Classic Hollywood #99 – Orson Welles Performs Magic

Orson The Magnificent Performs For Servicemen During World War II

ORson Welles performs as Orson the Magnificent August 9 1943 photo APIt’s tough in Hollywood when everything you do is compared to your biggest success. And it makes it even tougher when your first movie is considered among the best movies ever made. Citizen Kane (1941) starring, produced, co-written and directed by Orson Welles remains Welles’ penultimate achievement. He was just 25-years-old.

So two years after Citizen Kane what was Welles doing? Welles made The Magnificent Ambersons in 1942 and had two movies released in 1943. But 77 years ago this week, Welles was performing in a circus tent. The news slug reads:

Orson the Magnificent:

Actor Orson Welles has a new leading role. In a big circus tent in Hollywood, California. The versatile actor is holding forth as a magician. It’s his own show which is free to servicemen and their girlfriends, and a small section set aside for civilians, who pay their way in – at $5.50 per chair. Outside the tent a flamboyant circus sign announces that “Orson the Magnificent” is to be seen within.  Here, Martha Raye (extreme left) registers agonized suspense when her ring, loaned to the professor (Orson Welles), standing in the aisle, turns up missing at the end of stunt. The ring, of course, is later found in the center of a freshly-baked loaf of bread. – August 9 1943 photo: AP

Welles and the War

With World War II raging, Welles was heavily criticized in some circles (especially Hearst owned newspapers)  for not being on active military duty. At the outbreak of the war, he was initially classified as 1-B meaning he was in reserve. Eventually in the spring of 1943 an army physical revealed Welles was 4-F – unfit for duty. Among the reasons for his military exclusion: bronchial asthma, arthritis, myoditis and inverted flat feet

There were many actors besides Welles who did not serve in the military during the war including Errol Flynn, Bing Crosby, John Wayne and Frank Sinatra. Almost every actor who did not serve did volunteer to entertain troops and raise funds for the war.

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