[59]:40

Other sources[edit]

According to composer David Raksin, Herrmann used to say that much of Kane's story was based on McCormick, but that there was also a good deal of Welles in the flamboyant character.[60]

Welles cited financier Basil Zaharoff as another inspiration for Kane. "I got the idea for the hidden-camera sequence in the Kane 'news digest' from a scene I did on March of Time in which Zaharoff, this great munitions-maker, was being moved around in his rose garden, just talking about the roses, in the last days before he died," Welles said.[8]:75 Carringer reviewed the December 3, 1936, script of the radio obituary in which Welles played Zaharoff, and found other similarities. In the opening scene, Zaharoff's secretaries are burning masses of secret papers in the enormous fireplace of his castle. A succession of witnesses testify about the tycoon's ruthless practices. "Finally, Zaharoff himself appears — an old man nearing death, alone except for his servants in the gigantic palace in Monte Carlo that he had acquired for his longtime mistress. His dying wish is to be wheeled out 'in the sun by that rosebush.'"[5]:18

The last name of Welles's family friend Whitford Kane was borrowed for Charles Foster Kane.[12]:120

Jedediah Leland[edit]

In 1940, Welles invited longtime friend and Mercury Theatre colleague Joseph Cotten to join a small group for an initial read-through at Mankiewicz's house. Cotten wrote:

"I think I'll just listen," Welles said. "The title of this movie is Citizen Kane, and I play guess who." He turned to me. "Why don't you think of yourself as Jedediah Leland? His name, by the way, is a combination of Jed Harris and your agent, Leland Hayward." "There all resemblance ceases," Herman reassured me. These afternoon garden readings continued, and as the Mercury actors began arriving, the story started to breathe.[61]

"I regard Leland with enormous affection," Welles told Bogdanovich,[8]:84 adding that the character of Jed Leland was based on drama critic Ashton Stevens, George Stevens's uncle and his close boyhood friend. Welles said that he learned most of what he knew about the life of Hearst from Stevens and that "Ashton was really one of the great ones. The last of the dandies…very much like Jed."[8]:66 When Welles was a child Stevens used to tell him stories about Hearst, much like Leland tells Thompson about Kane in the film.[6]:188

Regarded as the dean of American drama critics, Ashton Stevens began his journalism career in 1894 in San Francisco and started working for the Hearst newspapers three years later. In 1910 he moved to Chicago, where he covered the theater for 40 years and became a close friend of Dr. Maurice Bernstein, Welles's guardian.[62]

Mankiewicz incorporated an incident from his own early career as a theater critic into Leland. Mankiewicz was assigned to review the October 1925 opening of Gladys Wallis' production of The School for Scandal. After her opening-night performance in the role of Lady Teazle, Mankiewicz returned to the press room "... full of fury and too many drinks ...," wrote biographer Richard Meryman:

He was outraged by the spectacle of a 56-year-old millionairess playing a gleeful 18-year-old, the whole production bought for her like a trinket by a man Herman knew to be an unscrupulous manipulator. Herman began to write: "Miss Gladys Wallis, an aging, hopelessly incompetent amateur, opened last night in ..." Then Herman passed out, slumped over the top of his typewriter.[9]:77–78

The unconscious Mankiewicz was discovered by his boss, George S. Kaufman, who composed a terse announcement that the Times review would appear the following day.[k][63]

Mankiewicz resurrected the incident for Citizen Kane. After Kane's second wife makes her opera debut, critic Jed Leland returns to the press room drunk. He passes out over the top of his typewriter after writing the first sentence of his review: "Miss Susan Alexander, a pretty but hopelessly incompetent amateur …"[64]

Susan Alexander Kane[edit]

Hearst was disturbed by the film's supposed depiction of Marion Davies, but Welles always denied that Susan Alexander Kane was based on Davies.

It was a real man who built an opera house for the soprano of his choice, and much in the movie was borrowed from that story, but the man was not Hearst. Susan, Kane's second wife, is not even based on the real-life soprano. Like most fictional characters, Susan's resemblance to other fictional characters is quite startling. To Marion Davies she bears no resemblance at all.

Orson Welles[46]

The assumption that the character of Susan Alexander Kane was based on Marion Davies was a major reason Hearst tried to destroy Citizen Kane.[l][65]

In his foreword to Davies's posthmously published autobiography, Welles drew a sharp distinction between his fictional creation and Davies: "That Susan was Kane's wife and Marion was Hearst's mistress is a difference more important than might be guessed in today's changed climate of opinion. The wife was a puppet and a prisoner; the mistress was never less than a princess. … The mistress was never one of Hearst's possessions: he was always her suitor, and she was the precious treasure of his heart for more than 30 years, until his last breath of life. Theirs is truly a love story. Love is not the subject of Citizen Kane."[46]

Welles called Davies "an extraordinary woman – nothing like the character Dorothy Comingore played in the movie."[8]:49

He cited Insull's building of the Chicago Opera House, and McCormick's lavish promotion of the opera career of his second wife, Ganna Walska, as direct influences on the screenplay.[8]:49 Contemporaries said Walska had a terrible voice; The New York Times headlines of the day read, "Ganna Walska Fails as Butterfly: Voice Deserts Her Again When She Essays Role of Puccini's Heroine"[66] and "Mme. Walska Clings to Ambition to Sing".[67]

"According to her 1943 memoirs, Always Room at the Top, Walska had tried every sort of fashionable mumbo jumbo to conquer her nerves and salvage her voice," reported The New York Times in 1996. "Nothing worked. During a performance of Giordano's Fedora in Havana she veered so persistently off key that the audience pelted her with rotten vegetables. It was an event that Orson Welles remembered when he began concocting the character of the newspaper publisher's second wife for Citizen Kane."[68]

Lederer said that the script he read "didn't have any flavor of Marion and Hearst. Robert McCormick was the man it was about."[8]:497[m] Although there were things based on Davies – jigsaw puzzles and drinking – Lederer noted that they were exaggerated in the film to help define the characterization of Susan Alexander.[8]:497–498

Film tycoon Jules Brulatour's second and third wives, Dorothy Gibson and Hope Hampton, both fleeting stars of the silent screen who later had marginal careers in opera, are also believed to have provided inspiration for the Susan Alexander Kane character.[69] The interview with Mrs. Kane in the Atlantic City nightclub was based on a contemporary interview with Evelyn Nesbit Thaw in the run-down club where she was performing.[11]:452–453

Susan Alexander's last name was taken from Mankiewicz's secretary, Rita Alexander.[12]:120

Jim W. Gettys[edit]

Caricature of a big, heavyset man in a striped convict suit
Charles F. Murphy caricatured in Hearst's New York Journal (November 10, 1905).

The character of political boss Jim W. Gettys is based on Charles F. Murphy, a leader in New York City's infamous Tammany Hall political machine.[28]:61 Hearst and Murphy were political allies in 1902, when Hearst was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but became enemies in 1905 when Hearst ran for mayor of New York. Hearst turned his muckraking newspapers on Tammany Hall in the person of Murphy, who was called "... the most hungry, selfish and extortionate boss Tammany has ever known." Murphy ordered that under no condition was Hearst to be elected. Hearst ballots were dumped into the East River, and new ballots were printed favoring his opponent. Hearst was defeated by some 3,000 votes and his newspapers bellowed against the election fraud. A historic cartoon of Murphy in convict stripes appeared November 10, 1905, three days after the vote.[70] The caption read, "Look out, Murphy! It's a Short Lockstep from Delmonico's to Sing Sing ... Every honest voter in New York wants to see you in this costume."[71]

In the film, "Boss" Jim W. Gettys (named "Edward Rogers" in the shooting script) admonishes Kane for printing a cartoon showing him in prison stripes: "If I owned a newspaper and if I didn't like the way somebody else was doing things – some politician, say – I'd fight them with everything I had. Only I wouldn't show him in a convict suit with stripes — so his children could see the picture in the paper. Or his mother." As he pursues Gettys down the stairs, Kane threatens to send him to Sing Sing.[72]:219–225

As an inside joke, Welles named Gettys after the father-in-law of Roger Hill, his headmaster at the Todd School and a lifelong friend.[8]:63


Welles credited the "Rosebud" device to Mankiewicz. "Rosebud remained, because it was the only way we could find to get off, as they used to say in vaudeville," Welles said. "It manages to work, but I'm still not too keen about it, and I don't think that he was, either." Welles said that they attempted to diminish the importance of the word's meaning and "take the mickey out of it."[8]:53

As he began his first draft of the screenplay in early 1940, Mankiewicz mentioned "Rosebud" to his secretary. When she asked, "Who is rosebud?" he replied, "It isn't a who, it's an it." The symbol of Mankiewicz's own damaged childhood was a treasured bicycle, stolen while he visited the public library and not replaced by his family as punishment.[n] "He mourned that all his life," wrote Kael, who believed Mankiewicz put the emotion of that boyhood loss into the loss that haunted Kane.[28]:60

Hearst biographer Louis Pizzitola reports one historian's statement that "Rosebud" was a nickname given to Hearst's mother by portrait and landscape painter Orrin Peck, whose family were friends with the Hearsts.[o][74][75] Another theory of the origin of "Rosebud" is the similarity with the dying wish of Zaharoff to be wheeled "by the rosebush".[76]

In 1989 author Gore Vidal stated that "Rosebud" was a nickname which Hearst had used for the clitoris of Davies. Vidal said that Davies had told this intimate detail to Lederer, who had mentioned it to him years later.[77][78] Film critic Roger Ebert said, "Some people have fallen in love with the story that Herman Mankiewicz…happened to know that 'Rosebud' was William Randolph Hearst's pet name for an intimate part of Marion Davies' anatomy."[79][80] Welles biographer Frank Brady traced the story back to newspaper articles in the late 1970s, and wrote, "How Orson (or Mankiewicz) could have ever discovered this most private utterance is unexplained and why it took over 35 years for such a suggestive rationale to emerge…[is] unknown. If this highly unlikely story is even partially true…Hearst may have become upset at the implied connotation, although any such connection seems to have been innocent on Welles's part."[4]:287 Houseman denied this rumor about "Rosebud"'s origins, claiming that he would have heard about something "so provocative" and that Welles could never "have kept such a secret for over 40 years."[81]

In 1991 journalist Edward Castle contended that Welles may have borrowed the name of Native American folklorist, educator and author Rosebud Yellow Robe for "Rosebud". Castle claimed to have found both of their signatures on the same sign-in sheets at CBS Radio studios in New York, where they both worked on different shows in the late 1930s.[82] However, the word "Rosebud" appears in the first draft script written by Mankiewicz, not Welles.[83]:82

News on the March[edit]

"Although Citizen Kane was widely seen as an attack on William Randolph Hearst, it was also aimed at Henry R. Luce and his concept of faceless group journalism, as then practiced at his Time magazine and March of Time newsreels," wrote Roger Ebert.[80]

The News on the March sequence that begins the film satirizes The March of Time, the famous pictorial news journal produced by Time Inc. from 1935 to 1951. At its peak The March of Time was seen by 25 million U.S. moviegoers a month.[84] Usually called a newsreel series, it was actually a monthly series of short feature films, news dramatizations twice the length of standard newsreels. The films were didactic, with a subjective point of view[85]:75–76 that revolutionized film journalism. "The March of Time style was characterized by dynamic editing, gutsy investigative reporting, and hard-punching, almost arrogant, narration," wrote film historian Ephraim Katz — who added that it "was beautifully parodied by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane."[86]:901

Biographer Simon Callow called the News on the March sequence "the single most impressive, most spoken-of element in the movie".[14]:524 Remarkably, critic Arthur Knight reported in 1969 that the sequence was excised from most prints presented on American television.[87]:14


Houseman claimed that Walter P. Thatcher was loosely based on J. P. Morgan, but only in the general sense of Morgan being an old-fashioned 19th century capitalist with ties to Wall Street finances and railroad companies.[2]:55

When Welles was 15 he became the ward of Dr. Maurice Bernstein. Bernstein is the last name of the only major character in Citizen Kane who receives a generally positive portrayal. Although Dr. Bernstein was nothing like the character in the film, Welles said, the use of his surname was a family joke: "I used to call people 'Bernstein' on the radio, all the time, too – just to make him laugh."[8]:65–66 Composer David Raksin described Sloane's portrayal of Bernstein as "a compendium of the mannerisms of Bernard Herrmann: he looks like Benny, acts like him, and even talks like him."[60]

Herbert Carter, editor of The Inquirer, was named for actor Jack Carter.[59]:155



The Mercury Theatre was an independent repertory theatre company founded by Orson Welles and John Houseman in 1937. The company produced theatrical presentations, radio programs, films, promptbooks and phonographic recordings.

Citizen Kane was a rare film in that its principal roles were played by actors new to motion pictures. Ten were billed as Mercury Actors, members of the skilled repertory company assembled by Welles for the stage and radio performances of the Mercury Theatre, an independent theater company he founded with Houseman in 1937.[4]:119–120[88] "He loved to use the Mercury players," wrote biographer Charles Higham, "and consequently he launched several of them on movie careers."[59]:155

The film represents the feature film debuts of William Alland, Ray Collins, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Erskine Sanford, Everett Sloane, Paul Stewart and Welles himself.[1] Despite never having appeared in feature films, some of the cast members were already well known to the public. Cotten had recently become a Broadway star in the hit play The Philadelphia Story with Katharine Hepburn[6]:187 and Sloane was well known for his role on the radio show The Goldbergs.[6]:187 [p] Mercury actor George Coulouris was a star of the stage in New York and London.[88]

Not all of the cast came from the Mercury Players. Welles cast Dorothy Comingore as Susan Alexander Kane. Comingore had never appeared in a film and was a discovery of Charlie Chaplin.[6]:188 Chaplin recommended Comingore to Welles,[89]:170 who then met Comingore at a party in Los Angeles and immediately cast her.[47]:44

Welles had met stage actress Ruth Warrick while visiting New York on a break from Hollywood and remembered her as a good fit for Emily Norton Kane,[6]:188 later saying that she looked the part.[89]:169 Warrick told Carringer that she was struck by the extraordinary resemblance between herself and Welles's mother when she saw a photograph of Beatrice Ives Welles. She characterized her own personal relationship with Welles as motherly.[90]:14

"He trained us for films at the same time that he was training himself," recalled Agnes Moorehead. "Orson believed in good acting, and he realized that rehearsals were needed to get the most from his actors. That was something new in Hollywood: nobody seemed interested in bringing in a group to rehearse before scenes were shot. But Orson knew it was necessary, and we rehearsed every sequence before it was shot."[17]:9

When The March of Time narrator Westbrook Van Voorhis asked for $25,000 to narrate the News on the March sequence, Alland demonstrated his ability to imitate Van Voorhis and Welles cast him.[23]

Welles later said that casting character actor Gino Corrado in the small part of the waiter at the El Rancho broke his heart. Corrado had appeared in many Hollywood films, often as a waiter, and Welles wanted all of the actors to be new to films.[89]:171

Other uncredited roles went to Thomas A. Curran as Teddy Roosevelt in the faux newsreel; Richard Baer as Hillman, a man at Madison Square Garden, and a man in the News on the March screening room; and Alan Ladd, Arthur O'Connell and Louise Currie as reporters at Xanadu.[1] When Currie died September 8, 2013, at age 100,[91] she was believed to have been the film's last surviving cast member.[92] Warrick was the last surviving member of the principal cast at the time of her death in 2005. Sonny Bupp, who played Kane's young son, was the last surviving credited cast member of Citizen Kane when he died in 2007.[92]


Sound stage entrance from the Citizen Kane trailer

With the help of production advisor Miriam Geiger,[23] Welles taught himself filmmaking by watching and studying several films. These included the German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,[6]:173 films by Frank Capra, René Clair, Fritz Lang, and King Vidor[7]:1171 and especially John Ford's Stagecoach, which he watched 40 times.[93] Welles said that he "learned whatever I knew in the projection room — from Ford. After dinner every night for about a month, I'd run Stagecoach, often with some different technician or department head from the studio, and ask questions. 'How was this done?' 'Why was this done?' It was like going to school."[8]:28–29

Welles's cinematographer for the film was Gregg Toland. Toland approached Welles[6]:186 and told him, “I want to make your movie.”[47]:40 RKO hired Toland on loan from Samuel Goldwyn Productions[2]:10 in the first week of June 1940.[5]:40 Toland later explained that he wanted to work with Welles because he anticipated the first time director's inexperience and reputation for audacious experimentation in the theater would allow the cinematographer to try new and innovative camera techniques that typical Hollywood films would never allowed him to do.[6]:186 Unaware of filmmaking protocol, Welles personally adjusted the lights on set as he was accustomed to doing in the theater, which Toland allowed and quietly re-adjusted.[23] During the film’s production Welles and Toland discussed making a film about the life of Jesus Christ.[6]:195 During the first few weeks of June Welles had lengthy discussions about the film with Toland and art director Perry Ferguson in the morning, and in the afternoon and evening he worked with actors and revised the script.[5]:69

Cinematographer Gregg Toland wanted to work with Welles for the opportunity of trying experimental camera techniques that other film's did not allow.

On June 29, 1940,[2]:15 Welles began filming in secret.[6]:186 After the disappointment of having Heart of Darkness cancelled,[8]:30–31 Welles (on the advice of Toland[89]:171) told RKO executives that he was simply shooting camera tests to ensure that they did not interfere. Welles’s contract did not stipulate that he needed RKO’s approval to film tests.[6]:186 The early footage was called "Orson Welles Tests" on all paperwork.[5]:69

While Welles continued to shoot the film in secret, RKO executives were pressuring him to agree to direct a film called The Men from Mars, a project similar to The War of the Worlds radio broadcast.[6]:186 Welles said that he would consider making the project but wanted to make a different film first. At this time he did not inform them that he had already begun filming Citizen Kane.[6]:186 The "test shooting" began with scenes that could be shot on pre-existing sets on the Paramount lot. The first scene shot was the News on the March projection room scene, shot in a real projection room at the studio.[5]:69[q] The next scenes were the El Rancho nightclub scenes and the scene in which Susan attempts suicide.[5]:69 Welles later said that the nightclub set was available after another film had wrapped and that filming took 10 to 12 days to complete. For these scenes Welles had Comingore's throat sprayed with chemicals to give her voice a harsh, raspy tone.[89]:170–171 Other scenes shot in secret included those in which Thompson interviews Leland and Bernstein, which were also shot on sets built for other films.[23]

During production the film was referred to as RKO 281. Most of the filming took place in what is now Stage 19 on the Paramount lot in Hollywood.[94] There was some location filming at Balboa Park in San Diego and the San Diego Zoo,[95]

In the end of July RKO approved the film and Welles was allowed to officially begin shooting, despite having already been filming “tests” for several weeks. Welles leaked stories to newspaper reporters that the tests had been so good that there was no need to re-shoot them. The first official scene to be shot was the breakfast montage sequence between Kane and his first wife Emily. In order to strategically to save money and appease the RKO executives who opposed him, Welles rehearsed scenes extensively before actually shooting and filmed very few takes of each shot set-up.[6]:193 Welles never shot master shots for any scene after Toland told him that Ford never shot them.[89]:169 To appease the increasingly curious press, Welles threw a cocktail party for selected reporters, promising that they could watch a scene being filmed. When the journalists arrived Welles told them they had “just finished” shooting for the day but still had the party.[6]:193 Welles told the press that he was ahead of schedule (without factoring in the month of "test shooting"), thus discrediting claims that after a year in Hollywood without making a film he was a failure in the film industry.[6]:194

Welles usually worked 16 to 18 hours a day on the film. He often began work at 4 a.m. since the special effects make-up used to age him for certain scenes took up to four hours to apply. Welles used this time to discuss the day's shooting with Toland and other crew members. The special contact lenses used to make Welles look elderly proved very painful, and a doctor was employed to place them into Welles's eyes. Welles had difficulty seeing clearly while wearing them, which caused him to badly cut his wrist when shooting the scene in which Kane breaks up the furniture in Susan's bedroom. While shooting the scene in which Kane shouts at Gettys on the stairs of Susan Alexander's apartment building, Welles fell ten feet; an X-ray revealed two bone chips in his ankle.[6]:194 The injury required him to direct the film from wheelchair for two weeks.[6]:194–195 He eventually wore a steel brace to resume performing on camera; it is visible in the low-angle scene between Kane and Leland after Kane loses the election.[r][8]:61 For the final scene, a stage at the Selznick studio was equipped with a working furnace, and multiple takes were required to show the sled being put into the fire and the word "Rosebud" consumed. Paul Stewart recalled that on the ninth take the Culver City Fire Department arrived in full gear because the furnace had grown so hot the flue caught fire. "Orson was delighted with the commotion", he said.[17]:8–9

When "Rosebud" was burned, Welles choreographed the scene while he had composer Bernard Herrmann's cue playing on the set.[96]

Unlike Schaefer, many members of RKOs board of governors didn’t like Welles or the control that his contract gave him.[6]:186 However such board members as Nelson Rockefeller and NBC chief David Sarnoff[7]:1170 were sympathetic to Welles.[97] Throughout production Welles had problems with these 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. Before official shooting began the executives intercepted all copies of the script and delayed their delivery to Welles. They had one copy sent to their office in New York, resulting in it being leaked to press.[6]:195

Principal shooting wrapped October 24. Welles then took several weeks off of the film for a lecture tour, during which he also scouted additional locations with Toland and Ferguson. Filming resumed November 15[5]:87 with some re-shoots. Toland had to leave due to a commitment to shoot Howard Hughes' The Outlaw, but Toland's camera crew continued working on the film and Toland was replaced by RKO cinematographer Harry Wild. The final day of shooting on November 30 was Kane's death scene.[5]:85 Welles boasted that he only went 21 days over his official shooting schedule, without factoring in the month of "camera tests."[6]:195 According to RKO records, the film cost $839,727. Its estimated budget had been $723,800.[1]


Citizen Kane was edited by Robert Wise and assistant editor Mark Robson;[2]:85 both would become successful film directors. Wise was hired after Welles finished shooting the "camera tests" and began officially making the film. Wise said that Welles "had an older editor assigned to him for those tests and evidently he was not too happy and asked to have somebody else. I was roughly Orson’s age and had several good credits.” Wise and Robson began editing the film while it was still shooting and said that they “could tell certainly that we were getting something very special. It was outstanding film day in and day out.”[7]:1210 Welles gave Wise detailed instructions and was usually not present during the film's editing.[5]:109 The film was very well planned out and intentionally shot for such post-production techniques as slow dissolves.[23]The lack of coverage made editing easy since Welles and Toland edited the film "in camera" by leaving few options of how it could be put together.[5]:110 Wise said the breakfast table sequence took weeks to edit and get the correct "timing" and "rhythm" for the whip pans and over-lapping dialogue.[23] The News on the March sequence was edited by RKO's newsreel division in order to give it authenticity.[5]:110

During post-production Welles and special effects artist Linwood G. Dunn experimented with an optical printer in order to improve certain scenes that Welles found unsatisfactory from the footage.[23] Whereas Welles was often immediately pleased with Wise's work, he would require Dunn and post-production audio engineer James G. Stewart to re-do their work several times until he was satisfied.[5]:109

Welles hired Bernard Herrmann to compose the film's score. Where most Hollywood film scores were written quickly, in as few as two or three weeks after filming was completed, Herrmann was given 12 weeks to write the music. He had sufficient time to do his own orchestrations and conducting, and worked on the film reel by reel as it was shot and cut. He wrote complete musical pieces for some of the montages, and Welles edited many of the scenes to match their length.[98]


Film scholars and historians view Citizen Kane as Welles's attempt to create a new style of filmmaking by studying various forms of film making, and combining them all into one. However, Welles stated that his love for cinema began only when he started the work on the film. When asked where he got the confidence as a first-time director to direct a film so radically different from contemporary cinema, he responded, "Ignorance, ignorance, sheer ignorance — you know there's no confidence to equal it. It's only when you know something about a profession, I think, that you're timid or careful."[45]:80

David Bordwell wrote that "The best way to understand Citizen Kane is to stop worshiping it as a triumph of technique." Bordwell argues that the film did not invent any of its famous techniques such as deep focus cinematography, shots of the ceilings, chiaroscuro lighting and temporal jump-cuts, and many of these stylistics had been used in German Expressionist films of the 1920s. But Bordwell asserts that the film did put them all together for the first time and perfected the medium in one single film.[7]:1171 In a 1948 interview D. W. Griffith said "I loved Citizen Kane and particularly loved the ideas he took from me."[99]

Storytelling techniques[edit]

Citizen Kane eschews the traditional linear, chronological narrative, and tells Kane's story entirely in flashback using different points of view, many of them from Kane's aged and forgetful associates, the cinematic equivalent of the unreliable narrator in literature.[100] Welles also dispenses with the idea of a single storyteller and uses multiple narrators to recount Kane's life. The use of multiple narrators was unheard of in Hollywood films.[100] Each narrator recounts a different part of Kane's life, with each story partly overlapping.[101] The film depicts Kane as an enigma, a complicated man who, in the end, leaves viewers with more questions than answers as to his character, such as the newsreel footage where he is attacked for being both a communist and a fascist.[100] The technique of using flashbacks had been used in earlier films such as Wuthering Heights in 1939 and The Power and the Glory in 1933, but no film was as immersed in this technique as Citizen Kane. The use of the reporter Thompson acts as a surrogate for the audience, questioning Kane's associates and piecing together his life.[101]

One of the narrative voices is the News on the March segment,[100] a parody of The March of Time newsreel series in its portentous narration, graphics and visual style.[102] Citizen Kane makes extensive use of stock footage from Pathé News and the General Film Library to create the newsreel.[1]


A stern looking man and a woman sit on the right side of a table with documents on the table. A top hat is on the table. An unkempt man stands to the left of the picture. In the background a boy can be seen through a window playing in the snow.
A deep focus shot: everything, including the hat in the foreground and the boy (young Kane) in the distance, is in sharp focus.

The most innovative technical aspect of Citizen Kane is the extended use of deep focus.[103] In nearly every scene in the film, the foreground, background and everything in between are all in sharp focus. Cinematographer Toland did this through his experimentation with lenses and lighting. Toland described the achievement, made possible by the sensitivity of modern speed film, in an article for Theatre Arts magazine:

New developments in the science of motion picture photography are not abundant at this advanced stage of the game but periodically one is perfected to make this a greater art. Of these I am in an excellent position to discuss what is termed “Pan-focus”, as I have been active for two years in its development and used it for the first time in Citizen Kane. Through its use, it is possible to photograph action from a range of eighteen inches from the camera lens to over two hundred feet away, with extreme foreground and background figures and action both recorded in sharp relief. Hitherto, the camera had to be focused either for a close or a distant shot, all efforts to encompass both at the same time resulting in one or the other being out of focus. This handicap necessitated the breaking up of a scene into long and short angles, with much consequent loss of realism. With pan-focus, the camera, like the human eye, sees an entire panorama at once, with everything clear and lifelike.[104]

Both this article and a May 1941 Life magazine article with illustrated examples[105] helped popularize deep focus cinematography and Toland's achievements on the film.[106]:73

Another unorthodox method used in the film was the way low-angle shots were used to display a point of view facing upwards, thus allowing ceilings to be shown in the background of several scenes. Breaking with studio convention, every set was built with a ceiling[104] — many constructed of fabric that ingeniously concealed microphones.[107] Welles felt that the camera should show what the eyes see, and that it was a bad theatrical convention to pretend there was no ceiling — "a big lie in order to get all those terrible lights up there," he said. He became fascinated with the look of low angles, which made even dull interiors look interesting. One extremely low angle is used to photograph the encounter between Kane and Leland after Kane loses the election. A hole was dug for the camera, which required drilling into the concrete floor.[8]:61–62

Welles credited Toland on the same card as himself and said "It's impossible to say how much I owe to Gregg. He was superb."[s][8]:59 He called Toland "the best director of photography that ever existed."[26]


Citizen Kane's sound was recorded by Bailey Fesler and re-recorded in post-production by audio engineer James G. Stewart,[2]:85 both of whom had worked in radio.[5]:102 Stewart said that Hollywood films never deviated from a basic pattern of how sound could be recorded or used, but with Welles "deviation from the pattern was possible because he demanded it."[23] Although the film is known for its complex soundtrack, much of the audio is heard as it was recorded by Fesler and without manipulation.[5]:102

Welles used techniques from radio like overlapping dialogue. The scene where characters sing the "Charlie Kane" song was especially complicated and required mixing several soundtracks together.[5]:104 He also used different "sound perspectives" to create the illusion of distances,[5]:101 such as in scenes at Xanadu where characters speak to each other at far distances.[23] Welles experimented with sound in post-production, creating audio montages,[108]:94 and chose to create all of the sound effects for the film instead of using RKO's library of sound effects.[5]:100

Welles used an aural technique from radio called the "lightning-mix". Welles used this technique to link complex montage sequences via a series of related sounds or phrases. For example, Kane grows from a child into a young man in just two shots. As Thatcher hands eight-year-old Kane a sled and wishes him a Merry Christmas, the sequence suddenly jumps to a shot of Thatcher fifteen years later, completing the sentence he began in both the previous shot and the chronological past. Other radio techniques include using a number of voices, each saying a sentence or sometimes merely a fragment of a sentence, and splicing the dialogue together in quick succession, such as the projection room scene.[109]:413-412 The film's sound cost $16,996, but was originally budgeted at $7,288.[5]:105

Film critic and director François Truffaut wrote that "Before Kane, nobody in Hollywood knew how to set music properly in movies. Kane was the first, in fact the only, great film that uses radio techniques. … A lot of filmmakers know enough to follow Auguste Renoir's advice to fill the eyes with images at all costs, but only Orson Welles understood that the sound track had to be filled in the same way."[110] Cedric Belfrage of The Clipper wrote "of all of the delectable flavours that linger on the palate after seeing Kane, the use of sound is the strongest."[7]:1171


Maurice Seiderman created the make-up for Citizen Kane. RKO wanted the young Kane to look handsome and dashing, and Seiderman transformed the overweight Welles, beginning with his nose, which Welles always disliked. For the old Kane, Seiderman created a red plastic compound which he applied to Welles, allowing the wrinkles to move naturally. Kane's mustache was made of several hair tufts. Transforming Welles into the old Kane required six to seven hours, meaning he had to start at two in the morning to begin filming at nine. He would hold conferences while sitting in the make-up chair; sometimes working 16 hours a day. Even breaking a leg during filming could not stop him from directing around the clock, and he quickly returned to acting, using a steel leg brace.[111]

Seiderman made a mold of Welles's entire head to work off of.[23]


Although credited as an assistant, the film's art direction was done by Perry Ferguson.[2]:85 Welles and Ferguson got along during their collaboration.[5]:37 In the weeks before production began Welles, Toland and Ferguson met regularly to discuss the film and plan every shot, set design and prop. Ferguson would take notes during these discussions and create rough designs of the sets and story boards for individual shots. After Welles approved the rough sketches, Ferguson made miniature models for Welles and Toland to experiment on with a periscope in order to rehearse and perfect each shot. Ferguson then had detailed drawings made for the set design, including the film's lighting design. The set design was an integral part of the film's overall look and Toland's cinematography.[5]:42

In the original script the Great Hall at Xanadu was modeled after the Great Hall in Hearst Castle and its design included a mixture of Renaissance and Gothic styles.[5]:50-51 "The Hearstian element is brought out in the almost perverse juxtaposition of incongruous architectural styles and motifs," wrote Carringer.[5]:54 Before RKO cut the film's budget, Ferguson's designs were more elaborate and resembled the production designs of early Cecil B. DeMille films and Intolerance.[5]:55 The budget cuts reduced Ferguson's budget by 33 percent and his work cost $58,775 total,[5]:65 which was below average at that time.[108]:93 To save costs Ferguson and Welles re-wrote scenes in Xanadu's living room and transported them to the Great Hall. A large staircase from another film was found and used at no additional cost.[5]:56-57 When asked about the limited budget, Ferguson said "Very often — as in that much-discussed “Xanadu” set in Citizen Kane — we can make a foreground piece, a background piece, and imaginative lighting suggest a great deal more on the screen than actually exists on the stage."[5]:65-66 The according to the film's official budget there were 81 sets built, but Ferguson said there were between 106 and 116.[5]:64

Still photographs of Oheka Castle in Huntington, New York, were used in the opening montage, representing Kane's Xanadu estate.[112][113] Ferguson also designed statue's from Kane's collection with styles ranging from Greek to German Gothic.[5]:61 The sets were also built to accommodate Toland's camera movements. Walls were built to fold and furniture could quickly be moved. The film's famous ceiling's were made out of muslin fabric and camera boxes were built into the floors for low angle shots.[5]:64-65 Welles later said that he was proud that the film production value looked much more expensive than the film's budget. Although neither worked with Welles again, Toland and Ferguson collaborated in several films in the 1940s.[5]:65

Special effects[edit]

The film's special effects were supervised by RKO department head Vernon L. Walker.[2]:85 Welles pioneered several visual effects in order to cheaply shoot things like crowd scenes and large interior spaces. For example, the scene in which the camera in the opera house rises dramatically to the rafters, to show the workmen showing a lack of appreciation for Susan Alexander Kane's performance, was shot by a camera craning upwards over the performance scene, then a curtain wipe to a miniature of the upper regions of the house, and then another curtain wipe matching it again with the scene of the workmen. Other scenes effectively employed miniatures to make the film look much more expensive than it truly was, such as various shots of Xanadu.[114]

Some shots included rear screen projection in the background, such as Thompson's interview of Leland and some of the ocean backgrounds at Xanadu.[5]:88 Bordwell claims that in the scene where Thatcher agrees to be Kane's guardian used rear screen projection to depict young Kane in the background, despite this scene being cited as a prime example of Toland's deep focus cinematography.[106]:74 A special effects camera crew from Walker's department was required for the extreme close-up shots such as Kane's lips when he says "Rosebud" and the shot of the typewriter typing Susan's bad review.[5]:88

Optical effects artist Dunn claimed that “up to 80 percent of some reels was optically printed.” These shots were traditionally attributed to Toland for years.[115]:110 The optical printer improved some of the deep focus shots.[5]:92 One problem with the optical printer was that it sometimes created excessive graininess, such as the optical zoom out of the snow globe. Welles decided to superimpose snow falling to mask the graininess in these shots.[5]:94 Toland said that he disliked the results of the optical printer,[5]:92 but acknowledged that "RKO special effects expert Vernon Walker, ASC, and his staff handled their part of the production — a by no means inconsiderable assignment — with ability and fine understanding."[106]:74-75

Any time deep focus was impossible – as in the scene in which Kane finishes a negative review of Susan's opera while at the same time firing the person who began writing the review – an optical printer was used to make the whole screen appear in focus, visually layering one piece of film onto another.[5]:92 However, some apparently deep-focus shots were the result of in-camera effects, as in the famous scene in which Kane breaks into Susan's room after her suicide attempt. In the background, Kane and another man break into the room, while simultaneously the medicine bottle and a glass with a spoon in it are in closeup in the foreground. The shot was an in-camera matte shot. The foreground was shot first, with the background dark. Then the background was lit, the foreground darkened, the film rewound, and the scene re-shot with the background action.[5]:82


The film's music was composed by Bernard Herrmann.[31]:72 Herrmann had composed for Welles for his Mercury Theatre radio broadcasts.[31]:63 Because it was Herrmann's first motion picture score, RKO wanted to pay him only a small fee, but Welles insisted he be paid at the same rate as Max Steiner.[31]:72

The score established Herrmann as an important new composer of film soundtracks[60] and eschewed the typical Hollywood practice of scoring a film with virtually non-stop music. Instead Herrmann used what he later described as '"radio scoring", musical cues typically 5–15 seconds in length that bridge the action or suggest a different emotional response.[31]:77–78 The breakfast montage sequence begins with a graceful waltz theme and gets darker with each variation on that theme as the passage of time leads to the hardening of Kane's personality and the breakdown of his first marriage.[116][117]

Herrmann realized that musicians slated to play his music were hired for individual unique sessions; there was no need to write for existing ensembles. This meant that he was free to score for unusual combinations of instruments, even instruments that are not commonly heard. In the opening sequence, for example, the tour of Kane's estate Xanadu, Herrmann introduces a recurring leitmotiv played by low woodwinds, including a quartet of alto flutes.[118]

For Susan Alexander Kane's operatic sequence, Welles suggested that Herrmann compose a witty parody of a Mary Garden vehicle, an aria from Salammbô.[8]:57 "Our problem was to create something that would give the audience the feeling of the quicksand into which this simple little girl, having a charming but small voice, is suddenly thrown," Herrmann said.[31]:79 Writing in the style of a 19th-century French Oriental opera,[98] Herrmann put the aria in a key that would force the singer to strain to reach the high notes, culminating in a high D, well outside the range of Susan Alexander.[31]:79–80 Soprano Jean Forward dubbed the vocal part for Comingore.[60] Music enthusiasts consider the scene in which Susan Alexander Kane attempts to sing the famous cavatina "Una voce poco fa" from Il barbiere di Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini with vocal coach Signor Matiste as especially memorable for depicting the horrors of learning music through mistakes.[119]

In 1972 Herrmann said, "I was fortunate to start my career with a film like Citizen Kane, it's been a downhill run ever since!" Welles loved Herrmann's score and told director Henry Jaglom that it was 50 percent responsible for the film's artistic success.[31]:84

Some of the music was not composed by Herrmann. The lyrics to "Charlie Kane" were written by Herman Ruby[2]:85 and Houseman claimed to have written the libretto to the opera score in the film, which he based on Jean Racine’s Athalie and Phedre.[2]:69 "In a Mizz", a 1939 jazz song by Charlie Barnet and Haven Johnson is heard during Thompson's second interview of Susan Alexander Kane.[5]:108 "I kind of based the whole scene around that song," Welles said. "The music is by Nat Cole — it's his trio."[8]:56 Later — beginning with the lyrics, "It can't be love" — "In a Mizz" is performed at the Everglades picnic, framing the fight in the tent between Susan and Kane.[5]:108 Musicians including bandleader Cee Pee Johnson (drums), Alton Redd (vocals), Raymond Tate (trumpet), Buddy Collette (alto sax) and Buddy Banks (tenor sax) are featured.[120]

All of the music used in the newsreel came from the RKO music library, edited at Welles's request by the newsreel department to achieve what Herrmann called "their own crazy way of cutting". The News on the March theme that accompanies the newsreel titles is "Belgian March" by Anthony Collins, from the film Nurse Edith Cavell. Other examples are an excerpt from Alfred Newman's score for Gunga Din (the exploration of Xanadu), Roy Webb's theme for the film Reno (the growth of Kane's empire), and bits of Webb's score for Five Came Back (introducing Walter Parks Thatcher).[31]:79


One of the story-telling techniques used in Citizen Kane was the use of montage to collapse time and space, using an episodic sequence on the same set while the characters changed costume and make-up between cuts so that the scene following each cut would look as if it took place in the same location, but at a time long after the previous cut. In the breakfast montage, Welles chronicles the breakdown of Kane's first marriage in five vignettes that condense 16 years of story time into two minutes of screen time.[121] Welles said that the idea for the breakfast scene "... was stolen from The Long Christmas Dinner of Thornton Wilder ... a one-act play, which is a long Christmas dinner that takes you through something like 60 years of a family's life."[8]:51

Although the film typically favors mise-en-scène over montage, the scene where Kane goes to Susan Alexander's apartment after first meeting her is the only one that is primarily cut as close-ups with shots and counter shots between Kane and Susan.[2]:68


Political themes[edit]

In her 1992 monograph for the British Film Institute, critic Laura Mulvey explored the anti-fascist themes of Citizen Kane. The News on the March newsreel presents Kane keeping company with Hitler and other dictators while he smugly assures the public there will be no war.[122]:44 Mulvey wrote that the film reflects "the battle between intervention and isolationism" then being waged in the United States; the film was released six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, while President Franklin D. Roosevelt was laboring to win public opinion for entering World War II. "Not only was the war in Europe the burning public issue of the time," Mulvey wrote, "it was of passionate personal importance to Orson Welles … In the rhetoric of Citizen Kane, the destiny of isolationism is realised in metaphor: in Kane's own fate, dying wealthy and lonely, surrounded by the detritus of European culture and history."[2]:15

Journalist Ignacio Ramonet has cited the film as an early example of mass media manipulation of public opinion and the power that media conglomerates have on influencing the democratic process. Ramonet believes that this early example of a media mogul influencing politics is outdated and that "today Citizen Kane would be a dwarf. He owned a few papers in one country. The forces that dominate today have integrated image with text and sound and the world is their market. There are media groups with the power of a thousand Citizen Kanes."[123][124] Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is sometimes labeled as a latter-day Citizen Kane.[125][126]

Oedipal themes[edit]

Identity themes[edit]


Pre-release controversy[edit]

To ensure that Citizen Kane's influence from Hearst's life was a secret, Welles limited access to dailies and managed the film's publicity.[5]:111 Publicity materials in the December 1940 issue of Stage stated the film's inspiration was Faust,[127] but made no mention of Hearst.[5]:111

The film was scheduled to premiere at RKO's flagship theater Radio City Music Hall on February 14, but in early January 1941 Welles was not finished with post-production work and told RKO that it still needed its musical score.[6]:205 Writers for national magazines had early deadlines and so a rough cut was previewed for a select few on January 3, 1941[5]:111 for such magazines as Life, Look and Redbook. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (and Parsons' arch rival) showed up to the screening uninvited. Most of the critics at the preview said that they liked the film and gave it good advanced reviews. Hopper wrote negatively about it, calling the film a “viscous and irresponsible attack on a great man” and criticizing its corny writing and old fashioned photography.[6]:205 Friday magazine ran an article drawing point-by-point comparisons between Kane and Hearst and documented how Welles had led on Parsons, Hollywood correspondent for Hearst papers.[5]:111 Up until this Welles had been friendly with Parsons. The magazine quoted Welles as saying that he couldn’t understand why she was so nice to him and that she should “wait until the woman finds out that the picture’s about her boss.” Welles immediately denied making the statement and the editor of Friday admitted that it may be false. Welles apologized to Parsons and assured her that he had never made that remark.[6]:205

Film columnist and Hearst employee Louella Parsons was humiliated by Citizen Kane and began making numerous threats in order to prevent the film from being released.

Shortly after Friday's article Hearst sent Parsons an angry letter complaining that he had learned about Citizen Kane from Hopper and not her. The incident made a fool of Parsons and compelled her to start attacking Welles and the film. Parsons demanded a private screening of the film and personally threatened Schaffer on Hearst’s behalf, first with a lawsuit and then with a vague threat of consequences for everyone in Hollywood. On January 10 Parsons and two lawyers working for Hearst were given a private screening of the film.[6]:206 James G. Stewart was present at the screening and said that she walked out of the film.[23] Soon after, Parsons called Schaefer and threatened RKO with a lawsuit if they released Kane.[5]:111 She also contacted the management of Radio City Music Hall and demanded that they not screen it.[6]:206 The next day, the front page headline in Daily Variety read, "HEARST BANS RKO FROM PAPERS."[128] Hearst began this ban by suppressing promotion of RKO's Kitty Foyle,[108]:94 but in two weeks the ban was lifted for everything except Kane.[5]:111

When Schaffer did not submit to Parsons she called other studio heads and made more threats on behalf of Hearst to expose the private lives of people throughout the entire film industry.[6]:206 Welles was threatened with an exposé about his romance with the married actress Delores del Rio, who wanted the affair kept secret until her divorce was finalized.[6]:207 In a statement to journalists Welles denied that the film was about Hearst. Hearst began preparing an injunction against film for libel and invasion of privacy, but Welles’s lawyer told him that he doubted Hearst would proceed due to the negative publicity and requited testimony that an injunction would bring.[6]:209

The Hollywood Reporter ran a front-page story on January 13 that Hearst papers were about to run a series of editorials attacking Hollywood's practice of hiring refugees and immigrants for jobs that could be done by Americans. The goal was to put pressure on the other studios in order to force RKO to shelve Kane.[5]:111 Many of those immigrants had fled Europe from after the rise of fascism began and feared losing the safe haven of the United States.[6]:209 Soon afterwards, Schaefer was approached by Nicholas Schenck, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's parent company, with an offer on the behalf of Louis B. Mayer and other Hollywood executives made an offer to RKO Pictures of $805,000 to destroy all prints of the film and burn the negative.[5]:111–112[129] Once RKO's legal team reassured Schaefer, the studio announced on January 21 that Kane would be released as scheduled, and with one of the largest promotional campaigns in the studio's history. Schaefer brought Welles to New York City for a private screening of the film with the New York corporate heads of the studios and their lawyers.[5]:112 There was no objection to its release provided that certain changes, including the removal or softening of specific references that might offend Hearst, were made.[5]:112–113 Welles agreed and cut the running time from 122 minutes to 119 minutes. The cuts satisfied the corporate lawyers.[5]:113

Hearst's response[edit]

Hearing about Citizen Kane enraged Hearst so much that he banned any advertising, reviewing, or mentioning of it in his papers, and had his journalists libel Welles.[129] Welles used Hearst's opposition as a pretext for previewing the film in several opinion-making screenings in Los Angeles, lobbying for its artistic worth against the hostile campaign that Hearst was waging.[129] A special press screening took place in early March. Henry Luce was in attendance and reportedly wanted to buy the film from RKO for $1 million to distribute it himself. The reviews for this screening were positive. A Hollywood Review headline read ‘MR. GENIUS COMES THROUGH; ‘KANE’ ASTONISHING PICTURE'. The Motion Picture Herald reported about the screening and Welles's intention to sue RKO. Time magazine wrote that "The objection of Mr. Hearst, who founded a publishing empire on sensationalism, is ironic. For to most of the several hundred people who have seen the film at private screenings, Citizen Kane is the most sensational product of the U.S. movie industry." A second press screening occurred in April.[108]:94

When Schaefer rejected Hearst's offer to suppress the film, Hearst banned every newspaper and station in his media conglomerate from reviewing – or even mentioning – the film. He also had many movie theaters ban it, and many did not show it through fear of being socially exposed by his massive newspaper empire.[130] The Oscar-nominated documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane lays the blame for the film's relative failure squarely at the feet of Hearst. The film did decent business at the box office; it went on to be the sixth highest grossing film in its year of release, a modest success its backers found acceptable. Nevertheless, the film's commercial performance fell short of its creators' expectations.[131] Hearst's biographer David Nasaw points out that Hearst's actions were not the only reason Kane failed, however: the innovations Welles made with narrative, as well as the dark message at the heart of the film (that the pursuit of success is ultimately futile) meant that a popular audience could not appreciate its merits.[48]:572–573

Hearst's attacks against Welles went beyond attempting to suppress the film. In early 1941 while waiting for the film to be released Welles directed a stage version of Richard Wright's Native Son on Broadway (and cryptically had a “Rosebud” sled used as a prop). Native Son received many good reviews, but Hearst-owned papers used the opportunity to attack Welles, calling him a communist. These papers also attacked Welles’s radio shows in the same way.[6]:213

Welles claimed that a policeman approached him one night and told him not to go his hotel room because Hearst has set up an undressed, underage girl to leap into his arms and a photographer to take pictures. Hearst was planning to publish it in all of his papers. Welles thanked the man and stayed out all night.[23][29] Welles also described how he accidentally bumped into Hearst in an elevator at the Fairmont Hotel when Kane was opening in San Francisco. Welles's father had been friends with Hearst, so Welles mentioned this connection and tried to comfortably ask if Hearst would see the film. Hearst ignored him. "As he was getting off at his floor, I said 'Charles Foster Kane would have accepted.' No reply", recalled the director. "And Kane would have you know. That was his style."[127]

In 1945 Hearst journalist Robert Shaw wrote that the film got "a full tide of insensate fury" from Hearst papers, "then it ebbed suddenly. With one brain cell working, the chief realized that such hysterical barking by the trained seals would attract too much attention to the picture. But to this day the name of Orson Welles is on the official son-of-a-bitch list of every Hearst newspaper."[34]:102

Despite Hearst's attempts to destroy the film, since 1941 references to his life and career have usually included a reference to Citizen Kane, such as the headline 'Son of Citizen Kane Dies' for the obituary of Hearst's son.[132] In 2012 the Hearst estate agreed to screen the film at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, breaking Hearst's ban on the film.[133]


Radio City Music Hall's management refused to screen Citizen Kane for its premiere. A possible factor was Parsons's threat that The American Weekly would run a defamatory story on the grandfather of major RKO stockholder Nelson Rockefeller.[5]:115 Other exhibitors feared being sued for libel by Hearst and refused to show the film.[6]:216 In March Welles threatens the RKO board of governors with a lawsuit if they did not release the film. Schaefer stood by Welles and opposed the board of governors.[6]:210 When RKO still delayed the films release Welles offered to buy the film for $1 million and the studio finally agreed to release the film on May 1.[6]:215

Schaefer managed to book a few theaters willing to show the film. Hearst papers refused to accept advertising in its papers.[5]:115 RKO's publicity advertisements for the film erroneously promoted it as a love story.[6]:217

Kane opened at the RKO Palace Theatre on Broadway in New York on May 1, 1941,[1] in Chicago on May 6, and in Los Angeles on May 8.[5]:115 Welles said that at the Chicago premiere that he attended the theater was almost empty.[6]:216 It did well in cities and larger towns but fared poorly in more remote areas. RKO still had problems getting exhibitors to show the film. For example, one chain controlling more than 500 theaters got Welles's film as part of a package but refused to play it, reportedly out of fear of Hearst.[5]:117 Hearst's disruption of the film's release damaged its box office performance and, as a result, it lost $160,000 during its initial run.[41]:164[134] The film earned $23,878 during its first week in New York. By the ninth week it only made $7,279. Overall it lost money in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., but made a profit in Seattle.[6]:216

Contemporary responses[edit]

Citizen Kane received good reviews from several critics. New York Daily News critic Kate Cameron called it "one of the most interesting and technically superior films that has ever come out of a Hollywood studio".[135] New York World-Telegram critic William Boehnel said that the film was "staggering and belongs at once among the greatest screen achievements".[136] Time magazine said wrote that "it has found important new techniques in picture-making and story-telling."[6]:211 Life magazine's review said that "few movies have ever come from Hollywood with such powerful narrative, such original technique, such exciting photography."[6]:211 John C. Mosher of The New Yorker called the film's style "like fresh air" and raved "Something new has come to the movie world at last."[34]:68 Anthony Bower of The Nation called it "brilliant" and praised the cinematography and performances by Welles, Comingore and Cotten.[137] John O'Hara's Newsweek review called it the best picture he'd ever seen and said Welles was "the best actor in the history of acting."[6]:211 Welles called O'Hara's review "the greatest review that anybody ever had."[89]:100

The day following the premiere of Citizen Kane, The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote that "... it comes close to being the most sensational film ever made in Hollywood."

Count on Mr. Welles: he doesn't do things by halves. ... Upon the screen he discovered an area large enough for his expansive whims to have free play. And the consequence is that he has made a picture of tremendous and overpowering scope, not in physical extent so much as in its rapid and graphic rotation of thoughts. Mr. Welles has put upon the screen a motion picture that really moves.[138]

In the UK C. A. Lejeune of The Observer called it "The most exciting film that has come out of Hollywood in twenty-five years"[139] and Dilys Powell of The Sunday Times said the film's style was made "with the ease and boldness and resource of one who controls and is not controlled by his medium."[15]:63

A few reviews were mixed. Otis Ferguson of The New Republic said it was "the boldest free-hand stroke in major screen production since Griffith and Bitzer were running wild to unshackle the camera", but also criticized its style, calling it a "retrogression in film technique" and stating that "it holds no great place" in film history.[140] In a rare film review, filmmaker Erich von Stroheim criticized the film's story and non-linear structure, but praised the technical style and performances, and wrote "Whatever the truth may be about it, "Citizen Kane" is a great picture and will go down in screen history. More power to Welles!"[141]

Some prominent critics wrote negative reviews. In his 1941 review for Sur, Jorge Luis Borges famously called the film "a labyrinth with no center" and predicted that its legacy would be a film "whose historical value is undeniable but which no one cares to see again."[142] The Argus Weekend Magazine critic Erle Cox called the film "amazing" but thought that Welles's break with Hollywood traditions was "overdone."[143] Tatler's James Agate called it "the well-intentioned, muddled, amateurish thing one expects from high-brows"[144] and "a quite good film which tries to run the psychological essay in harness with your detective thriller, and doesn't quite succeed."[145] Other people that didn't like the film were W. H. Auden[89]:98 and James Agee.[89]:99


At the 14th Academy Awards Citizen Kane was nominated for:

It was widely believed the film would win most of its nominations, but it was only awarded the Best Writing (Original Screenplay) Oscar.[5]:117 Wise recalled each time Citizen Kane '​s name was called out as a nominee, the crowd booed.[65] According to Variety, bloc voting against Welles by screen extras denied him Best Picture and Actor awards.[147] British film critic Barry Norman attributed this to Hearst's wrath.[111] During the ceremony Welles was in Brazil shooting It's All True and did not attend.[108]:95

The film was more successful at film critics awards. The National Board of Review named it Best Picture of the Year[148] and gave Best Acting awards to Welles and George Coulouris. The Film Daily and The New York Times named it one of the Ten Best Films of the year,[149] and it won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Picture.[150]


Citizen Kane marked a decline in Welles's success. Author Joseph McBride said the problems in making the film caused damage to his career. This started in 1942 when RKO violated its contract with Welles by re-editing The Magnificent Ambersons against his will.[127] That June Schaefer resigned from RKO and Welles's contract was promptly terminated.[97]

Welles himself has been retroactively compared to Charles Foster Kane. Wise believed that Kane resembled Welles's life story more than Hearst's and said "Orson was doing an autobiographical film and didn't realize it, because it's rather much the same, you know. You start here, and you have a big rise and tremendous prominence and fame and success and whatnot, and then tail off and tail off and tail off. And at least the arc of the two lives were very much the same."[65] Bogdanovich disagreed with this and said that Kane "had none of the qualities of an artist, Orson had all the qualities of an artist." Bogdanovich also noted that Welles was never bitter "about all the bad things that happened to him" and enjoyed life in his final years.[151]

The 1999 HBO film RKO 281 depicted the making of the film and Hearst's attempts to prevent its release. It was based on the documentary The Battle over Citizen Kane, but differed from its source by "downplaying [Mankiewicz's] role in bringing the idea of a Hearst-based movie"[152] and inventing such historically inaccurate incidents as Welles visiting Hearst Castle and meeting Hearst before writing the film's script.[153]


By 1942 Citizen Kane had run its course theatrically and, apart from a few showings at big city arthouse cinemas, it largely vanished and both the film's and Welles's reputation fell among American critics. In 1949 critic Richard Griffith in his overview of cinema, The Film Till Now, dismissed Citizen Kane as "... tinpot if not crackpot Freud."[5]:117–118

Due to World War II, Citizen Kane was not seen in Europe until 1946 when it was shown in France. There it gained considerable acclaim, although such critics as Georges Sadoul and Jean-Paul Sartre disliked it.[5]:118 Sartre's 1945 review said that "the whole film is based on a misconception of what cinema is all about. The film is in the past tense, whereas we all know that cinema has got to be in the present tense."[154][155]

André Bazin immediately championed the film and Carringer wrote that "Bazin was, of course, the one who did the most to enhance the film’s reputation."[5]:118 Other Cahiers du cinéma writers, including future film directors François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard also praised the film. In his 1950 essay "The Evolution of the Language of Cinema", Bazin placed Citizen Kane centre stage as a work which ushered in a new period in cinema.[156] The popularity of the auteur theory helped both the film's and Welles's reputation.[157]:263

It was re-released in 1952 after gaining popularity on TV. A journalist from the London Evening News wrote that after seeing the film for the first time he “came away marveling.”[47]:49

In the United States, it was neglected and forgotten until its revival on television in the mid-1950s. Three key events in 1956 led to its re-evaluation in the United States: first, RKO was one of the first studios to sell its library to television, and early that year Citizen Kane started to appear on television; second, the film was re-released theatrically to coincide with Welles's return to the New York stage, where he played King Lear; and third, American film critic Andrew Sarris wrote "Citizen Kane: The American Baroque" for Film Culture, and described it as "the great American film" and "the work that influenced the cinema more profoundly than any American film since Birth of a Nation."[158] Carringer considers Sarris's essay as the most important influence on the film's reputation in the US.[5]:119

During Expo 58, a poll of over 100 film historians named Kane one of the top ten greatest films ever made (the group gave first-place honors to The Battleship Potemkin). When a group of young film directors announced their vote for the top six, they were booed for not including the film.[127]

In the decades since, its critical status as the greatest film ever made has grown, with numerous essays and books on it including Peter Cowie's The Cinema of Orson Welles, Ronald Gottesman's Focus on Citizen Kane, a collection of significant reviews and background pieces, and most notably Kael's essay, "Raising Kane", which promoted the value of the film to a much wider audience than it had reached before.[5]:120 Despite its criticism of Welles, it further popularized the notion of Citizen Kane as the great American film. The rise of art house and film society circuits also aided in the film's rediscovery.[5]:119 David Thomson said that the film 'grows with every year as America comes to resemble it."[7]:1172

The British magazine Sight & Sound has produced a Top Ten list surveying film critics every decade since 1952, and is regarded as one of the most respected barometers of critical taste.[159] Citizen Kane was a runner up to the top 10 in its 1952 poll but was voted as the greatest film ever made in its 1962 poll,[160] retaining the top spot in every subsequent poll[161][162][163] until 2012, when Vertigo displaced it.[164]

The film has also ranked number one in the following film "best of" lists: Julio Castedo's The 100 Best Films of the Century,[165] FIAF Centenary List,[citation needed] France Critics Top 10,[citation needed] Cahiers du cinéma 100 films pour une cinémathèque idéale,[166] Kinovedcheskie Zapiski,[167] Russia Top 10,[citation needed] Romanian Critics Top 10,[citation needed] Time Out magazine Top 100 Films (Centenary),[168] The Village Voice 100 Greatest Films,[169] and The Royal Belgian Film Archive's Most Important and Misappreciated American Films.[170]

Ebert called Citizen Kane the greatest film ever made: "But people don't always ask about the greatest film. They ask, 'What's your favorite movie?' Again, I always answer with Citizen Kane."[171]

In 1989, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. Citizen Kane was one of first 25 films inducted into the registry.[172]

On February 18, 1999, the United States Postal Service honored Citizen Kane by including it in its Celebrate the Century series.[173] The film was honored again February 25, 2003, in a series of U.S. postage stamps marking the 75th anniversary of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Art director Perry Ferguson represents the behind-the-scenes craftsmen of filmmaking in the series; he is depicted completing a sketch for Citizen Kane.[174]

Citizen Kane was ranked number one in the American Film Institute's polls of film industry artists and leaders in 1998[175] and 2007.[176] "Rosebud" was chosen the 17th most memorable movie quotation in a 2005 AFI poll.[177] The film's score was one of 250 nominees for the top 25 film scores in American cinema in another 2005 AFI poll.[178]

The film currently has a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 66 reviews by approved critics.[179]


Citizen Kane influenced the film noir genre of the 1940s and 1950s. The film's cinematography, lighting and flashback structure influenced such films as The Killers, Keeper of the Flame, Caught and The Great Man.[109]:425 Martin Scorsese ranks it as one of his favorite films of all time.[180]

The film's structure influenced the biographical films Lawrence of Arabia and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters – which begin with the subject's death and show their life in flashbacks – as well as Welles's thriller Mr. Arkadin.[127]

Rosenbaum sees similarities in the film's plot to Mr. Arkadin, as well as the theme of nostalgia for loss of innocence throughout Welles's career, beginning with Citizen Kane and including The Magnificent Ambersons, Mr. Arkadin and Chimes at Midnight. Rosenbaum also points out how the film influenced Warren Beatty's Reds. The film depicts the life of Jack Reed through the eyes of Louise Bryant, much as Kane's life is seen through the eyes of Thompson and the people who he interviews. Rosenbaum also compared the romantic montage between Reed and Bryant with the breakfast table montage in Citizen Kane.[181]:113–116, 300–302

The film's lighting was influential on film noir.[157]:258 David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson have written that “For over a decade thereafter American films displayed exaggerated foregrounds and somber lighting, enhanced by long takes and exaggerated camera movements.” However by the 1960s filmmakers such as those from the French New Wave and Cinéma vérité movements favored "flatter, more shallow images with softer focus" and Citizen Kane's style became less fashionable. American filmmakers in the 1970s combined these two approaches by using long takes, rapid cutting, deep focus and telephoto shots all at once.[157]:798

The film's use of long takes influences film's such as The Asphalt Jungle, and its use of deep focus cinematography influenced Gun Crazy,[157]:389–390 The Whip Hand, The Devil's General and Justice Is Done.[157]:414 The flashback structure in which different characters have conflicting versions of past events influenced La commare secca[157]:533 and Man of Marble.[157]:747

The film's use of overlapping dialogue has influenced the films of Robert Altman and Carol Reed.[109]:412 Reed's films Odd Man Out, The Third Man and Outcast of the Islands were also influenced by the film's cinematography.[109]:425

Toland's cinematography influenced his own work on The Best Years of Our Lives. Other films influenced include Gaslight, This Gun for Hire, Mildred Pierce and Jane Eyre.[5]:85-86

Film memorabilia[edit]

In 1982, film director Steven Spielberg bought a "Rosebud" sled for $60,500; it was one of three balsa sleds used in the closing scenes and the only one that was not burned.[182][183] After the Spielberg purchase, it was reported that retiree Arthur Bauer claimed to own another "Rosebud" sled.[184] In early 1942 when Bauer was 12 he won an RKO publicity contest and selected the hardwood sled as his prize.[185] In 1996, Bauer's estate offered the painted pine sled at auction through Christie's.[185] Bauer's son told CBS News that his mother had once wanted to paint the sled and use it as a plant stand, but Bauer told her to "just save it and put it in the closet."[186] The sled was sold to an anonymous bidder for $233,500.[187]

Welles's Oscar for Best Original Screenplay was withdrawn from a 2007 auction at Sotheby's when bidding failed to reach its estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million.[188] The Oscar was believed lost until it was rediscovered in 1994. Owned by the charitable Dax Foundation,[188] it was auctioned for $861,542 in 2011 to an anonymous buyer.[189] Mankiewicz's Oscar was sold at least twice, in 1999 and again in 2012, the latest price being $588,455.[190]

In 2007, Welles's personal copy of the last revised draft of Citizen Kane before the shooting script was sold at Sotheby's for $97,000.[188] A second draft of the script titled American, marked "Mr. Welles' working copy", was auctioned by Sotheby's in 2014 for $164,692.[191][t] A collection of 24 pages from a working script found in Welles's personal possessions by his daughter Beatrice Welles was auctioned in 2014 for $15,000.[193]

In 2014 a collection of approximately 235 Citizen Kane stills and production photos that had belonged to Welles was sold at auction for $7,812.[194][195]

Rights and home media[edit]

The composited camera negative of Citizen Kane was destroyed in a New Jersey film laboratory fire in the 1970s. Subsequent prints were derived from a master positive (a fine-grain preservation element) made in the 1940s and originally intended for use in overseas distribution.[196] Modern techniques were used to produce a pristine print for a 50th Anniversary theatrical reissue in 1991,[197] which earned $1.6 million in North America.[198]

In 1955, RKO sold the American television rights to its film library, including Citizen Kane, to C&C Television Corp.[199] In 1960, television rights to the pre-1956 RKO library were acquired by United Artists. RKO kept the non-broadcast television rights to its library.[200]

In 1976, when home video was in its infancy, entrepreneur Snuff Garrett bought cassette rights to the RKO library for what United Press International termed "a pittance." In 1978 The Nostalgia Merchant released the film through Media Home Entertainment. By 1980 the 800-title library of The Nostalgia Merchant was earning $2.3 million a year. "Nobody wanted cassettes four years ago," Garrett told UPI. "It wasn't the first time people called me crazy. It was a hobby with me which became big business."[201] RKO Home Video released the film on VHS and Betamax in 1985.[202]

In 1984 The Criterion Collection released the film as its first LaserDisc. It was made from a fine grain master positive provided by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.[203] When told about the then new concept of having an audio commentary on the disc, Welles was skeptical but said "theoretically, that’s good for teaching movies, so long as they don’t talk nonsense."[89]:283 In 1992 Criterion released a new 50th Anniversary Edition LaserDisc. This version had an improved transfer and additional special features, including the documentary The Legacy of Citizen Kane and Welles's early short The Hearts of Age.[204]

Turner Broadcasting System acquired broadcast television rights to the RKO library in 1986[205] and the full worldwide rights to the library in 1987.[206] The RKO Home Video unit was reorganized into Turner Home Entertainment that year.[207] In 1991 Turner released a 50th Anniversary Edition on VHS and as a collector's edition that includes the film, the documentary Reflections On Citizen Kane, Harlan Lebo's 50th anniversary album, a poster and a copy of the original script.[208] In 1996, Time Warner acquired Turner and Warner Home Video absorbed Turner Home Entertainment.[209] Today, Time Warner's Warner Bros. unit has distribution rights for the film.[210]

In 2001 Warner Home Video released a 60th Anniversary Collectors Edition DVD. The two-disc DVD included feature-length commentaries by Ebert and Bogdanovich, as well as the documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane. It was simultaneously released on VHS.[211] The DVD was criticized for being "too bright, too clean; the dirt and grime had been cleared away, but so had a good deal of the texture, the depth, and the sense of film grain."[212]

In 2003, Welles's daughter Beatrice Welles sued Turner Entertainment, claiming the Welles estate is the legal copyright holder of the film. She claimed that Welles's deal to terminate his contracts with RKO meant that Turner's copyright of the film was null and void. She also claimed that the estate of Orson Welles was owed 20% of the film's profits if her copyright claim was not upheld. In 2007 she was allowed to proceed with the lawsuit, overturning the 2004 decision in favor of Turner Entertainment on the issue of video rights.[213]

In 2011 it was released on Blu-ray disc and DVD in a 70th anniversary box set.[214] The San Francisco Chronicle called it "the Blu-ray release of the year."[215] Supplements included everything available on the 2001 Warner Home Video release, as well as the film RKO 281 and packaging extras that include a hardcover booklet and a folio containing a reproduction of the original souvenir program, miniature lobby cards and other memorabilia.[216] The Blu-ray DVD was scanned as 4K from three different 35mm prints and rectified the quality issues of the 2001 DVD.[212]

Colorization controversy[edit]

In the 1980s, Citizen Kane became a catalyst in the controversy over the colorization of black-and-white films. One proponent of film colorization was Ted Turner,[217] whose Turner Entertainment Company owned the RKO library.[218] A Turner Entertainment spokesperson initially stated that Citizen Kane would not be colorized,[219] but in July 1988 Turner said, "Citizen Kane? I'm thinking of colorizing it."[220] In early 1989 it was reported that two companies were producing color tests for Turner Entertainment. Criticism increased when filmmaker Henry Jaglom stated that shortly before his death Welles had implored him "don't let Ted Turner deface my movie with his crayons."[221]

In February 1989 Turner Entertainment president Roger Mayer announced that work to colorize the film had been stopped due to provisions in Welles's 1939 contract with RKO that "could be read to prohibit colorization without permission of the Welles estate."[222] Mayer added that Welles's contract was "quite unusual" and "other contracts we have checked out are not like this at all."[223] Turner had only colorized the final reel of the film before abandoning the project. In 1991 one minute of the colorized test footage was included in the Arena documentary The Complete Citizen Kane[23]

The colorization controversy was a factor in the passage of the National Film Preservation Act in 1988 which created the National Film Registry the following year. ABC News anchor Peter Jennings reported that "one major reason for doing this is to require people like the broadcaster Ted Turner, whose been adding color to some movies and re-editing others for television, to put notices on those versions saying that the movies have been altered"[224]

See also[edit]


  • Biskind, Peter (ed.), Jaglom, Henry and Welles, Orson. My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2013. ISBN 978-0-8050-9725-2.
  • Bogdanovich, Peter and Welles, Orson. This is Orson Welles. HarperPerennial 1992. ISBN 0-06-092439-X
  • Bogdanovich, Peter and Welles, Orson (uncredited). "The Kane Mutiny", in Esquire, October 1972.[u][v]
  • Brady, Frank. Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989. ISBN 0-385-26759-2.
  • Callow, Simon. Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995. ISBN 0-224-03852-4
  • Carringer, Robert L. The Making of Citizen Kane. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985. ISBN 0-520-05367-2 hardcover; 1996 revised and updated edition ISBN 0-520-20567-7 paperback
  • Carringer, Robert L. "The Scripts of Citizen Kane", in Critical Inquiry No. 5, 1978.[w][x]
  • Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. W.W. Norton Company, 2004. ISBN 0-393-97868-0
  • Gottesman, Ronald (ed.). Focus on Citizen Kane. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976. ISBN 0-13-949214-3
  • Gottesman, Ronald (ed.). Perspectives on Citizen Kane. New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1996. ISBN 978-0-8161-1616-4
  • Heylin, Clinton. Despite the System: Orson Welles Versus the Hollywood Studios, Chicago Review Press, 2005. ISBN 1-55652-547-8
  • Howard, James. The Complete Films of Orson Welles. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1991. ISBN 0-8065-1241-5.
  • Kael, Pauline, Welles, Orson and Mankiewicz, Herman J. The Citizen Kane Book. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1971.[y]
  • Leaming, Barbara. Orson Welles, A Biography. New York, NY: Viking Press, 1985. ISBN 978-0-618-15446-3.
  • Meryman, Richard. Mank: The Wit, World and Life of Herman Mankiewicz. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, 1978. ISBN 978-0-688-03356-9.
  • Mulvey, Laura. Citizen Kane. London: British Film Institute, 1992. ISBN 0-85170-339-9
  • Naremore, James (ed.). Orson Welles's Citizen Kane: A Casebook in Criticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-19-515892-2
  • Nasaw, David. The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. ISBN 978-0-618-15446-3
  • Rippy, Marguerite H. Orson Welles and the Unfinished RKO Projects: A Postmodern Perspective. Southern Illinois University Press, Illinois, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8093-2912-0
  • Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "I Missed It at the Movies: Objections to 'Raising Kane'", in Film Comment, Spring 1972.[z]


  1. ^ This concept was later used in Robert Montgomery's 1947 Philip Marlowe film Lady in the Lake.[6]:184–185
  2. ^ Only four of the five scripts reached the air: "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd", "Dodsworth", "Vanity Fair" and "Huckleberry Finn".[9]:242
  3. ^ Welles and Lederer later became great friends.[6]:343
  4. ^ "The Kane case never came before the Guild's Board," Lederer said. "Orson would certainly have won, and Manky must have known that."[8]:499
  5. ^ "That," Lederer told Bogdanovich, "is 100 percent, whole-cloth lying."[30]:xxv
  6. ^ In a sworn written statement given in May 1941, Richard Baer stated that "the idea of Citizen Kane was the original conception of Orson Welles … The revisions made by Welles were not limited to mere general suggestions but included the actual re-writing of words, dialogue, changing of sequences, ideas and characterizations and also the addition or elimination of certain scenes."[4]:239
  7. ^ "The by-line carried only my name," Bogdanovich later wrote, "but Orson had taken a strong hand in revising and rewriting. Why shouldn't he? He was fighting for his life."[30]:xxiv
  8. ^ "The Kane Mutiny" also appears in Focus on Orson Welles (1976), edited by Ronald Gottesman, and is excerpted in Bogdanovich's new introduction to the 1998 edition of This is Orson Welles.
  9. ^ Welles states, "There's all that stuff about McCormick and the opera. I drew a lot from that from my Chicago days. And Samuel Insull."[8]:49
  10. ^ Mankiewicz began his review, "Miss Gladys Wallis, an aging, hopelessly incompetent amateur …" Leland's review begins, "Miss Susan Alexander, a pretty but hopelessly incompetent amateur …"
  11. ^ "The School for Scandal, with Mrs. Insull as Lady Teazle, was produced at the Little Theatre last night. It will be reviewed in tomorrow's Times."
  12. ^ "Hearst maintained the public stance that he never saw the film, but he knew what was in it. Charlie Lederer said it was the portrayal of Marion as pitiful drunk – that Hearst would not abide."
  13. ^ Lederer confuses Walska's husband Harold F. McCormick with another member of the powerful Chicago family, one who also inspired Welles – crusading publisher Robert R. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune.[17]:6
  14. ^ Mankiewicz biographer Richard Meryman wrote, "The prototype of Charles Foster Kane's sled was this bicycle … The bike became a symbol of Herman's bitterness about his Prussian father and the lack of love in his childhood."[9]:300
  15. ^ The source for Peck's giving the Rosebud nickname to Phoebe Hearst is a 1977 oral history interview with a researcher named Vonnie Eastham, conducted by California State University, Chico.[73]
  16. ^ According to RKO records, Sloane was paid $2,400 for shaving his head.[1]
  17. ^ Welles remembered the El Rancho nightclub scenes in which Thompson interviews Susan Alexander Kane as being shot first.[89]:170–171
  18. ^ "It took nerve to shoot from down there, with that steel brace right in front of the camera, but I thought rightly that at that point they'd be looking at Leland and not at me."[8]:61–62
  19. ^ Speaking of the credit given Toland, Welles said, "Nobody those days – only the stars, the director, and the producer – got separate cards. Gregg deserved it, didn't he?"[8]:61
  20. ^ The same item had been sold by Christie's in December 1991, together with a working script from The Magnificent Ambersons, for $11,000.[192]
  21. ^ Reprinted in Gottesman, Ronald (ed.). Focus on Citizen Kane. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976. ISBN 0-13-949214-3
  22. ^ Excerpted in "My Orson", Bogdanovich's new introduction to the second edition of This is Orson Welles[30]:xxiv–xxvii
  23. ^ Reprinted in Gottesman, Ronald (ed.). Perspectives on Citizen Kane. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1996. ISBN 978-0-8161-1616-4
  24. ^ Reprinted in Naremore, James (ed.). Orson Welles's Citizen Kane: A Casebook in Criticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-19-515892-2
  25. ^ Contains Kael's controversial and much-derided essay "Raising Kane", originally printed in The New Yorker (February 20 and 27, 1971), as well as the full script by Mankiewicz and Welles.
  26. ^ Reprinted in Rosenbaum, Jonathan (ed.). Discovering Orson Welles. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-520-25123-6


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