Hear Orson Welles’ Radio Performances of 10 Shakespeare Plays (1936–1944)

welles shakes

Before he direct­ed Cit­i­zen Kane, Orson Welles was already famous. He was an enfant ter­ri­ble of that new medi­um radio — one of his plays, an adap­ta­tion of War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, famous­ly ter­ri­fied the nation in 1938. He was also known as a wun­derkind of the stage.

Dur­ing the late 1930s, Welles and his pro­duc­ing part­ner John House­man (yes, that John House­man) were the toast of Broad­way, thanks to a string of auda­cious clas­si­cal revivals. The most famous of these pro­duc­tions was a 1937 adap­ta­tion of William Shakespeare’s Julius Cae­sar, which gave the play an unex­pect­ed rel­e­vance. Welles dressed the cast in mod­ern attire; sol­diers were out­fit­ted to look like Nazi black shirts. And the show was lit in a man­ner meant to recall a Nurem­berg ral­ly. Pre­sent­ed at a time when Hitler’s pow­er was grow­ing, the pro­duc­tion jolt­ed Amer­i­can audi­ences and made Welles famous. Time Mag­a­zine even put him on its cov­er.

Being a trail­blaz­er in both radio and the stage, Welles adapt­ed many of his stage pro­duc­tions for the wire­less.  The Inter­net Archive has post­ed many of these record­ings online, which you can lis­ten to for free. The selec­tion includes per­for­mances of Ham­let, Romeo and Juli­et, Richard III, Mac­beth and, of course, Julius Cae­sar, among oth­ers. In most cas­es, these record­ings — along with a few set pho­tos — are the only doc­u­ments left of Welles’s ground­break­ing pro­duc­tions.

But if you want to get a sense of what Welles’s Julius Cae­sar actu­al­ly looked like, you can check out Richard Lin­klater’s lit­tle-seen, crit­i­cal­ly-praised com­e­dy Me and Orson Welles (2008). The movie stars Zac Efron as a young actor who lands a small part in the pro­duc­tion only to find him­self com­pet­ing with the great direc­tor for the affec­tions of a girl. The movie might be a tri­fle but experts have mar­veled at how close the film is to Welles’s vision. Check out the trail­er below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to Eight Inter­views of Orson Welles by Film­mak­er Peter Bog­danovich (1969–1972)

Watch Orson Welles’ The Stranger Free Online, Where 1940s Film Noir Meets Real Hor­rors of WWII

The Hearts of Age: Orson Welles’ Sur­re­al­ist First Film (1934)

Orson Welles Explains Why Igno­rance Was His Major “Gift” to Cit­i­zen Kane

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

by | Permalink | Comments (4) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (4)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.