Kenosha to honor Orson Welles’ 100th birthday


When I visited Kenosha in 2008 for a story on the 70th anniversary of “The War of the Worlds” broadcast, I found a city “generally ambivalent” about its native son. All I could find was a small plaque outside a home in the 6000 block of 7th Ave. in the Library Park historic district.

That has since been rectified. The city, close enough to Illinois to contain a fair share of Chicago sports teams fans, is mounting a month long celebration of Welles’ to celebrate his 100th birthday, May 6, 1915. The celebration is being planned by the Citizen Welles Society of Kenosha.

anekPlanned events includes screenings of Welles’ best known films, “The Magnificent Ambersons” and the masterpiece “Citizen Kane,” considered one of the greatest American films ever made.

There will also be presentations by authors and film historians Patrick McGilligan and Joseph McBride.

Welles had a love hate relationship with the city, which he left at the age of 5 when the family moved to Chicago. Over the years he called himself, “belligerently Midwestern” and “a confirmed badger.”

He wrote that visiting Kenosha he found it “vital and charming.”

But years later told McBride that: “I’m not ashamed of being from Wisconsin. Just of being from Kenosha. It’s a terrible place.”

That impression was possibly informed by the fact that, he told McBride, that his only memory of the city was “that bleak day at his mother’s funeral.”

Belatedly the city is trying to improve that impression with a series of events that include:

  • May 6: a kickoff tribute of film highlights, with McGilligan author of the upcoming “Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the path to ‘Citizen Kane,’ ” with an emphasis on his years in Kenosha.
  •  May 9: A full cast performance of “War of the Worlds,” by RG Productions of Kenosha. Also appearing is Brad Schwarz, author of “Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News.”
  • May 13: A screening of the 2008 Richard Linklater film “Me & Orson Welles.”
  • May 16: The short play “Orson Welles & FDR: On the Campaign Trail” by Nita Hunter, with Alderman Jan Michalski portraying Orson Welles. It is based on the 1944 speeches Welles gave in support of FDR.
  • May 24: Screening of “The Magnificent Ambersons,” with Welles biographer Joseph McBride.
  • May 30-31: A 100th anniversary memorial walk.

Many events are free. The “Citizen Kane” screening is $5.

For tickets and more information visit the Citizen Welles website. 


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