On this Day in Movie History, October 10, 1985: Orsen Wells Dies

It was on this day, October 10, 1985, American actor, director, writer and producer George Orson Welles (Born May 6, 1915) died. Noted for his extensive work in theater, radio and film, he is best remembered for his innovative work in all three media, most notably Caesar (1937), a groundbreaking Broadway adaption of Julius Caesar and the debut of the Mercury Theatre; The War of the Worlds (1938), the most famous broadcast in the history of radio; and Citizen Kane (1941), which is consistently ranked as one of the all-time greatest films.

Dying of a heart attack at his home in California. Welles died at 4:30am, just after having completed an interview with Merv Griffin. Usually reticent to speak about his past, Welles spoke warmly and openly about old friends and lovers, including Rita Hayworth, who Griffin noted had had her last appearance on his show. After the taping, Welles was driven to his favorite restaurant, Ma Maison, and died shortly after returning home.

Welles’s funeral was the subject of some dissent among his family. Welles’s eldest daughter Chris has written of her horror at arriving in “a slum” district of downtown Los Angeles and finding that the funeral took place in a building that “looked more like a hot sheets motel than a funeral home”, and that the funeral was booked in a small, bare, sparsely furnished shabby back room which “had the look of a cheap motel room”, and had no music or flowers.

No ministers, speakers or ceremony had been organized, and so the mourners simply sat in silence by Welles’s cremated remains until Welles’s 90-year-old former teacher and mentor Roger Hill gave an impromptu eulogy. Paola Mori had refused to allow most of Welles’s friends to attend, limiting the mourners to just nine: herself, Welles’s three daughters, Roger Hill, and three of Welles’s friends (Gary Graver, Prince Alessandro Tasca di Cuto and Greg Garrison), as well as the doctor who had signed Welles’s death certificate.

Hill took particular exception to Welles having been cremated to save money, since “Orson never wanted to be cremated.” Welles’s ashes were taken to Ronda, Spain, where they were buried in an old well covered by flowers, within the rural property of a long-time friend, retired bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez.

1900 – Helen Hayes (Brown) (actress: Tony Award-winning actress: Happy Birthday [1947], Time Remembered [1958]; Academy Awards: The Sin of Madelon Claudet [1931], Airport [Best Supporting Actress – 1971]; Arrowsmith, A Farewell to Arms, Anastasia; Emmy Award: The Snoop Sisters [1953]; mother of TV’s James MacArthur (Hawaii Five-O’s Danno; passed away Mar 17, 1993)

1926 – Richard (Hanley) Jaeckel (actor: Come Back Little Sheba, The Devil’s Brigade, The Dirty Dozen, The Drowning Pool, Sands of Iwo Jima, Starman, Walking Tall, Part 2, Supercarrier, Spenser: For Hire, Frontier Circus, Baywatch; died June 14, 1997)

1946 – Charles Dance (actor: Undertow, The Surgeon, Last Action Hero, Alien 3, China Moon, The Phantom of the Opera, White Mischief, The Jewel in the Crown, For Your Eyes Only)

1949 – Jessica Harper (actress: Eat a Bowl of Tea, Blue Iguana, My Favorite Year, Pennies from Heaven, Stardust Memories, Phantom of the Paradise, The Innocent and the Damned, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show)

1959 – Bradley Whitford (actor: The West Wing, Adventures in Babysitting, Scent of a Woman, Black Tie Affair, Billy Madison, In the Line of Duty: Blaze of Glory, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip)

1965 – Rebecca Pidgeon (actress: Heist, Homicide, The Winslow Boy, State and Main)

1978 – Jodi Lyn O’Keefe (actress: Nash Bridges, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Whatever It Takes, Teacher’s Pet)


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