Lilly Library Manuscript Collections


The Welles mss., 1930-1959, consist of the correspondence, papers, and memorabilia of actor, writer, producer, director Orson Welles. George Orson Welles, named for his parents' friend George Ade, was born on May 6, 1915, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A child prodigy aided and encouraged by guardian Maurice Bernstein and teacher Roger Hill, Welles had considerable writing and acting experience before the age of twenty. Through the years this multi-talented artist has acted and directed on the stage, in radio, film and television; has made several recordings; has authored plays, film scripts, and a newspaper column; and, as a political activist, contributed considerable energy to the 1944 presidential campaign in support of Franklin Roosevelt.

The collection principally covers the years 1936-1947. It is arranged in the following series: Correspondence; speeches and writings; theatre; radio; recordings; film; research files; miscellaneous materials; tape recordings; photographs and negatives; bound radio scripts.

Correspondence primarily concerns Welles' varied artistic endeavors, though a small amount is personal and/or social in nature. Among the correspondents are Reginald Armour, Richard Barr, Diana Bourbon, Joseph Ignatius Breen, Hadley Cantril, Geneva (McMath) Cranston, Herbert F. Drake, Norman Foster, William Gordon, Arnold Monroe Grant, Ross R. Hastings, Bernard Herrmann, Roger Hill, John Houseman, Jack Kapp, Sir Alexander Korda, Donald D. Lawrence, Jackson Leighter, Sidney L. Lipsitch, J.R. McDonough, Herman Jacob Mankiewicz, Jack Moss, Jose Noriega, H. Earl Rettig, George J. Schaefer, George Bernard Shaw, L. Arnold Weissberger, Ward Wheelock, Thornton Niven Wilder, Richard Alan Wilson, Walter Winchell, Dan Winkler, Robert Wise, Alexander Woollcott, and Richard Wright.

Speeches and writings include many articles for Free World and other journals, newspaper columns, lecture tours, and the 1944 presidential campaign. There are also scripts and some production materials for the Shakespeare and Decca recordings that Welles made or planned but did not record.

Welles' stage career is well documented in the collection. Scripts for every production from the 1936 Macbeth in Harlem through the 1947 Macbeth in Salt Lake City are here. There are also a number of scripts for plays that were planned but not produced as of 1947. These include Marching Song, a play written by Welles during his teens. Varying amounts and types of production materials for the plays are also in the collection. A sampling of these are a WPA Audience Survey Report for Doctor Faustus; set designs, never used, for The Cradle Will Rock; holograph music scores and publicity newspapers for Julius Caesar; set designs and costume sketches for Five Kings; and contracts and financial records for Around the World. There are also background materials, press releases, handbills, programs, cast lists, and clippings for most of the plays. Other Mercury Theatre materials include leases, financial records, subscriptions, programs, handbills, and press releases.

Documents from Welles' radio career are extensive and include scripts and/or tape recordings for most of the programs and series in which he appeared. Many drafts of scripts never used, especially for the Lady Esther series, story reports, profile studies, background research, and production materials are also present in the collection. Other radio projects represented include a large number of production and financial documents for the Fifth War Loan Drive shows, as well as notes, scripts and recordings for an Eversharp Almanac series that was planned but never broadcast. Welles also attempted, unsuccessfully, to contract with the Ziv Transcription Series for radio programs and some production materials associated with that effort are filed here.

The collection contains voluminous materials for the films Welles planned and produced. His first project, the unproduced Heart of Darkness, is represented by scripts, planned camera shots, a preliminary budget, shooting schedule, make-up photos, and other items. There are similar, though fewer, materials for Smiler with a Knife. The first film that Welles did complete for RKO was Citizen Kane. Nine scripts, both complete and partial, including one with the title American, document the writing of the film. Photographs and negatives of the storyboard contribute additional details. Other items include shooting schedules, cast lists, wardrobe list, a Pre-Budget Estimate, lists of receipts and operating expenses, and summaries of film earnings.

Present in the collection are drafts of scripts for an unnamed Mexican story and for the proposed film based on The Way to Santiago. Welles' second film, The Magnificent Ambersons, is represented by four scripts and a storyboard, as well as the production materials and financial records. In the 1942 correspondence files are telegrams between Welles, Jack Moss, and Robert Wise regarding the editing of the film.

It's All True, the unfinished film that ended Welles' career at RKO, has the largest file in the collection. Drafts of scripts, background and research files, music, financial records, and newspaper clippings are all present. The materials for Journey into Fear, begun at about the same time as It's All True, include scripts, storyboard, financial records and assorted production documents.

Although Welles worked on several film projects the next few years, as witnessed by scripts for V & W, The Little Prince, and Don't Catch Me, and acted in Jane Eyre, Follow the Boys, and Tomorrow is Forever, he did not direct again until The Stranger. For this production there are scripts, shooting schedules, sketches of sets and scenes, staff and cast lists, financial records, and a pressbook. The Stranger was followed by Lady from Shanghai for which the collection contains scripts, dialogue, lists of shots and re-makes, music cues, a plot summary, set budget, summaries of earnings and accounting reports.

Welles' last Hollywood movie until Touch of Evil in 1956 was the 1947 Macbeth. In the collection are drafts of scripts and a cutting continuity for Macbeth and a wardrobe plot with photos and lists for wardrobe and make-up. Of particular interest are the several blueprints and sketches of set designs. The collection's film section ends with the script and a few related items for the movie Black Magic and scripts for several undated, unrealized film projects.

The research files include printed, mimeo, and typescript materials on a variety of topics that were for Welles' use in preparing speeches, articles, newspaper columns, radio programs, etc. The miscellaneous series of the collection consists of materials both personal and professional in nature. These files are arranged alphabetically by subject and include art work, automobile records, awards, biographies, contracts, Mercury Productions finances, Welles' personal finances, lectures, magic trick information, memberships, passports, printed materials, and writings by people other than Welles.

The tape recordings are almost entirely of radio shows and were made from the original recordings. They are listed individually in the collection guide. Photographs and negatives are of the various plays and films in which Welles acted or directed, and of his family and friends. The largest number of photographs are publicity stills of Welles and from Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, It's All True, and Journey into Fear. The final series of the collection consists of bound radio scripts which are also listed individually in the collection guide.

Also see the Guide to the Orson Welles Materials in the Lilly Library

Collection size: 19,875 items

Related manuscripts: Welles mss. II, Welles mss. III

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.